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Grenadian Runs For New York Senate Seat

In Summer of 2002 Herman Hall, a born Grenadian, announced his intention to run for the new 21st senatorial seat in Brooklyn, New York.  He selected the Republican Party as his party of choice.  It was courageous.

Here are some of his learnings from that experience; we edited a previously released report from EVERYBODY'S to capture a few revealing aspects of West Indian political life in the USA. It is noteworthy that Mighty Sparrow publicly endorsed Mr. Hall.

Questions Posed To Herman Hall After His Run For the NY Senate

Q: I'm sorry you did not win, how do you feel?

A: I arrived at my office around 5:40 A.M., the morning after the election, as I wanted to accomplish four things on November 6:

  1. Send a letter of congratulations to Kevin Parker, who defeated me;
  2. Get cracking with the manufacture and release of Shadowís 2003 calypso CD;
  3. Start the process of creating the 2003 EVERYBODYíS Poster/Calendar and;
  4. Call the magazine writers and contributing editors to start working on our February, March and April 2003 issues.

If I felt dejected, I would have stayed home or go into hiding. Many calls came from readers who were genuine and sincere and I am touched by their concerns about my welfare.

Q: Are you surprised that you lost the elections?

A: No, most people know that most West Indians who are U.S. citizens are Democrats and vote the Democratic Party. Here in Brooklyn about 95% of Caribbean-Americans in the senatorial district I ran in, are Democrats. Very few expected me to win.

Had I won, most people would have been surprised. However, the district had more to gain if I had won for the simple reason I would have been sitting with the majority party in New York State Senate, the Republicans, thus more resources coming to the district.

Q: Are you disappointed that you lost?

A: Not really! True, it can be perceived as a personal defeat for me but I deeply believe that the biggest loser was the Caribbean-American community. We lost a golden opportunity by not sending me to the senate. We have to be in both major political parties to bring home the bacon.

Hereís an example of smart politics, two days before the elections, Republican candidate Governor Pataki went to Boro Park, a large Orthodox Jewish community. I was there campaigning too since a part of Boro Park is in the 21st district. In a crowd of approximately 10,000 Orthodox, Pataki publicly endorsed Democrat Dov Hikind, an Orthodox [Jew], for the New York State Assembly and Seymour Latchman for the New York State Senate.

The Governor endorsed Democrat Latchman over black Republican candidate Al Curtis. The Governor sought the Jewish votes. Most likely the Orthodox in turn will reap benefits during the next four years from the Governor.

Politics is about getting and using power to bring resources into oneís district and given my party affiliation, I would have been in an excellent position to bring resources that people have been telling me they need. Unfortunately, most Caribbean-Americans in this district vote the party and not the candidate. They saw me as Herman Hall, the Republican and not as Herman Hall, the candidate who was in a better position to bring more money into the district and get things done.

Q: What could you have given that a Democratic Senator cannot give?

A: The Democrats are in the minority in the NY State Senate, the Republicans are in the majority. Here is the missed opportunity: in January 2003, two rookie senators will be going to Albany from Brooklyn, Democrat Kevin Parker who defeated me, and Republican Marty Golden. Kevin will receive $200,000 in Discretionary Funds (Member Item Funds) but Marty Golden will be given $2,000,000 (thatís two million dollars to spend in his district). Had I won, I too would have been given a minimum of two million dollars to use in my constituency.

Q: Why did you lose?

A: There are many reasons such as a weak campaign organization; inadequate funds; dumped by the New York Republican State Committee for defying them; the McCall factor since many voters felt a vote for me was a vote against Carl McCall [the African American Democratic candidate for NY governor] and so forth, but thatís 45% of the reason.

I deeply believe that 55% percent of the reason why I lost had to do with the attitude of the English speaking Caribbean-American voters, my people. For 20 years, my friend, and the hero of most English speaking Caribbeans in Brooklyn, Senator Marty Markowitz, [has] said he could not be as effective as he would like to be because the Republicans control the Senate in Albany. The people believed Democrat Marty but the people mistrusted me when I advocated that as a Republican Senator I could be far more effective.

I was primarily rejected by my people because I am a Republican. Two days before the elections, we phoned nearly 1,000 registered voters who are Democrats and who live in the Caribbean neighborhoods of the 21st Senate district. I personally called about 10 voters. All my volunteers and myself got the same response from the majority of persons we spoke to: "Yes, we know Herman Hall but what right he has being a Republican?!"

Most votes I received came from the Orthodox Jewish and non-Caribbean communities in Kensington and Boro Park and not from Flatbush, the heart of the Caribbean district. The only Caribbean group that actively supported me was the Haitian-American community and the only Caribbean-American leader who helped me was the Mighty Sparrow.

Q: Are you bitter you lost?

A: No. Somebody has to win and someone has to be defeated so I am not bitter. I respect the will of the voters. [But] I am bitter that my people (English speaking Caribbean-American voters) placed no confidence in me. Obviously, I did not get my message across and I did not convince my people that I could deliver what I promised. What frustrates me is that many people who know me and know of my contributions refused to support me since in their view I am in the wrong party.

From church to church, radio station to radio station, TV station to TV station, and wherever I was given an opportunity to speak, I explained that a person can vote for me on the Republican or Independence line and still vote for gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall on the Democratic line but few accepted my rationale. If I was white many Caribbean voters would have voted for me because they would have believed most of what I said.

Q: How can you make such a terrible statement? Thatís an insult!

A: No, thatís reality! Remember, Bob Marley sang of "mental slavery." Hereís one of my proofs: The Caribbean audience at a town hall meeting did not believe me when I first mentioned the $2 million in Member Items/Discretionary Funds that I will get if elected. I tried a second time at another meeting and again the large Caribbean audience did not believe me.

Fortunately, a Democratic candidate who is white and running in another district told the audience that I was correct and the audience believed him so I felt good. Moments later, this clever Democrat and white candidate said, "Donít let this Republican fool you with his $2 million bribe. Itís a cheap Republican ploy to trap you. Divide $2 million into the population of the district and it comes out $67 a person. Whatís $67?" The mainly Caribbean audience stood and applauded the white candidate and I was drowned out as I attempted to say "divide $200,000 into the population and each person will get about $5 if a Democrat wins." I felt awful.

A similar scenario applied for my pledge to seek the construction of a stadium designed for international cricket, soccer and netball. A stadium designed for minor league and little league baseball exists in another district, Coney Island, and it is used for major reggae concerts. However, my opponent said I was daydreaming about constructing a stadium and to my amazement most Caribbean Democrats in the district believed him.

Q: Why did you run?

A: To practice savvy politics since I was in the ideal position to get things done for the district in general and the Caribbean-American community in particular.

Secondly, I was not running against a single Caribbean-American candidate, and I ran for a new seat. I was also tired of Caribbean-American politicians, all of whom are Democrats, asking me and EVERYBODYíS over the years for help and ideas as they campaigned for elected office and as soon as they got elected they forget about the ideas. Of course, there were other reasons why I ran.

Q: What lessons did you learn and experience you gained?

A: Several, but the three that stand out:

(1) A voter education campaign is essential. I do not mean a voter registration drive. Many voters do not know how to vote for candidates from several parties or "lines" in the general election. Some believe that they are obligated to vote a single line or party and others donít even understand the difference between primaries and general elections.

(2) Politics is a dirty game, dirtier than I thought. It was very interesting to see the number of black elected Democrats who privately wanted me to win but publicly rallied their party supporters against me.

(3) Shirley Chisholm was the last decent and principled elected Caribbean-American leader we had in Brooklyn.

Q: Any regrets?

A: No ó Attempting to make history by becoming the first black 21st century Republican to win a seat for the New York State Senate in Democrat Brooklyn was like attempting to climb Mount Everest in T-shirts and sneakers.

Q: Hope you run again, donít be discouraged!

A: Only, if it makes sense. I attempted to run as a unity or consensus candidate but most people ignored that fact. I am astonished that people are already asking me to run one more time. On the other hand, it is illogical to run again. We had a new district of which 60% is English speaking Caribbean nationals. I was the only Caribbean-American candidate in the general election. The voters preferred to have a non-Caribbean represent them and their mandate must be respected.

Given the demographics, it is difficult to win as a non-Democrat. Many Caribbean voters verbally abused me on Election Day. Some felt that I was against Carl McCall who ran for governor although I always explained that one could vote for me and for Mr. McCall too. Others perceived that a vote for me was a vote for the Republican Party and President Bush. They ignored the fact that I was running for a local seat to help solve local problems. So, why should I run again?


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