Vote Owens

Major Owens’ retirement has opened a seat in New York’s 11th Congressional District, which covers a large swath of central Brooklyn. This is an unusual and diverse district. However it’s also a staunchly Democratic one, so Tuesday’s primary will almost certainly decide the winner of the general election. Four candidates are contesting it–Chris Owens, Yvette Clarke, Carl Andrews, and David Yassky. In much of the country, any one of these people would be considered a left-wing liberal commie, but three of them would likely change their politics to fit their district. Only one of the four stands out as a committed progressive who wants to oppose the status quo rather than become a part of it. That candidate is Chris Owens, and he gets my unqualified endorsement.

Redistricting and population shifts have redrawn the boundaries of this district over the last 40 years, but it is essentially still one of the first district created by the Voting Rights Act to ensure a black voice in Congress. The seat was initially held by Shirley Chisholm, then by Major Owens. Both were strong, progressive voices. Before moving here I was accustomed to being represented by Democrats like Mario Biaggi, Joe Lieberman, or Mary Landrieu. You never knew quite where they’d stand. Every time an important bill came up, you had to be on the phone to them, bombarding their office with calls and faxes trying to make sure they’d do the right thing. Usually it didn’t work. If the president wanted a war or a tax cut for the rich or another Neanderthal for the Supreme Court, they’d listen to you politely and line up behind him.

When I moved to the 11th District I kept calling, but I soon realized I didn’t have to. Every time I checked, Major Owens was already on the right side of the issue, and didn’t need to be pressured to do the right thing. It was really amazing to be represented by a Congressman you could count on for a change. I’m sure if I dug deep enough I’d find a vote here or there where I disagreed with Major Owens, but no two thinking people will agree about everything. The totality of his votes clearly indicated he was someone we could count on.

I’ve talked to Chris Owens, and he’s got the same good instincts as his father. I’ve hit him with some tough questions on very specific bills that weren’t part of his campaign platform; and while he wasn’t ready to address every specific detail, he didn’t dodge the questions, and the way he thought about and addressed the issues indicated to me that his values were the right ones. Chris Owens is the right man to carry on the progressive legacy of Shirley Chisholm and his father.

There’s one local issue that I think demonstrates this better than anything else (as well as Owens’ libertarian credentials). Of the four candidates in the race, Owens is the only one to oppose the use of government power to take people’s homes for private profit. That’s a very topical issue around here right now because three of the candidates are doing everything they can to help Bruce Ratner do just that. Two of the candidates are active and vocal supporters of the disastrous Atlantic Yards Project. One talks about scaling down the project, but takes more money from developers than anyone. Even before the election, only one candidate had the guts to stand up to the monied interests and the local politicos that are trying to ram this project down the throats of an unwilling community. That candidate is Chris Owens, and he deserves our support.

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