The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York

By Suleiman Osman | Go to book overview

7 The Neighborhood Movement

In 1972, after a series of acrimonious and increasingly narrow defeats, Brownstone Brooklyn reform Democrats finally won their first campaign against the regular Democratic clubs. Cobbling together a coalition of brownstoners, blacks, Latinos, and working-class ethnics, Michael Pesce and Carol Bellamy eked out primary wins against two incumbents for state assembly and state senate, respectively. With strong support from Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill voters, the victories marked a demographic tipping point: brownstoners now outnumbered the local working-class machine vote. While both candidates benefited from a heavy turnout by the area’s white college-educated supporters of the McGovern presidential campaign, the West Brooklyn Independent Democrats enthusiastically described the beginning of a political revolution. The corrupt blue-collar machine that once formed the bedrock of urban Democratic politics had begun to collapse. Ascending in its place was a new postindustrial liberal coalition forged in the middle cityscape that united college students, white-collar urban professionals, and the poor. “The Reform Democratic victories in the 52nd Assembly District that had occurred in the June primary election resulted from a coalition that heretofore had been only a theory,” noted Ben Tenzer, vice president of the WBID. “[A] coalition of liberals (mostly white), blacks, Puerto Ricans, working-class ethnics (mostly Italian)… Political theorists from Schlesinger to Buckley have promoted or discussed the idea of such a coalition. The mythology of Bobby Kennedy is based upon the notion that he commanded the joint affections of the left and the right, of laborer and intellectual and ethnic and racial minorities. Yet no one has achieved ‘VICTORY,’ for example, the elected office, until now.” Reform candidates would continue to win in Brownstone Brooklyn throughout the decade.1

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