A new candidate has joined the race to become the next governor of New York State. Charles Barron is an New York City councilman and the would-be founder of the New York Freedom Democratic Party. He has announced plans to secure the petitions necessary to earn a spot on the November ballot in order to offer nonwhite voters an alternative to the Democratic Party and its candidate, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Barron believes that Cuomo snubbed racial minorities by choosing a white man as his running mate. He sees a Democratic ticket with no minorities at the top (governor and lieutenant, two incumbent U.S. Senators) as no better than what Democrats offered in the Jim Crow South.
Barron's candidacy looks like pure identity politics. In his reported statements he offers no explanation of how Cuomo's platform does black voters or other minorities any disservice. His opposition to Cuomo appears to be based entirely on the Democratic Party's failure to include a black face at the top of the state ticket. There's a racist implication here that black people can be represented properly or faithfully only by black politicians. Had white voters thought along the same lines two years ago, Sarah Palin would be a heartbeat away from the White House today. For his part, Barron may well believe that a refusal to nominate a black person for lieutenant governor is an implicit denial of black capacity to govern, but the complaint seems frivolous at a time when anyone's capacity to govern seems open to question.
We can expect Democrats to howl and Republicans to gloat if the Freedom Democrats show any momentum this summer. Barron has already had to answer the charge that he's a spoiler, and his is the right answer, generally speaking, for any independent candidate: "Spoil what? They already spoiled us by excluding us and having a statewide slate that looks like Mississippi in the 1950s. What am I spoiling? I’m going to be an empowerer." My criticism of Barron's racial bias in no way diminishes his right to run for governor. He and his potential supporters owe neither Cuomo nor the Democratic Party their votes. Nor need they be concerned about the possibility of Republican rule if, to their minds, that would be no worse than an allegedly lily-white Democratic regime. The Democrats, in turn, have every right to defend themselves against the charge and cast countercharges against Barron. They can challenge his fitness for office and his prejudices, but they have no business questioning his right to run against them as if he were, indeed, a rebellious servant.