Harlem’s Gang Of Four

April 26, 2014

image001They started their careers as bright young men in the Democratic precincts of Harlem. Each achieved great success.The quartet, known in political history as The Gang of Four, consisted of David Dinkins, Basil Paterson Percy Sutton and Charles Rangel. It is named after the Gang of Four of China.

Basil Paterson, former state senator and former secretary of state. Basil Paterson has achieved great success as a lawyer.

Charlie Rangel back in 1970 toppled the then legend of Harlem politics, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, from power. Rangel became a legendary figure himself, rising ultimately to the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in Congress.

Rangel’s book “And I haven’t had a bad day since….” was published. It was a memoir that told of his heroism in the Korean War when he led 40 men to safety out of a Chinese encirclement during three days of freezing weather. He won the Bronze Star With Valor and the Purple Heart. He was wounded by shrapnel.

Since that moment, he told a reporter, “I mean it with all my heart, I have never, never had a bad day.”

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Percy Sutton, who died, was elected Manhattan Borough President, but lost when he tried to become New York’s first black Mayor. He changed careers, becoming a highly successful businessman. Along the way, he represented Malcolm X and, years later, I saw him work tirelessly to help Malcolm’s children and a grandchild.

Years after Sutton failed in his bid to become mayor, David Dinkins attained that position and he said then, as he says now, that he “stood on the shoulders of giants” to win the job.

The Gang of Four made Harlem into a bastion of black power — but the city’s black population has largely dispersed to Queens, the Bronx and the outer suburbs.

It was a tough fight for the Gang of Four — but they managed to overcome great obstacles. I remember sitting next to Percy Sutton on a plane trip back from Minneapolis where he had attended the funeral of Senator Hubert Humphrey. He told me how upset he was that the voters had rejected him in the Democratic primary for mayor in 1977. He implied that racism might have been a factor in his defeat. But prejudice against black candidates seems to be long gone.

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