Annette Robinson rose slowly. The Brooklyn assemblywoman walked to the center of her political clubhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, home of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), its walls covered with posters from her past successful campaigns dating back to 1991.
As she neared the center aisle, standing among 50 people gathered for a Saturday morning meeting, the grandmother of 10 held the fate of several political futures on the tip of her tongue.
The central Brooklyn political world had been abuzz with reports that Robinson was set to retire, ending the career of a well-regarded lawmaker who helped turn Bedford-Stuyvesant into the center of the black political scene.
City Councilman Al Vann, 77, sat nearby with his arms crossed. In the 1960s and ’70s he, Robinson and other like-minded activists spearheaded a seminal civil rights movement in the neighborhood. The fruits of their labor are still visible today—and so are the people who brought them.
The local Assembly seat has not seen a true opening since 1974, thanks to a 2001 seat-swapping maneuver between Robinson and Vann, who has been in office nearly four decades.
And though there have been primary challengers at times, in central Brooklyn—like most places in New York—incumbents are usually only removed through retirement, indictment or death.
So the rumors of Robinson’s departure had also brought excitement: It would inject new blood into a neighborhood where, over the years, black revolutionaries morphed into the black establishment.
As Robinson stepped forward, Robert Cornegy stood behind her. The towering former basketball player, who played professionally for a decade in Europe, stood with his hands clasped behind him.
The club had recently elected him as its new president, replacing Vann in a nod to the need for new blood. He very much wanted to run for Robinson’s seat—and he was not the only one.
Robinson began to speak.
“The mission of this organization has not changed, and my mission has not changed,” Robinson told the crowd. “And we’re continuing to work on it diligently.”
She was not retiring. She would run for a sixth Assembly term.
Cornegy showed no emotion. A few minutes later, he rose to introduce a historian friend of Vann’s to speak about Black History Month—only to defer to Vann, saying he was not worthy of the honor.
The councilman began to chuckle.
“This guy’s smart!” Vann said.
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