Action to protect civil liberties is vital

Action to protect civil liberties is vital

Today, more than ever before, we have to be vigilant, and guard against the usurpation of our constitutional and civil liberties in America, and indeed, in every country. It is precisely to fight these recurring, institutional prejudices that, way back in 2006, I got more involved in the struggle to change the system, include the voices of the oppressed and exploited, confronting treachery and evil in America, and striking at the root of evil-with my blood, sweat and tears!

Serphin Maltese, a 30-year entrenched incumbent who was the powerful chairman of his party, and cronies introduced a bill to legalize racial profiling in New York State to make minorities official second class citizens. He got the required support from hypocritical Democrats — even beholden minority Assembly members who were also political leaders in Southeast Queens.

These opportunists put their narrow, selfish interests above the silent majority minority to protect and advance their interests, secure pork money for their pet projects and inner circle, all at their constituents’ expense and peril. Worse yet, this bill was going to put us back to the Jim Crow era, and eviscerate the civil rights and liberties previous generations fought so hard to forge.

Although I was a lawyer, I could not make the necessary changes. I would be bound to follow the law, like all others in both law enforcement and the judicial system. Our hands would be tied, and we would be trapped by a racist, bigoted law that was going to put social, economic and political development hundreds of years back to the pre-civil rights era. Inspired by the doctrine of the great martyrs and leaders listed above, I had to launch a campaign to defeat institutional injustice, raise awareness about the putrid issues they stood for, and ensure that, win or lose, our children were not going to be officially relegated to and stereotyped as legal second class citizens. Only political courage and change could have brought about a solution.

Consequently, I embarked on a political pilgrimage. Although I was the only Democratic candidate, I sought, but did not get, the backing of the Queens Democratic Organization, nor the Working Families Party. In fact, other Democratic officials hypocritically crossed party lines to support Maltese, and the treacherous games the WFP unashamedly practiced since then, have come home to roost eventually. I was treated like a pariah, and shunned from institutional politicians, but embraced by regular folks. I always put people above politics, and progress over dysfunction. I championed bread and butter issues like better education, health care, housing, public safety, jobs, wages, government services, civil rights and became a loud voice for change.

I have left an indelible roadmap and blueprint for future independent, concerned and courageous voices at But you must be prepared to die or be imprisoned for what you know is right!

Thanks to this fight, Maltese almost lost his seat and his perverse bill never became law. In fact, I was leading Maltese most of the race, and exit polls and preliminary counts and NY1 declared me the winner. However, the Board of Elections, and my own party, for reasons which are not hard to decipher, then changed that to “a narrow defeat.” I came within 0.5 percent, or as the press termed it, “a whisker” of victory!

The media summarized my efforts. They said: “Although attorney Albert Baldeo did not win the election, he nearly created one of the biggest upsets in political history in Queens. Baldeo, who lost by a mere 783 votes, garnering 16,339 votes to his opponent Maltese’s 17,122 votes, was actually ahead in many stages as the count see-sawed to the very end. Many people were already toasting a Baldeo victory, and were suspicious that the numbers climbed for Maltese just when he was losing. There were widespread allegations of voter intimidation, police harassment, electioneering and election workers involvement in the polls.” These poll workers are all appointed by Maltese, and the police and supervisors are all loyal to him, so they manipulated the results of the poll to keep Maltese in, especially in Glendale where he lives. Baldeo was cheated,” community leader Charles Ober remarked.

The Baldeo Campaign Office has confirmed that many allegations are coming in of voter disenfranchisement, especially among Latinos and South Asians. “I am not conceding this race until all ballots are recounted, including absentee and affidavit ballots in view of the many allegations that keep coming in of voting malfeasance and irregularity. My supporters have directed that they want a recount, and that is the will of the electorate. This is not about me, it is about their right to vote, and since this right is so fundamental, I can only respect their wishes and ask for the recount,” Baldeo said.

However, Baldeo’s strong showing was the talk of many newspapers, blog sites and political pundits, who all showered praises on his strong showing and near upset victory. Caribbean pride soared with Baldeo’s results, as many talked about how close he came to defeating an opponent, who was not only undefeated since 1988, but who is also the Queens County chairman of the Republican Party. Moreover, this district had been gerrymandered to propagate Maltese’s political monarchy to the exclusion of all others. That is why Maltese was unchallenged since 1994 in an election in this district. The fact that Baldeo was able to reach out and unite the most diverse district in Queens — from white voters in Howard Beach and Maspeth, to Hispanics in Ridgewood, to South Asians in Woodhaven, to Indo-Caribbeans in Richmond Hill and Afro-Americans in Southeast Queens behind him, speaks volumes for Baldeo, a rising star in politics and an example of leadership in our community.

Baldeo had already scored a first as the first Democratic nominee from our community to contest the general elections for the State Senate, and his spectacular showing sent Maltese scampering all over his district to bring out his vote, and sent shivers down the Republican spine that they were going to lose this seat.

Baldeo’s near upset victory sends a strong message to everyone that all ethnicities, including new Americans, must be respected by politicians, and that they must assist the entire community, not marginalize sections. His example will ensure that our community is paid attention to, and that government officials do more for our neighborhoods. He fought a campaign based on the issues that our kids are not getting a sound education, our seniors are losing their homes due to the high costs of prescription drugs, housing is too expensive for everyone to afford, and that high taxes and poor government services are affecting many hard working taxpayers.”

I was never a career politician, but my hard work and sacrifices had made a difference. You can, and must also. It’s the only way! No one will do it for you, your children and our community. Walk a few steps in our shoes, and build on the momentum, example and vision I have fought so hard for-for yourselves and future generations. The longest journey begins with a single step. Not only did I start the journey for you against all odds, I have brought you close to the finish line — or the mountaintop, as Martin Luther King Jr., taught us!

Now, I have pride in my heart and renewed hope in my soul. I saw many constituents I helped, poll workers I appointed at the voting sites and those I encourage to become citizens and vote, and those who voted for and supported me in my previous ground breaking political endeavors. Even my detractors and opponents got on board behind these causes that are larger than all of us. Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, a leading community activist and former rival, proudly wrote, “The community should be proud of Albert Baldeo. His actions opened doors for our community. As Mahatma Gandhi has said on numerous occasions a small step is like a ripple but it has the power to lead to a crescendo and change the world.” See “Albert Baldeo creates history,” The West Indian, June 9, 2008.

We must not rest on our laurels. We must keep empowering, uplifting and educating the marginalized voices in my community to participate and have a voice in government, and further build on the blood, sweat and tears we gave to have a voice. Every person seeking office has to make the pilgrimage to Richmond Hill now. “You did the impossible, Albert, you united a much divided community behind you. The next time someone performs that feat, your community will secure representation,” many of you said. Keep the dream alive!

Note: Albert Baldeo is a civil rights activist and community advocate, and his political battles placed previously ignored minority communities like Richmond Hill and Ozone Park firmly on the political and economic map. As the President of the Baldeo Foundation and Liberty Justice Center, he has continued to fight for equal rights, justice, dignity and inclusion in the decision making process. He can be contacted at the Baldeo Foundation: AlBal[email protected] or (718) 529–2300.

More from Around NYC