Ismail Shabazz, one of three candidates in next month’s Democratic primary for the Fourth Ward’s Common Council seat, this week angrily denied Mayor Shayne Gallo’s claim that he’s a racist and said he plans to sue the mayor for slander.
“I challenge him to prove it,” Shabazz said in an interview Monday, reacting to Gallo’s assertion in an Aug. 15 Kingston Times story that the lifelong Kingston resident and longtime community activist who says he’s a supporter of the New Black Panther Party, is a racist. Shabazz says he wants the mayor, in a public forum, to substantiate his allegation and that Gallo is making “foolish statements” as Shabazz has several white people in his family. “He needs to start thinking before he opens his mouth,” Shabazz said of Gallo. “He hasn’t heard me say a thing about him. … Put up or shut up.”
Shabazz has been an incessant critic of the mayor, the Kingston Police Department and specific KPD personnel on his Facebook page, which also contains a constant stream of images related to the New Black Panther Party. While the New Black Panther Party, which claims to follow in the footsteps of the radical Black Panther Party of 1960s fame, is considered to be a hate group by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, Shabazz, who is a paralegal, says he supports the party and he believes “in what they’re trying to do for our youth.”
In a Wednesday conversation, Gallo stood by his characterization of Shabazz. “Quite frankly, I am too busy governing and addressing issues throughout the entire city to give [Shabazz] any time to discuss what the facts are,” said Gallo. The mayor said he based his statement on Shabazz’s Facebook posts, in which he, according to Gallo, called Gallo “Mayor Whitey and Mayor Slavemaster.” (A review of Shabazz’s Facebook wall going back to July 2012 could not corroborate Gallo’s statement.) The mayor noted that Shabazz had been banned from posting on the Kingston Police Department’s Facebook page due to, the mayor said, Shabazz drawing “racist analogies” about Chief Egidio Tinti and himself. (Shabazz, who has routinely leveled charges of intimidation and bad policing practices against KPD officers on Facebook, said “they banned me off the page because of the truth” and pointed to his efforts last year to honor 16 former African-American KPD officers as proof he does not hate all police, just the bad ones.)
The mayor said Shabazz was drumming up a controversy to gain attention for his campaign. “This is nothing more than attempt by Shabazz to get ink for his campaign which has no support and is not addressing the issues that affect the good people of Midtown,” said Gallo.
Shabazz and Gallo have also clashed on educational programs at the Everette Hodge Community Center. Shabazz said Gallo has tried to shut them down and deny the kids that depend on the center the education they deserve. That’s a charge the mayor sternly denied, pointing to his obtaining of a $25,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation for at-risk high school students and his setting up of a program which brings SUNY New Paltz students of color to the center to mentor at-risk kids. He further said he got Community Development Block Grant funds for a reading program formerly funded by the Boys & Girls Club. “For Shabazz to state I am trying to keep black kids from getting an education at the center is not only folly, but delusional on his part.”
As for Shabazz’s threat to sue the mayor for slander, Gallo, an attorney himself, said the following: “It’s opinion that’s grounded in fact and it’s opinion about someone who’s a public figure running for office,” Gallo said.
In Sept. 10’s primary, Shabazz will be up against Nina Dawson, a political newcomer who enjoys Gallo’s endorsement, and Nick Woerner, the former Town of Ulster supervisor who enjoys the Kingston Democratic Committee’s endorsement. The winner will in the general election face Republican nominee, Red Dog Party founder and former mayoral candidate Steve Ladin.
Shabazz said both Dawson and Joe DiFalco, Kingston’s Independence Party chairman, asked him to drop out of the race earlier this summer.
Dawson, speaking Wednesday, sees it differently: “I asked him, ‘Why reinvent the wheel? We’re reinventing the wheel.’ I said you have very strong points, and instead of us reinventing the wheel and doing separatism, why don’t we put our heads together and do it like that? Then he said, ‘Why don’t you drop out? I said, ‘Because I think you’re too radical, I think you’re too strong in your opinions and the way you present them and I think that will hurt us. … I told him to drop out and he told me to drop out. Same difference. He’s helped a lot of people in our neighborhood and I hoped we could join up instead of being in the position that we are because separatism doesn’t work.”
DiFalco challenged Shabazz’s accusation, saying Shabazz one day saw him circulating nominating petitions for Dawson, and asked DiFalco how he might help. DiFalco said he responded by suggesting Shabazz get behind Dawson’s campaign, and said Shabazz agreed to do so. But, according to DiFalco, Shabazz then decided to go to the Board of Elections and get his own petitions.
“I said to him, ‘You told me that you wanted to help her. You can’t help her by doing this.’ I asked him, ‘Why don’t you unite with her with the common goal of moving the ward forward?’ Anything you heard other than that is BS. … Back when he said he was running, I wished him luck and told him, ‘You’re not going to win.’”
“I don’t think he’s a racist,” Dawson said of Shabazz, adding that she thought he had “very good intentions.”
“I don’t know where that came from,” she said. “I know that he and the mayor have had something going for quite some time, but I would never call him a racist. … I don’t see that in any capacity.”