Vol. 13, No. 16 Aug.  24 - Sept. 6, 2000


With Dem Machine's Backing, Seabrook Aims for Congress


Bronx congressional races are usually predictable affairs with the incumbent usually sailing to victory in both the primary and general elections. But this year the chief of the Bronx Democratic Party, Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez, put the weight of his political machine behind Congressman Eliot Engel's opponent, State Senator Larry Seabrook. And, as even Engel admits, that has made the race in the 17th Congressional District anything but predictable.

Seabrook, who is African American, is considered to have a fighting chance because of the large black and Latino population in the district.

It wouldn't be the first time Seabrook has defeated an incumbent. In 1984, Seabrook, then a college Political Science instructor, became the first African-American to win a Democratic primary nomination for Assembly in the north Bronx, defeating five-time incumbent Vincent Marchiselli. Seabrook went on to win the Assembly seat.

But Seabrook, who served in the Assembly for 12 years and is now in his fourth year in the Senate, has been dogged by allegations of scandal and absenteeism. Seabrook was investigated in 1995 for misusing $390,000 in state and city funds earmarked for a youth program. After the investigation found little evidence of the youth programs existing, the funds were cut off. And in 1997, Seabrook was accused of submitting business expenses on 15 days when he was absent or excused from legislative session.

Seabrook has also been widely criticized for his attendance record in Albany. In 1995, the Daily News reported that Seabrook, then an assemblyman, missed 466 votes, slightly more than a quarter of his total votes.

When he does attend legislative sessions, Seabrook votes along liberal lines, supporting measures for abortion rights, affirmative action programs and campaign finance reform.

Among Seabrook's supporters are east Bronx assemblymen Jeffrey Klein and Stephen Kaufman. In an interview earlier this summer, Klein praised Seabrook's ability to work well with other elected officials and the community. "He's a proven coalition builder and I think he'll carry that over into office," Klein said.

Although some political observers have accused Ramirez of endorsing Seabrook to garner black support for Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer's mayoral bid, Ramirez said that's simply not true. "My history has been supporting the best candidate," Ramirez said. Seabrook's qualifications include his "ardent support" of bilingual education and his activism on the issue of police brutality and campaigning to end the U.S. Navy's military maneuvers on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, according to Ramirez.

To his supporters, Seabrook, president of the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, is a strong advocate for minority issues. He boycotted a session of the state legislature to protest of the police shooting of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo and has pressured his colleagues to pass legislation concerning police brutality. And, according to news reports, he has also been a vocal critic of cutbacks in education funding, and led protests over Governor George Pataki's's proposed budget in 1995 that would have slashed funding for higher education.

On the home front, Seabrook was involved in efforts to stop the construction of a "hot sheets" motel that east Bronx residents feared would bring prostitution to the community.

But some community leaders who reside in the east Bronx and parts of Mount Vernon, say that even though Seabrook takes their side on many issues, he does not make himself available. Gloria Alexander of the 47th Precinct Clergy Coalition, an east Bronx community group, said that when the group has tried to contact Seabrook on issues of concern to them, they have gotten no response.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said he considers Seabrook a personal friend who has always been helpful, but he chose to endorse Engel in the race for Congress. "It's in the interest of the City of Mount Vernon," he said. "The congressman has always delivered for this community."

Editor's Note: Despite repeated attempts, neither Larry Seabrook nor his staff responded to Norwood News requests for an interview.

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