BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Black Lives Matter is down with Arthur Schwartz. He’s “O.G.” — as in, the real deal — with them.
That’s right, the high-profile activist group has endorsed the Village Democratic district leader in his run for City Council in District 3, the election for which will be held next June.
“We endorsed him, yes we did,” Hawk Newsome, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, confirmed to The Village Sun.
Technically, the Black Lives Caucus, the group’s political arm, gave Schwartz the nod.
From the start, BLM members have been in awe of Schwartz’s progressive activist credentials.
“He’s been doing this going back decades,” Newsome said, “back to the Attica rebellion, [representing] ACORN, the unions. Arthur’s just been there for so long. You visit him in his office — well, back when people had offices — it’s like history.”
He was referring to the array of framed classic posters in Schwartz’s office from past campaigns and movements.
“He’s what we like to call an ‘O.G.,'” Newsome said, using rap lingo for “original gangster,” i.e. the real McCoy, a veteran activist who has fought in the trenches.
More important, Schwartz was a staunch supporter of Black Lives Matter from its start.
“He actually was there from Day One with us,” Newsome said. “He’s been giving us legal advice since we formed. … A number of us went to down to Charlottesville; even though he’s not a criminal lawyer, he represented us.”
He was referring to the contentious Unite the Right rally in 2017, at which counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist gunned his car into a crowd of marchers.
“Arthur has been with Black Lives Matter in New York since our inception,” he said. “He helped us build that from the ground up.
“What I really like about him personally is he’s not a plastic progressive,” Newsome stressed of Schwartz.
In fact, he said, the Village politician isn’t just a progressive but a “radical.”
“If you were not radical these last three years, don’t jump on now,” Newsome scoffed of other pols trying to jump on the Black Lives bandwagon.
“It’s like he’s been there,” he said of Schwartz. “It’s not like some dude popped up and said the right things.”
The progressive attorney was there to reassure Newsome after the BLM member came under attack this summer for making a strongly worded statement on TV.
Speaking on Fox News in June, Newsome said, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it. … And I could be speaking figuratively. I could be speaking literally. It’s a matter of interpretation.”
Afterward, Newsome received threats on his life.
“Donald Trump called me a traitor, accused me of treason, sedition and insurrection and all kind of things,” he said. “And that was very nerve-racking. That week I received thousands of death threats. Arthur said I was well within my rights [of free speech] — ‘but be careful because there’s a white supremacist in the White House and a tyrant, and you never know what he’s capable of.'”
Newsome said that Schwartz told him he’s running for the Council district — which includes Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen — because he was underwhelmed by the field.
“There’s a lot of people out there who chase the spotlight,” Newsome noted. “Me personally, I don’t think Arthur would run for that seat unless he was needed. He said to me himself, if there was a better, more progressive candidate, he would step down.”
In fact, Newsome, too, is not happy with the caliber of politicians in City Hall right now.
“We’re tired of these latex liberals and the plastic progressives,” he fumed. “We’re in the streets. We’re getting our heads cracked open. De Blasio and the other progressives are not standing up for us. So f— ’em all. They’re standing with the police.
“We need city councilmembers who are not afraid of the police union. These people are petrified of the police union.”
Newsome claimed he can count on one hand the number of City Hall officials who stand with Black Lives Matter. They include Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — though only “sometimes,” he said — and Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca.
“That mother f—er is a warrior,” he raved of Menchaca. “He be trying to shut ICE down. That’s the type of energy we need.”
How about East Village Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who voted no on the city budget this past summer, feeling it didn’t go far enough toward defunding the police?
“She’s badass, she’s badass,” Newsome concurred. “She’s tough.”
Black Lives Matter of Greater New York has also made a few other endorsements in the 2021 Council races, which the group will announce in January. Schwartz, for his part, jumped the gun by letting it drop at a candidates forum last week that he had gotten BLM’s nod. But that was O.K., as far as Newsome is concerned.
“Arthur’s a member of the team, so it’s different,” he said.
Among other candidates BLM will be endorsing is Chi Ossé, of the group Warriors in the Garden, in his bid for the 36th Council District (Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights).
As for other candidates running for the Third Council District, Newsome was skeptical about Erik Bottcher.
“That’s the kid who worked with Corey Johnson, right?” he asked.
Bottcher, who is Johnson’s chief of staff, is in his 40s.
“Erik may be a good person,” he offered, “but he was part of an administration, on a team, that allowed us to be brutalized in the streets. I’ve been arrested twice in the last four months for raising my voice at a police officer. They allowed police officers to operate like police officers who beat and brutalized John Lewis in Selma.
“I actually would have respected him more if he had quit because of the incompetence of the City Council,” Newsome said of Bottcher.
How about another District 3 candidate, Marni Halasa, the Hudson Yards-area activist who made a name for herself at Occupy Wall St. and is now fighting the de Blasio administration’s plans to impose a federal “RAD” plan on the Robert Fulton Houses? Under RAD, two of the Chelsea complex’s low-rise buildings would be replaced with mixed-income towers.
“She sounds awesome, man!” Newsome said of Halasa, though adding of Schwartz, “I gotta go with the home team. I can trust the home team.
“We need radical people” in the City Council, he stressed.
But the current Council is far from that, Newsome charged, noting its members “didn’t do anything” when cops were getting rough with anti-police protesters.
“Here’s the thing,” he said, “I know Arthur would be standing with me in front of the precinct, saying, ‘Fire the cop that did that.’ That’s what we need. That’s what we need.”
“I’m honored,” Schwartz said on receiving the group’s support. “I think it’s a reflection of years of work to address systemic racism that isn’t just talk but lots of action. And I think it’s noteworthy that I may be the first person that they’ve endorsed in a City Council race, which I think says a lot. I have worked with them to address issues that they raise for many, many years. And I will continue to do so as a councilmember.”
As an attorney, Schwartz handles Black Lives Matter of Greater New York’s governmental relations; he got them their 501c3 nonprofit status and 501c4 status for their political arm, and advises them on nonprofit issues. Occasionally, he represents BLM members in criminal court who get arrested at protests. His work on the group’s behalf is all pro bono.
Schwartz isn’t the local BLM chapter’s first endorsement. For instance, they backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her first run for office a few years ago.
“We were one of the first groups to endorse AOC in New York,” Newsome noted, “before she was a celebrity, when she used to show up at marches in the street.”
While some national BLM leaders are hoping to meet with the president- and vice president-elect to voice their “expectations,” Newsome won’t be joining them.
“We are too radical to stand next to a lot of these people,” he shrugged.
The movement is even losing some momentum now with Donald Trump’s defeat, he conceded.
“The election happened,” he said. “The marches are losing a little steam: It used to be 2,000 people. Now it’s 200. … When Trump won, it was immigrants and women, and Black Lives Matter was put on the back burner. It moves in waves.”