By Adam Kramer
In a move that has drawn the ire of some members of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) petitioned to join the group after being invited by two of the organization’s leaders.
Weprin, head of the powerful Finance Committee and the son of the late state Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, is Jewish, but his mother Sylvia was born in Cuba.
“It is not a big deal,” Weprin said. “A number of colleagues who knew my background said why don’t you join. If I am welcome, I would like to join.”
He said he is not campaigning for entry into the caucus and would not join if the group did not want him. The whole situation, he said, “got more attention than I suspected.”
City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) — the first Asian American elected to the City Council — recently was invited to join the group. The Black and Hispanic Caucus holds no specific power in the Council, but the group can vote in a bloc to influence decisions.
Liu said the group had approached him to join in early January and since Asians are a minority, the caucus will expand its definition for membership to include Asians.
“It may be renamed to the Caucus of People of Color,” he said. “They thought I should be involved and I thought I should be involved. The caucus never had to include Asians before. I am a minority and a person of color and don’t want to change that.”
Jokingly, Liu said, he would have been elected to the chairmanship of the Asian Caucus by a unanimous vote.
Weprin’s said the leaders of the group suggested he join the Black and Hispanic Caucus, which has caused some grumbling among the membership. The caucus is made up of the Council’s 14 black members, 10 Hispanic members and now one Asian member.
“I want to be more involved because we agree on many of the same issues,” Weprin said. “It is not a crusade.”
He denied published reports that the reason for his interest in the group was part of a campaign to run for the speakership in 2004, which he said “never crossed his mind.” Weprin said he thinks if one of “your parents is Hispanic” and if a person has a desire to join the group, he or she should be allowed to participate..
The decision on Weprin’s status has yet to be decided by the group, but he said he is in no rush to join.
According to the Black and Hispanic Caucus’ bylaws, membership in the group is restricted to members of the City Council who are members of an ethnic minority. “Ethnic minority for the purposes of this caucus is defined as a person who is either black or Hispanic,” the bylaws say.
Liu said the bylaws were a “parenthetical definition” and would be changed.
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) did not comment specifically about Weprin’s desire to join the Black and Hispanic Caucus but questioned how government groups will deal with the city’s multiculturalism.
“As we deal with the new world reality vis-a-vis the historical treatment of people, how do you proceed?” he said. Comrie asked whether the inclusion in a group like the Black and Hispanic Caucus a birthright or based on historical discrimination against a people? If so, he said, “how do you balance everything or prove it?”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.