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Queens Chronicle

2019 CELEBRATION OF QUEENS Southeast Dems stress politics and civics

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 10:30 am

Demographers and political pollsters will tell you that Southeast Queens is home to perhaps the strongest, most influential block of African-American voters in the country, their support heavily courted by anyone seeking citywide or statewide office.

The seeds were planted more than 70 years ago by a real estate broker from Georgia by way of Washington Heights named Guy R. Brewer.

Former Councilman Archie Spigner was a member of the United Democratic Club in Southeast Queens years before it was named in Brewer’s honor.

“He started the United Democratic Club and invited me to join more than 60 years go,” said Spigner, who now serves as an executive leader of what is now the influential Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club. “And I’ve been active in it ever since. He was a friend and mentor to me.”

The club does now, as it did during Brewer’s lifetime, support candidates for the Democratic Party, and, as Brewer did in the state Assembly from 1969 to 1978, advocate for neighborhoods of Southeast Queens.

“We’re involved in politics,” Spigner said. “We follow issues. But we’re also involved in civic activities as well. To call us just a political club I think doesn’t do justice to it all.”

It is not the only high-profile organization in Southeast Queens. Bring up the Elmer H. Blackburne Regular Democratic Club, founded in 1985, and Spigner says the table in Southeast Queens is a large one.

“We’re friends and allies,” Spigner said.

Blackburne also knew Brewer.

“I was always politically active in Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale,” he told the Chronicle.

Spigner, he said, is a friend and was one of his earliest mentors. But he also inspired Blackburne, who admittedly was restless, to strike out on his own. Reapportionment one year placed the two in different districts, and Blackburne became a district Democratic leader.

Blackburne said the group started to peak in the 1980s when Jesse Jackson put up good showings in two presidential runs.

“I was a [Jackson] delegate at his first national convention,” he said.

He said Southeast Queens’ influence grew in future years with the mayoral candidacy of David Dinkins in 1989, and showed itself with the nomination of the gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall in 2002 and the mayoral campaign of Bill Thompson in 2013.

“We also are active with civic groups, because this area is about 75 to 80 percent homeowners,” Blackburne said.

Spigner and Blackburne both admit the outreach to younger members is important for building future community and party leaders.

“[The bench] isn’t as deep as I’d like,” Spigner said. “We’d like young people who want to be involved and have a desire to serve their community whenever we can. But young people come in all sizes and shapes. You have to look among them to find the ones with the most promise.”

“You try and involve them,” Blackburne added. He does see some hope in his own family — his daughter, Anna, is a judge in Washington, DC, following her mother, retired Judge Laura Blackburne to the bench.

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