With the death of Basil Paterson, Harlem's legendary "Gang of Four" is seeing its living members dwindle down to just two men, former Mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Charles Rangel.
With Dinkins long retired and Rangel in the political struggle of his life, the once-powerful Harlem machine may also become a thing of the past. While there are still plenty of African-American elected officials from the neighborhood – witness Assemblyman and Manhattan Democratic leader Keith Wright – the demographics of the area are radically changing. Rangel is in trouble, in part, because his political base is eroding. African-Americans are no longer a majority in Harlem and their numbers are at their lowest level in Central Harlem since the 1920s.
Paterson, Rangel, Dinkins and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton were from an era where African-American voters were finally given a place at the table in New York City politics, building on a political organization created by J. Raymond Jones, the "Harlem Fox" who served as a City Councilman and whose Carver Democratic Club became a northern outpost of Tammany Hall. For two decades, it was almost assumed that the job of Manhattan Borough President would go to an African-American candidate as part of the city's Democratic political math.
When Sutton died in late 2009, the surviving members of his political gang gathered on NY1 in a memorable interview with Michael Scotto. It was clear that although Dinkins got the most ribbing from the group, his election in 1989 was their high point – although Paterson's son, David, was serving as governor at the time of their TV summit.
The passing of power of the "Gang of Four" is not necessarily something to be mourned – as much as observed as another sign of change in the ever-roiling city. While ethnic politics will always be a part of local politics, the ethnicities are always on the move.