Mar 17, 2012 News Comments Off on REMARKABLE PEOPLE: ALBERT BALDEO
DISTRICT LEADER, ATTORNEY & COMMUNITY ADVOCATE (NY)
The Queens Tribune/Press of South East Queens probably analyzed Albert Baldeo best when it endorsed him as a champion of the oppressed in September 2008: “While Baldeo’s abrasive style of bare-knuckle politics may not win him many allies in the political establishment, it’s been effective in voicing the concerns of his community…If’s there’s one person qualified to represent the underdogs, it’s Baldeo.” He is popularly called the Al Sharpton of Richmond Hill, or the Cheddi Jagan of New York.
On February 7, 2012, Albert Baldeo utilized his vision and initiative as a District Leader and community advocate to organize an unprecedented march and rally by the large Indo Caribbean community upon Queens Borough Hall to demand a seat at the table of government, and to keep Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park or “Little Guyana” together as a district, instead of being fragmented into several Assembly, State Senate and Congressional seats.
This redistricting exercise is done every 10 years, and previous attempts were quashed by those who wanted to preserve the status quo. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi have both talked about the urgency of now, and have installed in us that we must be the change we want to see in the world. We just cannot sit on the sidelines and expect that we will see changes. Democracy has never been a spectator’s sport,” Baldeo philosophized to those who say that he was born before his time.
He is not a professional politician, but “became involved in politics because he knows that real economic, social and political reforms are best achieved through legislative action or by revolutionary initiative. Advocacy in the court room has its limitations, whereas you can help an entire nation through political initiatives,” he reasoned.
His passion for civil rights and social justice found a natural ally in his professional instincts as a successful attorney.
In the legal field, he carved new horizons by becoming one of the youngest lawyers at 22 years, and a Magistrate and Senior State Counsel at 25 in Guyana. He was one of Guyana’s most able prosecutors. His efforts rid the country of many violent criminals who had terrorized and killed innocent hard working families.
His most famous case was The State v. Alvin Mitchell, which was reported in the West Indian Law Reports. He prosecuted Mitchell for strangling a young waitress to death in Bartica, and then dumping her out of a land rover. In other cases, he secured convictions against Donald Aulder, and his marauding band of killers, who had instituted a reign of terror upon Guyanese.
They had robbed and killed several business people, including the Shivram family, who operated a jewelry business. It was this concern for public safety, and making government answerable to the average citizen that propelled him into public service.
His historic 2006 State Senate candidacy found its genesis in a proposed bill to legalize racial profiling against people of color, sponsored in the state legislature by the incumbent Serf Maltese, and, citing the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he said, “he could not in good conscience sit back and allow our children to grow up in the greatest country on earth to be judged by the color of their skin, and not by their content and character.” Baldeo also exposed and condemned police profiling and the quota system of revenue ticketing at a Town Hall meeting and protested to the various Commissioners that minorities were targeted by some of their members. His initiative brought relief to the community.
Many referred to the Borough Hall rally as akin to the great march upon Washington decades ago undertaken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which led to the removal of the racial barriers we now take for granted in America today, albeit on a smaller scale, and with a “NY’s Little Guyana” focus.
For Baldeo and company, it was the fruit of many long meetings for over a year. The group was armed with placards, t-shirts and data from the Asian American Legal Defense Fund and from the Taking Our Seat Organization. They dominated the proceedings, and made their voices heard.
“I was born in America, but I never felt like we had any rights or voice in anything. Baldeo changed that today, and I will continue his legacy to carry that torch,” some young protesters vowed.
There has never been an Asian American or South Asian elected to office in the New York City or New York State. Baldeo was Exhibit “A”, as he explained the need for political representation, a fight he narrowly lost in that painful defeat against Republican Serf Maltese in 2006.
He would have been the first to break the barrier, but many felt that our community was cheated because of his immigrant background and independent way of thinking. NY1 had declared him the winner on that historic night, when, for the first time, an Indo Caribbean and person of South Asian heritage had won an election in New York State’s history, only to see the results reversed overnight.
“Our votes were suppressed. However, Senator Maltese’s proposed bill to legalize racial profiling and make people of color second class citizens in NY State was defeated, and this was the main reason why I challenged him. We got our message across that everyone, including minorities, should be treated fairly in America,” Baldeo said.
Most people would have quit after such an excruciating experience. Politics is institutionalized in Queens. Outsiders are not let into the door. Immigrants are treated like orphans and step children. But Baldeo has never been a quitter.
Not to be denied, Albert staged the largest margin of victories in Queens history in a triple contest when he won the Democratic District leadership, Delegate to the Judicial Convention and County Committeman’s race with 80% of the votes cast a few years later in 2010 against a well financed opponent.
Although an unpaid position, District Leaders can use their clout to bring resources and recognition to their communities, and Baldeo has certainly put his on the map. To have achieved these large unprecedented majorities in gerrymandered districts speaks volumes for Baldeo’s appeal to voters across the board.
No victory or achievement has ever come easy for Albert Baldeo. He has no godfathers, or godmothers for that matter. His entire life has been one of overcoming odds, and daring to challenge and conquer new frontiers not previously scaled.
Rejected at the tender age of 8 by Rama Krishna Primary, he had to struggle at the Vryheid’s Lust/Better Hope School. Yet, at 10 years old, he became the first person to pass the Common Entrance Examination from that community.
At a ceremony at the school as Albert prepared to compete with the country’s best brains at Queens College, the adulation of being admired by a large rural community left an indelible imprint in his psyche as to the many future challenges in life he would have to overcome, and that for the most part, he had to be a torch bearer.
At his admission to the Bar, another first, the Judge remarked that he had never admitted a more promising lawyer, or one from a humbler family. Even today, Albert rarely uses the Hon. and Esq. Titles he has earned.
Albert’s achievements and efforts must also be seen in the context of his family’s sacrifices. “They sowed the seeds. We reaped the harvest,” he says reverently of his parents, now deceased. He could not have flourished without his parents’ foresight. This resulted in the Baldeo siblings becoming an engineer, medical doctor, teacher and lawyer respectively, in one of the most unique and unlikely success stories, buttressed by the enduring faith of family and sacrifice.
The descendants of indentured servants from India had realized their fore parents’ dreams.
District Leader Albert Baldeo led the way as he fired up the NAACP rally outside Borough Hall, and then testified that Indo Caribbeans and South Asians have proved to all that they are electable in City, State and Federal elections in New York City.
“I am living testimony of this, and you just have to check the public records when I almost defeated a 20 year old incumbent State Senator-Serf Maltese, but lost by a few votes, in a seat that has over 310,000 constituents before I was elected District Leader. We have come to cash that check,” Baldeo said.
He protested the common problems of home foreclosures, closure of hospitals, medical centers and schools, kids being subjected to filthy, overcrowded trailer parks and locker rooms for classrooms, spiraling unemployment, increased taxes and the cost of living, and the lack of government services and funding, and threatened legal action for breaches of the Voting Rights Act.
Albert’s efforts have given everyone a blue print of how we can advocate and fight for our just share, unite over our petty prejudices, and assimilate as proud Americans in the USA and elsewhere. He empowers his community by giving free legal guidance on the immigration and civil rights issues confronting them.
He also donates to charitable causes, dispenses free legal consultations, voter registration and citizenship drives, and started a fund for sick children.
How does one who grapples with such challenges and pursuits find time to unwind?
For recreation, Baldeo plays cricket, and is extremely knowledgeable on cricket statistics. He is such an accomplished batsman that he holds the record for scoring the most centuries in competitive softball cricket, not bad for someone who wanted to become a test batsman like Rohan Kanhai, his boyhood hero of the West Indies, but had to make adjustments along the way as his life and philosophy progressed.
The state of New York, and, indeed, everyone who dreams of a better life, are very much the beneficiaries of those changes, as the several citations and testimonials that adorn his office confirm.
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