The late political and business icon Percy Sutton was born in 1920 – the height of the Harlem Renaissance – when political influences in the thriving Manhattan community ranged from racial separatists such as Marcus Garvey to intellectuals who favored integration like William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Dubois and myriad others who touted their ideologies sometimes on top of soap boxes. By the time Sutton died on the day after Christmas 2009, he’d seen the tide change many times over in his career as Manhattan borough president (1966-1977), a Harlem lawyer, social activist and entrepreneur.
In fact, he was a part of the mighty Gang of Four also known as the Harlem Clubhouse, four power brokers who literally changed the face of New York politics. His cohorts and surviving members are:
- David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City
- Basil Paterson, father of Governor David Paterson and first black deputy mayor of New York
- Charles Rangel, U. S. Representative
The Clubhouse were the men even mightier men and women sought for endorsements and support during elections. So fierce were the Gang of Four, they worked to unseat the dynamic Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Once trusted, they were difficult to ignore and defy as witnessed with Rangel’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. Theirs was a political machine that served as a model in other major cities in the nation (Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc.).
Gang of Four mentees included Malcolm X and Al Sharpton.
The recent woes of Governor David Paterson and U. S. Rep. Charles Rangel and split Democratic loyalties during the 2008 presidential election, along with the passing of Sutton, signal the death of a political dynasty that not only affected Harlem but national politics as well.
And the burning question remains: Who will replace the Gang of Four?