East Flatbush

Youthful dreams evolved for Assemblymember Perry

In Public Service: Lawmaker Planned to Become Jamaican Prime Minister

October 13, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblymember N. Nick Perry’s original career goal was to become prime minister of Jamaica. Photo courtesy of Perry’s office

The youthful dreams N. Nick Perry had as a boy growing up in Jamaica didn’t materialize, but the veteran Brooklyn lawmaker said that’s OK because he feels fulfilled with the choices he has made and the life he has had.

Perry (D-East Flatbush-Canarsie-Brownsville) once harbored dreams of becoming prime minister of Jamaica.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, Perry, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1992, has become an influential member of that legislative chamber and in state politics in general.

He sits on the Assembly Rules Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Albany. No legislation hits the floor of the Assembly for a vote without first being passed by the Rules Committee.

Perry is also chairman of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators.

Over lunch at Queen, the famous Italian restaurant on Court Street where movers and shakers from the worlds of politics and the courts enjoy power lunches, Perry talked to the Brooklyn Eagle about his life and career.

Perry was born and raised in Saint Andrew Parish in Jamaica, as one of 11 children. He has six sisters and four brothers. He joked that he did not have his own room growing up in Jamaica.

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He attended Kingston College, where he sang in the Kingston College Chapel Choir. He still lends his rich tenor voice to special public occasions. His granddaughter, Justine Skye, is a recording artist.

Perry then decided that he wanted to come to the U.S. He arrived in New York City in 1971. He had a couple of siblings here already. He lived in an apartment on Park Place and Franklin Avenue.

His plan was to enroll in college, get his degree and head back to Jamaica. “I wanted to get experience and live in America for a while,” he told the Eagle.

He met his wife Joyce when he was 18 years old. He told her that he was going to be the prime minister of Jamaica one day.

The prime minister of Jamaica is also the minister of defense of the Caribbean nation, so Perry thought he should have a military background to prepare for the role. He enlisted in the U.S. Army. “I was called up. I took my token and I went to Fort Hamilton,” he said, referring to the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, which served as a military processing center.

The Vietnam War was still going on. “I was not afraid of going to Vietnam,” he said. He reasoned that if he was meant to die, he could die anywhere. “I had a feeling of destiny,” he said.

In basic training, he became an expert marksman with an M-16 rifle. He did not have to go to Vietnam. He got his orders the night before Dr. Henry Kissinger, the U.S. secretary of state at the time, signed a peace accord with the North Vietnamese.

Perry recalled how he got the news. He and his fellow soldiers were flying to a base in Seattle.” “The pilot said to us, ‘I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re not going home. The good news is you’re not going to Nam.’ We didn’t have to go to war,” he said.

Perry was still harboring dreams of becoming prime minister. Jamaica was going through a time of upheaval and unrest. He thought that would give him an opening since he would be a newcomer to politics.

Times were tough in Jamaica and election campaigns would often turn violent, Perry recalled. Political parties wore party colors to identify themselves like gang members wear colors. If you were caught in the wrong color of shirt, you could get attacked. Before leaving the U.S. for Jamaica, “I made sure I didn’t pack a green shirt,” Perry said.

Things are different now. “We have matured as a people and as a country,” he said.

But the dream of becoming prime minister of the country of his birth evolved into something else.

When he felt he was ready to return home to try to become prime minister, he talked to his wife. She was fully supportive of him. But he realized that he would have had to leave his wife and family here in the U.S. because of all of the dangers in Jamaica at the time.

Perry gave it a lot of thought and decided to stay here. He did not want to put his family in danger. “I lost my taste for running in an election under those circumstances. I sort of settled into getting involved where I was,” he said.

He enrolled in Brooklyn College with help from the G.I. Bill. “The G.I. Bill was fantastic for me,” he said.

Perry was active in student life in Brooklyn College. He co-founded two organizations, the United Students League and the Caribbean Student Union.

Brooklyn College gave him his first taste of bare-knuckle politics. He and other young leaders convinced students to run for seats on the student council. There were 20 seats up for grabs. “This was my introduction to American politics,” he told the Eagle.

Clubs that were used to winning student government elections got his 20 candidates thrown off the ballot for petition signature irregularities. Perry and his allies fought back. “We got a student list, looked at their signatures and knocked their candidates off the ballot,” he said.

It led to a crisis in the college. The school administration ordered that all of the candidates be put back on the ballot. Perry’s side won 15 of the 20 seats.

Perry earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He later returned to Brooklyn College and completed his master’s degree in public administration.

Within a few years, he would become a force in his East Flatbush community. In 1983, Perry was appointed to Community Board 17 and eventually became the board’s chairman.

Perry also served on the executive board of the 67th Police Precinct Community Council and was a member of the Flatbush East Community Development Corporation.

Perry ran for state Assembly in 1992 and won. He has been re-elected every two years since. He represents the 58th Assembly District.

The issues his constituents are concerned about include job opportunities, housing and transportation. “Brooklyn is surging with people coming from all parts of America,” he said.

Perry said he is also concerned about the criminal justice system.

He recently met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and African-American clergy leaders. “We visited Riker’s Island. I was amazed at the terrible conditions. There was no air conditioning in some places. It could contribute to how people behave. It was hot. They have some fans there. The fans were not adequate to cool it,” he said.

When asked if Riker’s Island should be closed. He said, “Close it? Yes, I think they should close it.”

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