Hakeem Jeffries vs. Charles Barron: Not Your Ordinary Congressional Race
With the surprise retirement announcement of 15-term Congressman Edolphus Towns, voters in the newly constituted 8th Congressional district will have new representation, no matter who they vote for. Council member Charles Barron and Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries are vying for the winner-take-all primary on June 26. Both are well-known in the district’s traditional communities of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill, Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie and Flatlands. Added to those core communities are Mill Basin, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Seagate, as well as a few neighborhoods in Queens – Howard Beach, Lindenwood, and Ozone Park.
Jeffries and Barron have demonstrated strong public service. Their trajectories are markedly different. While Barron attended CUNY, Jeffries went to law school. While Jeffries worked for Paul Weiss, a large white shoe law firm, Barron founded and administered Dynamics of Leadership and along the way got himself arrested standing in protest with Al Sharpton during the Days of Outrage after Howard Beach. While Barron finds it impossible to-go-along-to-get-along with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, limiting his ability to pass legislation, Jeffries uses his legal skills to work with Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez and Assembly Speaker Shelley Silver to craft and pass legislation.
Jeffries has amassed a half million dollar war chest. Barron? Not so much. Jeffries went to his bases of support for campaign cash – his fraternity and law firm connections. Barron’s grassroots base does not have deep pockets. Over the years, Barron did not need much money to get his message out, all he had to do is say something sensational and he got media attention. Since his run against Towns in 2006, Barron ran for Council, again. During the intervening years he ran for Borough President until the extension of term limits allowed most citywide elected officials to keep their seat. Barron ran for governor in an attempt to establish ballot status for the Freedom Party. He also assisted his wife Assembly member Inez Barron with her first ever run for elected office, and her re-election. While Barron ran elections in a variety of races, Jeffries lost twice to then incumbent Roger Green, and then won against Bill Batson who ran a single issue campaign against Ratner’s Atlantic Yards. With a couple of re-elections under his belt, Jeffries formed an exploratory committee and began his fundraising early. His single-minded, methodical focus rewarded Jeffries with enough cash to a run negative campaign against Barron in the district neighborhoods in which neither are well known, if he chooses.
Though both have been vocal in opposition to rampant stop-and-frisk policing in African American and Hispanic communities, there are structural differences, and deficiencies in each approach. Barron does on-the-ground face time throughout his district. He has held numerous press conferences denouncing the practice. He shows up at local precincts to advocate for those in police custody. While walking the streets he has actually intercepted stop-and-frisks in progress, reminding officers that they are conducting an illegal search and seizure. Jeffries introduced a bill that was signed into law requiring NYPD cease keeping electronic databases of citizens who were stopped-and-frisked and found to have done nothing illegal. Under the law, NYPD can continue to maintain paper records. In addition, there is nothing preventing NYPD from surreptitiously continuing electronic databases. Despite both candidate’s efforts, stop-and-frisks have continued to escalate annually to more than 600,000 last year. One opportunity to change policing in NYC was missed by 50,000 votes in 2008 when Mayor Bloomberg ran for a third term despite two referendums in opposition. Barron voted against the third term for citywide officials, yet when it passed, he and other councilmembers ran for their own third terms, diluting opposition to Bloomberg.
In their respective legislative houses, Jeffries and Barron have been challenged on member items for their districts. Since Jeffries has been in office, the state has been under fiscal constraints which limited member item dollars state legislators could bring back to their districts. The problem escalated during the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis when the hemorrhage of jobs depleted state and federal tax bases. Two years of Democratic control of the State Senate could not overcome fiscal challenges to local legislator’s willingness to fund community service efforts in their districts. As a member of the City Council, Barron had a different set of challenges. Annually, Barron has voted against budgets which he viewed as benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the city’s poor and working classes. Council Speaker Quinn has had the power of limiting (and hiding in ghost slush funds) member item dollars available to council members. Because of his oppositional stance on a variety of Quinn’s pet issues, Barron has annually been limited to the bare minimum of member item dollars allocated. He was not alone. Former Council member, now State Senator, Tony Avella found himself in the same position when he voted on principle.
Both Barron and Jeffries have found innovative methods to enhance available affordable housing in their respective districts. Barron has seen his district grow single and multi-unit housing that is truly affordable to residents of East New York. Under his leadership, Barron made sure working poor with annual incomes as low as $16,000 could qualify for affordable housing. In addition, he was able to improve his district’s infrastructure with several parks, 2 new schools, and plans for a 600,000 square foot extension to Gateway Mall where anchor stores lead their national chains in sales. Jeffries district and surrounding areas had seen rampant construction of luxury housing which lay fallow and empty in the aftermath of the sub-prime derivatives crisis. Jeffries approach was to craft legislation to restructure developer’s loans so that new, empty developments from Prospect Heights to Downtown Brooklyn and all across the state could be converted into rental property. As a result, the latest Census recorded an increase in population where high-rise developments stood empty.
Both are progressive in their own way. Jeffries is solidly pro-choice, and voted in favor of marriage equality numerous times. Barron has not had the opportunity to vote on same sex marriage in the City Council, but he had gone on record as stating he believes a marriage is between and man and a woman. When asked about marriage equality during a gubernatorial debate, Barron said the Freedom Party had not yet taken a position. Barron has been a member of the Council’s Women’s committee for at least two terms. However, he is mighty quiet regarding transmitting that committee’s progressive activities throughout his district and Black Brooklyn. Barron did lead a march against commercial sex sexploitation (pimping) in his district last year.
Council member Charles Barron and Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries are wildly popular within their respective bases. Often, that support overlaps. The challenge will be to get their respective bases to the polls. It will be interesting to see how each candidate fairs in the newer sections of the district. Voters need to pay close attention to this race and come out to vote on June 26.
Originally published in Our Time Press, May 10, 2012
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