In Brooklyn, a Heated Race to Succeed Congressman Edolphus Towns

The two major candidates in the June 26 primary are both Democrats and both Black, but have some notable differences.

Posted: 06/14/2012 05:16 PM EDT

Left to right: Charles Barron and Hakeem Jeffries (Photos: Jemal Countess/Getty Images; REUTERS/Hans Pennink)

It is one of the most fiercely contested congressional races in the country and it is taking place in a newly redistricted area in Central Brooklyn, New York. It is a race that pits a longtime Brooklyn firebrand Councilman against a younger and less impetuous state Assemblyman.

The seat, which is now held by the nearly 30-year incumbent Edolphus Towns, is being vacated by the long-term congressman. And that race to succeed him has been filled with a number of charges between the two candidates in the June 26 Democratic primary.

Charles Barron, 61, is a former Black Panther whose district is anchored in the Brooklyn's East New York section. He has strongly supported affirmative actions, reparations for slavery, Ebonics training for teachers and has made clear his disdain for capitalism. In 2006, Barron, a member of the City Council since 2002, said he was feeling disconnected from the Democratic Party and called for greater Black determination, launching a new Black and Latino-led Freedom Party. He has been a strong supporter of both Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi.

On the other hand, Hakeem Jeffries, 41, is a lawyer with and Master’s Degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a law degree from New York University. He was a lawyer with one of New York’s most prestigious law firms before leaving to go to the New York State Assembly in 2007. In that position, Jeffries championed such issues as affordable housing and combatting New York City’s stop and frisk program, under which hundreds of thousands of young minority youth are routinely stopped by police.

The two candidates differ on few public policy issues of the day, which has not prevented them from sparring at each other. Barron has sought to portray Jeffries as a well-intentioned candidate whose passion is unequal to his own, Jefferies has cast Barron as an intemperate politician whose appeal is not wide enough among the racially diverse district to represent it properly.

There are some significant imbalances, however. Jeffries leads Barron in fund raising by a margin of more than 5-1. Jeffries has received the endorsement of most of the city’s most prominent unions, from the transit works to the city’s health care workers. In addition, he has the endorsement of United States Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, who district is adjacent to the Eighth Congressional District.

Barron, on the other hand, has the endorsement of the outgoing congressman Towns as well as the municipal employees union.

In recent days, however, Barron has been the focal point of criticism from various Jewish leaders, including former mayor Ed Koch and United States Congressman Jerrold Nadler, for what they call Barron’s insensitivity to their Israel and Jews (Barron once referred to Israel as “the biggest terrorist in the world”).

Meanwhile, the next week will see some of the most intense campaigning in the district, which is a largely Black landscape but, due to redistricting, has added some large pockets of Jewish and Russian-American neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn.


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