Rep. Towns Retirement Opens Door to New Political Blood

After 30 years in Congress, the departure of Edolphus Towns has surprised many and encourages a new generation of politicians.

Posted: 04/18/2012 05:29 PM EDT

For 30 years, Edolphus Towns has been in Congress, representing a district in central Brooklyn. He was widely expected to serve his 16th term, but the longtime congressman stunned the New York political world by announcing he would not run for re-election this year.

The news represents one of the most stunning changing-of-the-guard scenarios in the politics of New York in some time. Towns’s decision clears the way for a new member of Congress from the largely Black district.

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a former corporate lawyer who gave up a comfortable professional life to go into politics, is the candidate widely considered to be the front runner. The other candidate in the race is City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther who had a long career in community activism before being elected.

But Barron’s fundraising has been rather anemic compared with the financial prowess Jeffries has demonstrated, having outraised the incumbent congressman. In addition, Barron’s rhetoric over the years has been perceived as being stridently militant and patently unappealing to the white residents, who make up roughly a quarter of New York’s newly reconfigured 10th Congressional District.

Meanwhile, Jeffries has developed a reputation as a measured, highly eloquent member of the Assembly. He is known for speaking forcefully against the New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which has led to many Black and Latino New Yorkers being stopped by the police.

At the same time, he has been a champion of reducing property taxes for New York homeowners and for getting the state to increase its funding for the city’s public schools.

Apart from his impressive fund raising, Jeffries has also put together a formidable number of endorsements from unions and politicians, which may have had a role in the congressman’s decision not to seek re-election. But more than that, he might have also been persuaded by some machinations within Brooklyn politics.

For years, many in Brooklyn’s political circles expected Towns to be succeeded by his son, Darryl C. Towns, a longtime member of the New York Assembly. But the younger Towns left elective office and took a position in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Towns’s daughter, Deidra Towns, ran for the vacant Assembly seat last fall and lost to a relative political newcomer. That was a clear sign that the congressman, who has been a part of a number of internal political feuds within Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, had lost clout within his home turf within a larger congressional district.

Meanwhile, Towns has been saluted by President Obama.

 

“As a veteran, teacher, minister and congressman, Edolphus Towns has dedicated his life to public service," Obama said in a statement. "In his 30 years representing the people of New York, Ed has fought tirelessly to improve the public healthcare system, strengthen consumer protections and improve the public education system.”


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