Many are asking ‘who is New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ after he stepped onto the national stage. House Democrats unanimously elected him as their leader on Wednesday (Nov. 30), making history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.
It’s an understatement to call the Brooklyn congressman’s rise to power meteoric. He came to Washington in 2012 as a freshman lawmaker and in 10 short years surpassed more senior legislators to take the reins of control in the House from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is stepping down from leadership.
Jeffries, 52, will be the first House Democratic leader born after World War II, marking a generational change of leadership in Congress’ lower chamber. Growing up in the hip-hop era, he came of age during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s.
With Republicans holding a slim majority after the 2022 midterm elections, Jeffries is tasked with retaking control of the House in 2024.
Below are five things to know about Jeffries’ background as he prepares to take the helm in the upcoming legislative session as House minority leader.
1. He’s a Brooklyn native
Jeffries is a lifelong Brooklynite who spent his childhood in the borough’s Crown Heights neighborhood. It was a melting pot of Black Americans, Afro Caribbean immigrants and Jewish Americans.
“I am who I am. A child of two working-class parents from a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, coming of age during some rough times as it relates to the crack cocaine era — but also being surrounded by an incredibly loving community,” Jeffries told reporters at a news conference, according to The New York Daily News.
Jeffries now lives in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood with his wife Kennisandra Arciniegas Jeffries and their two sons.
2. His parents inspired his public service career
The congressman’s mother, Laneda Jeffries, was a social worker, and his father, Marland Jeffries, worked as a state substance abuse counselor. In 2015, Jeffries told Farah Halime of OZY.com that his "public service spirit” came from his parents.
3. He’s worked as a corporate lawyer
Before entering politics, the former New York state Assemblyman was a corporate lawyer who worked at one time as in-house counsel at Viacom and CBS, according to CBS News.
A product of New York City public schools, Jeffries graduated from Binghamton University in 1992 with a bachelor’s in political science, Georgetown University in 1994 with a master of public policy degree, and New York University Law School in 1997.
4. He’s a hip-hop fan
In 2020, when Jeffries served as the Democrat’s impeachment manager at the Senate trial of Donald Trump, Jeffries quoted one of late rapper Notorious B.I.G. 's most famous lyrics, “And if you don’t know, now you know.”
Jeffries invoked Biggie in response to Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow asking, “Why are we here?” according to The New York Post.
"We are here, sir, because President Trump abused his power and then he tried to cover it up," Jeffries said. "And we are here, sir, to follow the facts, follow the law, be guided by the Constitution, and present the truth to the American people."
He concluded with: "That is why we are here, Mr. Sekulow. And if you don't know, now you know," quoting Biggie’s hit song, "Juicy."
5. Could he be the Next Obama? Maybe
After his 2012 election victory, some people were already talking about similarities between Jeffries and President Barack Obama, The Washington Post reported 10 years ago.
Jeffries is “someone who works easily within both the black and white communities,” Jeffries’ law firm mentor Theodore Wells, told The Post. “I think Hakeem represents a natural evolution in the background of African American politicians. The prior generation of African American politicians had their roots in the civil rights movements of the 1960s, but Hakeem's generation grew up in a more multicultural America, and in that sense their backgrounds and perspectives are different.”