For weeks observers of New York politics have focused largely on Rep. Charles Rangel's bid for re-election. Besieged by ethics issues, poor health and a formidable opponent in a newly drawn district, Tuesday's congressional primary could mean the end of his decades-long and storied career on Capitol Hill, but he may just prove he's still got it and win.
Yet it's another Charles — Barron, that is — who's got Democrats more concerned lately. The ex-Black Panther with an incendiary tongue appears to be running a competitive race in Brooklyn against state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to replace retiring Rep. Edolphous Towns.
It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. Indeed, few doubted that rising star and Jeffries, a member of a new generation of African-American politicians á la President Obama and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, would succeed Towns. Though city councilman Barron, by contrast, is an extremist given to making cringe-worthy remarks about whites, Jews and homosexuals, he's received the 15-term lawmaker's endorsement and according to The New York Times his candidacy has been "surging."
In the past, Barron has called Thomas Jefferson a pedophile and Moammar Ghadafi his personal hero and has expressed a desire to slap white people. He also brought the controversial Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to New York City Hall. Then late last week former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke endorsed Barron. He disagrees with many of Barron's views, but considers him to be a "dedicated anti-Zionist."
Democratic congressional campaign committee chairman Steve Israel, New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are backing Jeffries. (The governor also has endorsed Rangel.) But many top Democrats are breaking a sweat over the possibility that Barron could win and are in the final hours working overtime to help defeat him.
Political consultant and former Towns campaign adviser Hank Sheinkopf thinks their panic is much ado about nothing and is confident that Jeffries will prevail.
"Hakeem will win because David Duke just elected him," he said. "This is great. A Black man is being elected to a congressional seat by a Nazi."
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(Photos: Gustau Nacarino/Landov; Jemal Countess/Getty Images)