Councilman Charles Barron and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries will square off in a June 26th Democratic Primary. On Friday afternoon, Jeffries picked up a huge endorsement from south Queens elected officials, as well as that of the head of the Queens County Democratic Party, Congressman Joseph Crowley.
“He comes from a [Assembly] district that needs strong and vibrant representation, and he is someone who has proven himself in the state assembly,” said Crowley, standing in front of the Cross Bay Diner in Howard Beach.
He was joined in endorsing Jeffries by State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblyman Phil Golfeder, as well as several district leaders in the area.
“Up in Albany, it's quite rare to find someone who has a really hard work ethic, but more importantly is respected amongst others,” said Addabbo, who said it was important that the small portion of the 8th District that is Queens would not be forgotten. “We are standing on the small side of the district, but he understands that the district does come into Queens, and that's important to me and my constituents.”
Indeed, the 8th Congressional District encompasses a number of distinct neighborhoods, from Downtown Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Howard Beach, as well as south Brooklyn neighborhoods like Manhattan Beach and Flatlands, each with its own set of needs and issues.
“But everywhere I've been, what I've found are there are issue that unite,” said Jeffries. “Everyone cares about safe streets, everybody cares about good schools, everyone cares about a return to a strong economy.”
Jeffries, who has a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University, was elected to the Assembly in 2007, representing neighborhoods in central Brooklyn such as Fort Greene and Prospect Heights.
Barron has a long history of community activism, and was elected to the City Council in 2001. In that time, he has earned a reputation as an outspoken critic of the administration and for being a combative legislator.
Crowley, who said that Barron did not seek the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party, was perhaps referencing the councilman's reputation when he noted that Jeffries has a good relationship with his colleagues in government.
“He has a reputation of working well with his colleagues, and that is something that we strongly and desperately need in Washington today,” the congressman said.
The race presents an interesting dynamic, as two African-Americans attempt to win over voters in a part of Queens that has been scarred by racial divide. Most notably an incident in 1986, when three black men were beaten by a group of white teens in Howard Beach in a case that then-Mayor Ed Koch compared to a lynching, and one that ignited the city.
But there have been more recent cases, including a similar incident in 2005 when three black men were also beaten with bats by a group of white teens, sparking protest marches in the neighborhood. And another incident in 2007 in which the roles were reversed, when a group of black men chased and beat three white teens.
On Friday, Jeffries looked at the possible challenges as an opportunity.
“I think it is definitely an opportunity to show how far we've come in New York City,” he said. “The fact that you could have a district that includes Bedford-Stuyvesant and Howard Beach, I believe we can bring everybody together.”
Jeffries also noted that his current Assembly district is also very diverse in its makeup.
“I represented every single group regardless of race, religion or socioecomonic status and I look forward to doing the exact same thing in the 8th Congressional District,” he said. “And I've found the people of Queens warm and embracing and open to the possibility.”
Crowley also downplayed the past incidents as being a factor moving forward.
“I think that not only this community, but the entire city of New York and our entire country has changed,” Crowley said. “The past is part of our history, but we importantly look to the future and Hakeem Jeffries is part of that future.”
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries gets the endorsement of Queens political leaders in Howard Beach last week.