Conservative voters will elect Downtown’s next Congressman, insiders say

Barron makes the fight against Rep. Ed Towns a three-way
File photo by Rebecca Ballhaus

The fate of Downtown neighborhoods from Brooklyn Heights to Clinton Hill may be decided by voters in some of the borough’s most conservative communities.

Political insiders say House hopefuls Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) and Councilman Charles Barron (D–East New York) — the candidates battling to replace
retiring Rep. Ed Towns (D–Fort Greene) — will likely carry their home turf and run competitive campaigns in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

But whoever picks up more votes in Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Marine Park, and Bergen Beach — mostly white, right-leaning neighborhoods that were added to the expansive Central Brooklyn district last month — will come out on top in a sprawling, horse shoe-shaped district, experts say.

“Southern Brooklyn is going to make the difference in this election,” Canarsie District Leader Frank Seddio said.

Neither candidate is well known in Southern Brooklyn, where Democrats tend to vote more conservatively than elsewhere in the borough — electing Republican Rep. Bob Turner after former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner stepped down in disgrace following a sexting scandal.

After new legislative maps tacked Turner’s stomping grounds onto the district, Jeffries says he’s focused on winning swing voters in Southern Brooklyn’s “battleground communities.”

“I’ve spent an increasingly significant amount of time in the southern portion of the district,” said Jeffries, a Crown Heights native.

Political groups and elected officials such as the influential Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club and Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) are already lining up behind the more moderate Jeffries, who they say is a better fit for the district than Barron — a bombastic orator known for his fiery speeches and controversial statements on race and Israel.

Barron down-played Jeffries’s endorsements and claimed he often fights for neighborhoods such as Coney Island.

“This is not my first time in Coney Island — I’ve been out there before,” said Barron, who voted against the city’s rezoning of the People’s Playground in 2009. “I don’t need to come up with some slick way to get votes. I just have to present myself to these communities.”

Barron nearly beat Towns in a three-way primary in 2006, thanks to a strong showing in Central Brooklyn. But he only captured a paltry 31 percent of the vote in neighborhoods including Marine Park, Mill Basin, and Bergen Beach.

Seddio said Barron’s popularity in Brownsville might not translate in Bergen Beach.

“If he’s planning to change his rhetoric I don’t think that anybody’s going to be fooled,” said Seddio, who’s backing Jeffries. “Charles has made many, many remarks over the years that people consider offensive. I don’t think he can get around that.”

Barron is also behind in the money game. He ran a solid race against Towns with just $132,000 in 2006, but so far he’s only brought in $42,089 just two months before the June 26 primary, according to campaign finance records.

Jeffries hauled in $237,587 in the last three months, and has just under $400,000 cash on hand.

Political analysts said the Fort Greene pol’s fundraising advantage makes him the odds-on favorite.

“Barron has the populist argument and Jeffries has the money,” said Hank Sheinkopf, who worked for Towns before the veteran lawmaker announced he would not seek reelection. “You have to give Jeffries the edge.”

Political insiders say voters in Southern Brooklyn neighborhood may be swayed by the more moderate Hakeem Jeffries — a House hopeful vying for Rep. Ed Towns's seat.
Julia Dahl