State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries announced his long-anticipated bid for Congress on Sunday and didn’t even bother to mention the 30-year incumbent he’s expected to run against.
The Fort Greene Democrat rallied over 150 supporters on the steps of Borough Hall with a seven-minute speech that described the district and its problems in broad terms, but did not make a single reference to 76-year-old Congressional veteran Rep. Ed Towns (D-Fort Greene).
“Congress is broken, people are suffering, and we deserve more,” said Jeffries.
Jeffries swore to defend President Obama, stand up against the Republican party, bring more affordable housing to the district and improve the failing education system.
He told reporters after he finished his speech that he “respects” Towns, but it’s time for communities in central Brooklyn to move in a “different direction.”
“I take him at his word and I expect him to run for re-election,” said Jeffries. “People will have to ultimately decide who to support.”
Jeffries has been plodding toward a move to Washington since May, when he began holding fundraisers in Hasidic Williamsburg, an area outside his state assembly district but a stronghold in the 10th Congressional district.
Five months later, Jeffries filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission to open a new campaign committee for his congressional run and raised over $173,000.
But Jeffries is expected to face a stiff challenge from Towns, who hasn’t lost an election since 1983, and insurgent candidate Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York), who nearly toppled Towns in a congressional race six years ago despite being heavily outspent.
Jeffries has more cash to spend than his opponents, with $158,000 in his account, according to FEC figures from September. Towns only has $11,240 in the bank, after spending $322,000 in campaign funds this fall. Barron’s campaign information remained unavailable. New campaign filings are scheduled to come out in the next week.
But the early fundraising advantage isn’t why Jeffries’s allies say he has a real shot of unseating his older rival and tamping down Barron’s challenge.
“He’s going to stand on his record in Albany, which has been to get legislation passed by reaching across the aisle and developing relationships,” said Fort Greene’s Democratic District Leader Walter Mosley.
Towns claims he’s not afraid of a Democratic primary.
“I have every intention of being re-elected and returning to Congress to continue my work on behalf of senior citizens, to fight for better educational opportunities, to protect reforms to healthcare, and to ensure that more people get jobs,” Towns said Monday.
The army veteran and Baptist minister lost a bid for State Assembly before winning an open congressional seat in 1982. He rose to become chair of the House Oversight committee, but lost the seat when Republicans won the majority in 2010.
Like his older rival, Jeffries came up short in his first race for State Assembly in 2000.
Two years later, his opponent redrew district lines to exclude Jeffries’ apartment — but Jeffries had the last laugh when he won his seat in 2006 and worked to introduce new laws reigning in the practice.
Councilman Steve Levin (D-Greenpoint) said he always envisioned that the ambitious lawmaker would find his way to Congress.
“He has compassion, intellect, and a sense of decency,” said Levin. “It’s going to be a tough race but I think he can win.”
Reach reporter Aaron Short at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2547.