Retiring Rep. Ed Towns endorses Charles Barron in House race

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

Councilman Charles Barron landed the endorsement of retiring Rep. Ed Towns, giving the charismatic and controversial Canarsie politician a major boost in his House race against state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.

Towns (D–Fort Greene) gave his blessing to Barron on Sunday, saying he hopes the firebrand pol will succeed him in Congress because of his history as a political maverick.

“Independent voices are needed more than ever in today’s political environment,” Towns said in a statement. “That’s why I am giving my support to Charles Barron who has been an independent voice over the years. He is unselfish and is definitely has the interests of the people of this district at heart.”

Barron — a former Black Panther who ran an impressive but ultimately unsuccessful 2006 campaign against Towns — said his campaign is experiencing a “momentum swing.”

“He is extremely powerful and influential and I am tremendously appreciative,” said Barron. “We go back a ways — we knew even if we were on different sides of the political fence, we needed to unite for the district.”

The sitting lawmaker’s backing is a coup for Barron, who also picked up the support of the city’s largest public employee union, DC 37, last week.

Jeffries, the presumed frontrunner, has racked up a slew of support from unions, public officials, and church leaders over the past two months throughout the district, which stretches from Fort Greene to Canarsie and now includes Coney Island, Mill Basin, Marine Park, and Flatlands thanks to recently redrawn boundary lines.

Both candidates appeared to be courting Towns’s endorsement by campaigning for change in Washington while sparing the incumbent of much criticism.

But Barron says it was a mutual rival more than kind words that won him the endorsement.

The outspoken Councilman says he earned Towns’s nod in part because of the incumbent’s feud with Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez, who backs Jeffries.

Lopez stymied Towns’s bid to succeed his son, Darryl Towns, as a Democratic district leader in Bushwick last year, reigniting tensions between the powerful rivals that date back decades.

“It’s important that we don’t have a person that Vito controls — it’s not good for our district,” said Barron. “Both of us are concerned with Vito’s influence. It will have a detrimental impact.”

A Jeffries spokesman said Towns’s endorsement of Barron was not a surprise when reached on Sunday and said the nod shows his rival “consummating a shotgun marriage with a sworn political enemy.”

“Hakeem Jeffries spent today in Albany with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly advancing meaningful marijuana arrest reform legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers each year,” said Jeffries spokeswoman Lupe Todd. “The contrast couldn’t be any clearer.

Democratic District Leader Chris Owens (D–Prospect Heights), who is not backing anyone in the race, says the endorsement is a big deal for Barron.

“It helps Barron with senior citizens who are the most likely to vote in parts of the district where Ed and Charles are known but where Hakeem is unknown,” he said. “Turnout is going to be very low, so every vote matters.”