Southern Brooklyn center of Jeffries—Barron brawl

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries is vying to replace Rep. Ed Towns, who announced last week that he’s retiring after nearly 30 years in Congress.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The Democratic primary between Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) and Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie) could come down to voters living in Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Marine Park, and Bergen Beach — conservative neighborhoods that were added to the expansive Central Brooklyn district last month.

Political insiders say the candidates battling to replace Rep. Ed Towns, who announced his retirement last week after nearly 30 years in Congress, are expected to carry their home turfs and run competitive campaigns in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but whoever picks up more votes in the mostly white, right-leaning portion of the district could win the race.

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

Neither black candidate is known in Southern Brooklyn, where Democrats tend to vote more conservatively than elsewhere in the borough.

When borough congressional maps were redrawn last month as part of the decennial redistricting process, Towns received neighborhoods once represented by Reps. Bob Turner and Anthony Weiner, who stepped down in disgrace following a sexting scandal. Weiner’s former district, which includes Bergen Beach and Marine Park, is mostly Democratic, but tends to vote Republican.

In 2010, Rep. Jerrold Nadler — whose district includes a swath of real estate that stretches from the Upper West Side to Seagate and Brighton Beach — neighborhoods Jeffries and Barron are now fighting for — lost the two communities to his Republican opponent Susan Kone. Kone won 60 percent of the ballots cast in the area — and also triumphed in the assembly district that includes Manhattan Beach. Nadler was still victorious, however, gaining steam in the northern parts of his district.

Jeffries, a Crown Heights native, said he’s focused on winning over swing voters in Southern Brooklyn’s “battleground communities.”

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

Political groups such as the influential Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) and other elected officials 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 racial views.

Barron down-played Jefferies endorsements, and says 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.”

But 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 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 Democrat Assemblyman Alan Maisel’s district, which includes Marine Park, Mill Basin and Bergen Beach.

Barron raised $132,000 for the 2006 campaign. This time around he’s only raised $42,089, 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 in the June 26 primary.

“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.”

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Canarsie) announced that he will run against Rep. Ed Towns (D-Fort Greene) in 2012.
File photo by Rebecca Ballhaus

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