Hakeem Jeffries doesn’t need to run for re-election until 2011. So why has he been setting up a folding table and flimsy chairs outside subway stations all summer?
It’s clearly not because he’s such a matinee idol.
“Who is he? I thought Letitia James was our City Councilmember,” said one lady.
She is. Jeffries is the assemblyman — newly minted, in fact. But just because he got 64 percent of the vote last year doesn’t mean his constituents (even the ones who voted for him) know who he is.
And so, for the past seven weeks, every Tuesday and Wednesday from 5–7 pm, Jeffries has brought this makeshift office to subway entrances throughout his Fort Greene district. The goal was simple: visibility. Jeffries says he wanted to convince his constituents that he isn’t the kind of politician who only shows his face in public when he’s trying to get elected.
“Once a politician gets in office, sometimes it’s difficult to get access to him,” said Jeffries, a Democrat. “I want to make sure people know I’m highly accessible to the community.”
Last week, Jeffries appropriated the corner of Hanson Place and St. Felix Street, in the shadow of the Atlantic Avenue Target, to greet residents as they lugged home bags from Pathmark and the Container Store.
“How ya’ doing ma’am?” he said to one hurried homemaker. “How ya’ doing, brother?” he said to another.
Despite Jeffries’s best efforts, most constituents walked on by, leaving the assemblyman pacing awkwardly around, adjusting brochures and steadying the flimsy tripod that held up the sign bearing his name and title.
“What’s this all about?” asked one woman with a Jamaican accent. Once she was told Jeffries party affiliation (“Ooh, I love Democrats,” she said), she told Jeffries about some immigration problem she was having.
The assemblyman took down the woman’s name and complaint, promising to get in touch with suggestions.
By 6 pm, several men and women had related tales of landlords threatening to evict them on mysterious grounds. Another man complained that affordable housing was becoming scarce.
“I think this office hours thing is brilliant,” said the man, Augustine Diji, a real-estate broker. “It shows he’s accessible. It’s very organic.”
Jeffries’s staffers said the assemblyman himself came up with the outdoor office gimmick, and it was easy to see why. Jeffries, a corporate lawyer, worked the corner like he owned it, chatting about congestion pricing (he’s a cautious proponent), unemployment (he told a woman having trouble with benefits that he’d check into the law), and drug activity (he encouraged a couple to stand up for their block).
The street-corner gig over, Jeffries went right back to old-fashioned work at 55 Hanson Pl.
“We’ll have a staff meeting to go through the problems and make sure people get assistance,” Jeffries said.
©2007 Community News Group
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