By: Tony Best
Two new faces in the U.S. Congress, one from Brooklyn and the other from Queens and a return of experienced lawmakers to Capitol Hill.
Those are the results in some keenly contested Congressional district where tens of thousands of Blacks, Hispanics and Asian live and vote. At the same time, the election saga continues over the Congressional seat in Manhattan which for more than half of a century reflected the influence of Black New Yorkers.
Of the races settled so far, New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a popular Black figure in Brooklyn politics seems set to inherit the mantle held for decades by retiring Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns in a newly redrawn Brooklyn District while in Queens, Assemblywoman Grace Meng won a four-way Democratic primary battle for a House seat created by the decision of Representative Gary L. Ackerman to retire. Should both Jeffries and Meng emerge victorious in the November election they would be among freshmen members of the New York delegation. They are both expected to win in mostly Democratic constituencies. In Meng’s case victory is expected to make her the first Asian-American federal lawmaker from New York.
“I am going to Washington to stand up for children, to stand up for job creation, to stand up for civil rights to stand up for senior citizens, and to stand up for our president, Barack Obama,” said Jeffries after defeating City Council member, Charles Barron by an unusually wide margin.
In the re-drawn Ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn, Yvette Clarke, a three-term representative is on course to continue her presence on Capitol Hill by capturing the Democratic nomination while Nydia Velasquez, a public figure for the past 20 years is returning to Congress having turned back a serious challenge mounted by City Councilman Erik M. Dillan. The District now brings together voters in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, the only one of its kind in the City.
Also in Queens, Gregory Meeks who has represented the Sixth District for more than a decade easily won re-election by virtue of capturing the Democratic nomination. Thousands of Caribbean immigrants live in the District.
In Manhattan, Congressman Charles Rangel, who was first elected to the House in 1970 is leading four challengers, including State Senator Adriano Espaillat, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. Rangel, 82, who was adversely affected by back pains during the tough election campaign, is currently leading Espaillat by less than 1,000 votes in the 13th District but most observers expect him to win the final count. At one stage his margin of victory was more than 2,000 votes. The District whose lines were redrawn stretches from Manhattan to the Bronx.
“No one has been through the fire more so than our congressperson and we in the District have sent him back because we have faith in him, and that he has our interest in mind,” said New York Assemblyman Keith Wright referring to Rangel, the candidate he had endorsed.
The 22-term Congressman has thanked the voters, saying “I’m just glad that my community has faith and confidence in me.”
A contest that at one stage threatened to produce an upset in the end turned out to be an easy victory for Jeffries who used the national attention of the media and prominent organizations to get out the vote and ultimately to defeat Barron in the hard-fought campaign.
While Barron was portrayed as a controversial elected official whose statements about Libya, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Thomas Jefferson and the Gaza strip in the Middle East, not to mention Governor Andrew Cuomo had divided the City along racial lines, Jeffries, an attorney, was seen as a conciliator with a collaborative approach to politics and governance.
“We still have a long way to go with racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia,” asserted Jeffries, an attorney, who had garnered the endorsements of a long list of trade unions and prominent New Yorkers, including Governor Cuomo. Barron, on the other hand was endorsed by Towns and District Council 37, the City’s largest municipal union.
Last week’s primary election was the first since constituency boundaries were changed in the wake of the 2010 census and the switch of the election dates from September to June. The new date was ordered by federal court which wanted to ensure that the absentee votes of people serving in the military were submitted before the general election. It gave candidates a relatively short period in which to campaign and observers said that the changes worked for the benefit of the incumbents.