For New Yorkers of even the slightest progressive bent, elections in this city can be deeply disappointing. After two elections where Rudolph W. Giuliani prevailed in his campaigns for mayor, there has been more than ample reason to lament some of the city’s election results.
That’s why it was so refreshing to see the victory in the Democratic congressional primary by Hakeem Jeffries. An assemblyman from Brooklyn, Jeffries has been outspoken in his opposition to the city’s stop-and-frisk practices, in assisting homeowners facing foreclosure and in support of reform of prison-based redistricting.
He has been a progressive voice that is rightly headed to a larger platform in Congress, where he is bound to be a strong supporter of the Obama agenda and a fighter against the extremist agenda of the Republican right, which is determined to turn back the clock on the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
What is particularly fascinating is the way in which the New York media portrayed the race between Jeffries and his opponent, City Councilman Charles Barron. Perhaps as a means of sounding an alarm bell, the media spun the campaign coverage as though Barron actually had a shot at victory.
They pointed to Barron’s endorsement by the retiring incumbent Rep. Edolphus Towns as evidence that the councilman’s campaign was on the ascent. Apart from focusing on comments that Barron made over the years that were harshly critical of Israel and Jews, there was little in the way of earnest analysis of the race.
The fact is that Barron never had a chance of winning. Jeffries, who won the primary with 72 percent of the vote, had dramatically outpaced him in fundraising to a degree that made Barron’s campaign coffers seem laughable. Also, Jeffries had the endorsement of nearly all of the city’s major labor unions, and union endorsements in local races translate into a wealth of campaign workers.
Most significantly, there is the stark difference in the image and tone taken by these two candidates. Jeffries has always been seen as a strong advocate of progressive issues, but in a way that is conciliatory and as one who can work across a spectrum of racial and ethnic lines.
Barron, on the other hand, is best known for his stridency. Privately, he is a personable man, but he manages to strike a public tone of harshness and even insensitivity. His post-primary comments serve as a fitting example.
“At the risk of sounding like a sore loser, there will be no congratulatory statement made because the other candidate ran a smear campaign and showed a lack of character,” Barron said.
Barron suggested that he might well have been the object of a conspiracy.
“They had the media,” he said of the Jeffries campaign. “They called us names–the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the white media–because we were endorsed by the Amsterdam News and Black Star. We had the Wall Street corporate elite, the Democratic establishment and the media all against us. But we put the state and nation on notice.”
Not the musings of a good sport.
Meanwhile, Jeffries spoke at his victory event of a need to build bridges and to work collaboratively with all New Yorkers. It is the kind of leadership this city sorely needs. And it’s heartily welcomed.