10:30 am Nov. 11, 2011
"Oh yeah, I'm running," Brooklyn congressman Ed Towns told me with a big smile on the steps of City Hall yesterday afternoon.
Rumors that Towns might retire have been a recurring theme for about half of his 28 years in Congress, and they were stoked again last month when, facing a potential primary challenge from upstart assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Towns reported just $11,240 in cash on hand.
Jeffries, for his part, reported raising $173,810 (with $158,945 on hand), and he has assembled a coalition in support of his congressional run that is unusually comprehensive in the Balkanized context of Brooklyn politics.
Towns, speaking after a press conference about federal housing cuts, said he was not overly concerned about the strength of Jeffries' potential challenge, nor surprised.
"I've had several primaries," he said. "I've been in 15 terms, and in most of those terms I've had a primary. So I think I'd probably be shocked if I didn't have one.
"This is something I've heard ever since my first term. They said that, 'Towns will serve one term and he'll be out.' And that was 14 terms ago. So now they're coming again. They said I was vulnerable 4 years ago, 6 years ago—I mean, you know, I hear that. But if you're working for the people and you're connecting with the people, you don't have to worry about that.
"My only problem right now is that I got to get active and raise some money. And I'll be fine."
But Towns might have more problems than just money. He lost an Assembly seat this summer, by proxy, when his daughter came in third out of three candidates to replace her brother, Darryl, who resigned the seat when he was appointed state housing commissioner. Towns shrugged off the notion he's "vulnerable" and said his son's selection was a sign of the family's strength.
"I've heard all this vulnerability stuff. 'He doesn't have any power,'" Towns said. "Look at, you know, the only person that the governor gave a high position to, in the minority community in Brooklyn, his last name was Towns. I don't know how they can arrive at these conclusions. It's interesting."
Asked about redistricting, Towns said he wasn't particularly concerned about where the 10th District's lines are drawn, citing his time representing the whole borough as Brooklyn's first black deputy borough president from 1976 to 1982. (Conventional wisdom at the moment is that it would help Jeffries against Towns if the district lines are redrawn to include mostly white areas like Brooklyn Heights.)
"I can relate to people, so it doesn't matter to me," he said. "Some people have to be concerned about a certain ethnic group. That is not my problem. My problem is I need to know where the lines are so I can start working."
Towns, who keeps a light public schedule at home in his district and is not regarded as an overly ambitious congressman in Washington, sounded genuinely excited about getting to work on his re-election.
"And one thing else, people don't realize, you know, I love to campaign, I love it," he added, letting out a laugh. "I love it. I love it. I really do. And I must have had some success, because 15 times and they haven't knocked me out yet. I keep hearing 'He's vulnerable, he's vulnerable.' Maybe their definition of vulnerability is a little different than mine."