Why Hakeem Jeffries may be Cuomo’s guy in the House

Hakeem Jeffries talks to constituents. (via Jeffries' website.)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Andrew Cuomo may soon have a new ally in the New York congressional delegation.

Last month, when the governor was aggressively pushing for expansion of the state's DNA database to include information even on low-level offenders like turnstile-jumpers, he acceded to exactly one exception: first-time misdemeanor marijuana offenders.

It was a small but signficant nod to opponents of the city's stop-and-frisk policy, and the legislator poised to claim the most credit for Cuomo's concession was Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn.

Jeffries, who is running for Congress, and Cuomo have developed a mutually beneficial working relationship in their relatively short time together in the Capitol, with Cuomo often considering Jeffries' legislative prerogatives, and Jeffries, in turn, providing Cuomo vocal support from within the legislature's black and Latino caucus.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

With longtime congressman Ed Towns dropping his bid for re-election, Jeffries has become the prohibitive front-runner to replace him.

Jeffries has staked out a more progressive profile than Cuomo, demonstrated by his enthusiastic support from unions and the Working Families Party, which still view Cuomo with considerable skepticism. But the two officials share plenty of common ground, and on the big issues, Jeffries has been a reliable ally of the governor.

In December, Jeffries offered strong support for the governor's tax compromise and praised the economic aid he delivered to Brooklyn. Last month, despite being the Assembly sponsor of a bill for nonpartisan redistricting, he refrained from criticizing Cuomo when the governor went back on a pledge to veto lines drawn by the legislature. (Jeffries voted against the bill, but kept virtually silent while his Democratic counterparts in the State Senate—his putative allies in the fight for redistricting refrom—screamed bloody murder.)

The affection appears to be mutual. Cuomo, a former federal housing secretary and possible future presidential candidate, appointed Jeffries to the Economic Development and Labor Committee of his transition team.

Only two members of Congress were included among the dozens of elected officials and business leaders: Nydia Velazquez, who was a co-chair, and Peter King, a Republican, who was on the Public Safety Committee.

Cuomo's friend, former boss and 2010 campaign finance chair, Andrew Farkas, who is often seen as a proxy for Cuomo's support, gave $1,000 to Jeffries' campaign committee in December. Jeffries has also gotten significant financial support from Cuomo's allies in the charter-school movement.

Interestingly, Ed Towns, who Jeffries is running to replace, was arguably one of the most Cuomo-friendly members of the delegation until now. His son Daryl provided a relatively early endorsement of Cuomo's campaign for attorney general in 2006, when some black officials still smarting from Cuomo's primary challenge to Carl McCall in the governor' s race four years earlier. And the elder Towns switched his support to Cuomo a few weeks later, after initially backing Charlie King, the only African-American in the race. (Cuomo picked Daryl to be housing commissioner last year, despite a D.U.I. arrest which effectively disqualified him from contention for his father's congressional seat.)

Jeffries performed a similar function for Cuomo in 2010. The assemblyman helped introduce Cuomo to black voters in Brooklyn when the aspiring governor made an appearance at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn with McCall, in an effort to drum up turnout in the minority community. And it was Jeffries who introduced Cuomo's choice for lieutenant governor, Rochester mayor Bob Duffy, at the nominating convention, providing Cuomo some cover from minority groups that were upset at the ticket's lack of diversity.

That introduction led to criticism from Jeffries' remaining opponent for the Towns seat, Councilman Charles Barron. Barron has said that Cuomo and Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez are Jeffries' "two daddies." 

In response to request for comment, Jeffries spokeswoman Lupe Todd emailed the following statement: “Gov. Cuomo is a strong and effective leader and Assemblyman Jeffries views him as both a partner and friend. They have worked closely together on progressive income tax reform, strengthening rent regulations, creating a jobs program for inner city at-risk youth and more. During the remainder of the legislative session, the assemblyman looks forward to working with Governor Cuomo and his administration on issues of social and economic justice, particularly as it relates to reform of the criminal justice system.”

Cuomo's office declined to comment.