Hakeem Jeffries and Charles Barron try to out-Obama each other
In Brooklyn's new eighth congressional district, it's still an unconditionally good thing to be seen as close to President Obama.
In a debate on NY1 last night, Hakeem Jeffries and Charles Barron both tried to out-Obama each other, arguing over who was first to support the future president and who would be a better ally of the administration in Washington.
Jeffries accused Barron of going too far in criticizing the president.
"It's irresponsible rhetoric to have called the President of the United States essentially a tool of the white establishment," Jeffries said. "It's irresponsible to have said that the president essentially is an Uncle Tom who's got an F grade as it relates to doing business on behalf of black folks. There's no credible argument that can be made that my opponent will go down to Washington and effectively represent the interests of the 8th congressional district if he is attacking the president and the White House consistently."
In the eighth district, the president's interests and the district's interests don't seem to diverge too much. Obama got 93 percent of the vote in the district in 2008, and polls show his popularity holding much stronger among the African-American population than with other demographic groups.
So neither candidate was ready to cede the idea that they endorsed Obama before the other.
"This is his immature way of trying to use Obama to get himself credibility," Barron said. "I was out to support President Obama before him."
Barron officially endorsed Obama in November of 2007, saying the president's blackness was proven, in part, by his stewardship of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's black liberation theology.
"You said he’s against black nationalism," Barron said then. "He never said that. Matter of fact, he goes to a black liberation theologist church where they believe in a black Christ. So, he is for black people."
(The Obamas left the church in May of 2008, citing Wright's divisive views.)
Jeffries said Barron's account was "inaccurate," and that he endorsed Obama in the summer of 2007. (He was part of a group of Obama supporters who subsequently endorsed Representative Ed Towns that year; Towns endorsed Barron to replace him yesterday.)
Though no press accounts seem to mention it, Barron said on NY1 that he was part of the early group that included State Senator Bill Perkins and Councilwoman Helen Foster, who are generally regarded as the first two New York City politicians to have backed Obama.
"We reserve the right to be constructively critical of the president," Barron said. "He's trying to use that because his campaign is desperate now they're falling behind, he's losing the momentum, so now he's going to bring in all this stuff about Obama."
Barron said his outspokenness would help the president.
"Everybody knows that I would be the best thing for Barack Obama, because Barack Obama's challenge in his administration is not just the Republicans, it's the conservative blue dog Democrats. He needs someone like me that's going to bring a movement to Washington D.C., not somebody who's going to go along and get along."
Jeffries said Barron's outspokenness would hurt the president.
"This is just another example of the reckless type of charges you've been making for ten years on a wide variety of people from President Obama to Governor David Paterson on down," he said.
After the debate, Jeffries left for the Waldorf-Astoria, where he showed up early for an Obama fund-raiser.