11:33 am Jun. 27, 2012
In his congressional primary against Councilman Charles Barron, Hakeem Jeffries found himself up on the ramparts of the establishment.
He was the candidate of the New York political firmament, the moneyed elite and the Brooklyn Democratic machine, facing off against an unreconstructed black nationalist who prides himself on fighting power instead of courting it.
But before the primary temporarily made him The Guy Who Can Stop Charles Barron, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries wasn't primarily thought of as an organization guy.
He started his career in elected politics as a liberal insurgent. (He first became locally famous as the victim of an egregious gerrymander that protected the incumbent assemblyman he was trying to run against.)
Jeffries was part of a cadre of young black Brooklyn elected officials, including State Senator Eric Adams and Assemblyman Karim Camara, who broke with the local establishment and backed another transformational black politician, named Barack Obama, in 2008.
And despite his powerful political allies, he's still considered a reformer, as illustrated by the support he continues to get from Brooklyn's anti-machine Democrats.
In the Assembly, a body that does not generally reward innovation or individualism, he made something of a name for himself by passing bills to monitor the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk, lift the cap on charter schools, and, more recently, exclude first-time marijuana possessions from the state's expanded DNA database.
For many of his backers, he's supposed to be the candidate who will usher in a new guard in Brooklyn, in much the same way that Cory Booker was once thought to represent the dawning of a new day in Newark.
"With Booker, it was very much New Newark versus Old Newark,” Joe Williams, the executive director of the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform, told me back in October. “And you can see the same kind of storyline playing out in Brooklyn."
It may take somewhat longer for any such storyline to play out in Washington.
In Albany, Jeffries enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the governor, who got cover from Jeffries for the lack of diversity on his 2010 gubernatorial ticket, and in return helped push Jeffries' legislative priorities and eventually recorded a robocall supporting Jeffries' candidacy.
But Jeffries will most likely go to Capitol Hill as a junior back-bencher in a Democratic minority. It's not clear how much even Barack Obama, should he win re-election, will be able to do to help Jeffries there.