Hakeem Jeffries wins a ‘mini-me’ rematch against Ed Towns

Mosley with James and Jeffries. (Reid Pillifant)
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On Thursday night, Hakeem Jeffries won another round against outgoing congressman Ed Towns, when Jeffries' protege, Walter Mosley, took 63 percent of the vote in a primary battle for the right to replace him in the Assembly.

"I look forward to going to Albany and working with my sister in City Hall and my brother in Congress, the progressive trifecta!" said Mosley, flanked by Jeffries and Councilwoman Letitia James, at a crowded victory party at the Cornerstone restaurant in Fort Greene. "Something that you can take to the bank, and get paid any time!"

Mosley was running against Olanike Alabe, a district leader and former executive aide at SEIU, who was added to Towns' congressional payroll shortly after the longtime congressman announced he would retire, making the race something of a re-match.

Jeffries won the June congressional primary against Councilman Charles Barron in a landslide, after Towns' endorsement of Barron sufficiently rattled the political establishment to the prospects of Barron representing the district in Washington.

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Mosley, who has served as a district leader since 2008, was a reliable supporter in that race, introducing Jeffries at the opening of his campaign office, and employing much of the same staff for his own race.

Jeffries' field director, Andre Richardson, managed Mosley's campaign, which used the same team of consultants too: the Advance Group and George Arzt Communications.

Mosley's direct mail pieces played up Jeffries' support: one showed a pair of "big shoes" that needed to be filled by Jeffries' departure, and another showed two hands passing a baton, and included a long letter of support from Jeffries.

But there were lingering questions about Jeffries' influence, even in his own Assembly district, and the campaign team never seemed quite as confident about Mosley's race as they had about Jeffries'.

Given a second chance to get right with Jeffries by backing Mosley, some of the unions who backed Barron—most notably the big public sector union DC37—opted to support Alabi.

And the New York Times editorial board, which evinced "no doubt" about endorsing Jeffries in June, declined to support either Mosley or Alabi, and endorsed a dark horse challenger, school activist Martine Guerrier, instead. (Guerrier finished a distant third with 470 votes, good for just under seven percent.)

I asked Jeffries what he thought his impact was on the race.

"Well in some ways the race did play itself out as a replay, a mini-me in some capacity, of the race that had taken place June 26, where people who had allied themselves with my candidacy on June 26, including Walter Mosley were on one side of the equation," he said. "Olanike Alabi, who works for congressman Towns, was on the other side of the equation. But at the end of the day, that's a lot of insider politics. I think Walter was a great candidate."

The win also confirms Jeffries status as the leader of a young generation of central Brooklyn elected officials, a group that has straddled the line between the borough's county machine, and the reform factions that have opposed the county organization.

Some of the same attendees who were concerned about the fate of the reform-minded district leader Lincoln Restler in Greenpoint—"What about Lincoln?" they nervously asked reporters—also cheered the late arrival of Frank Seddio, the county-backed front-runner to replace ousted chairman Vito Lopez. "The problem I've got with these reformers," Seddio started telling one guest, before he got interrupted.

The next step for the burgeoning Jeffries' faction is to help elevate Councilmember James to a citywide post next year.

"We certainly are looking forward to wonderful things from Councilwoman Letitia James, who's already been a tremendous public advocate," Jeffries told the crowd. "She's been doing it as a member of the City Council, and we know that we're looking forward to big things for Tish James in 2013."

In his speech, Mosley called her "the public advocate before the public advocate becomes the public advocate."

James was a little bit more coy. "I'm a city council member," she told me, when I started to ask about her own prospects in the context of a new guard in central Brooklyn.

"The message here today is that when the congressmember-elect, when the city councilmember, and when other stakeholders get together, there's not much that we cannot do in this district," she said. "And though the district is changing, we have a wonderful coalition and it really looks like New York and it looks like America."