‘Holla’: A long, diverse line of Democrats pays tribute at Hakeem Jeffries' swearing-in

Jeffries at his swearing-in ceremony. (Reid Pillifant)
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At the local swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on Sunday night, Sen. Chuck Schumer was so effusive in his praise of Jeffries, and so sincere in lamenting that he lived two blocks outside of Jeffries' Brooklyn district, that Schumer's own representative in Congress piped up from the crowd.

"I have a great congresswoman in Yvette Clarke, who I'm happy to vote for and support," Schumer acknowledged, with a sheepish smile.

But this was Jeffries' night, and Schumer spent more than ten minutes singing his praises, saying Jeffries "has amazing talents," and could "have made a whole ton of money and moved out to the suburbs and forgotten Brooklyn, but that is not in his bones."

Schumer's was just one of many paeans to the young congressman, with close to 500 hundred well-wishers cheering along inside the Memorial Hall Auditorium at the Pratt Institute, and another couple hundred watching on a projection screen in an overflow room.

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Assemblyman Karim Camara, the master of ceremonies, had a hard time keeping up with all the elected officials who had come to recognize the rising star.

There was one surprise guest: Rep. Ed Towns, who last year endorsed Jeffries' opponent in the primary, Councilman Charles Barron, after Jeffries unceremoniosly ran the longtime congressman into retirement.

"Eyes have not seen, and ears have not heard, what Hakeem Jeffries is going to do for the Eighth Congressional District in Washington," said Towns, who pledged to do anything he could to help him in D.C.

Rep. Jerry Nadler celebrated the fact that Jeffries would be joining him on the Judiciary Committee, saying "that's where a lot of the nonsense comes that we have to beat back." (Schumer also mentioned his start on the Judiciary Committee. "Were you even born in 1981?" he asked Jeffries. "I'm oooooooold.")

Public advocate Bill de Blasio was in attendance, just a few hours after announcing his mayoral campaign, and, midway through the proceedings, Camara announced the arrival of Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Some candidates, like Bill Thompson, were conspicuous for not being there.

Rev. Al Sharpton was listed as a scheduled speaker but got stuck in traffic and arrived shorlty after the event was over; his substitute in the program was state comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Former Brooklyn Democratic chairman Vito Lopez was seated in the second row, just behind the current chairman Frank Seddio, who enjoyed a close relationship with Lopez until calling for his resignation after a sexual harassment scandal last year.

There were two borough presidents, Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz and the Bronx's Ruben Diaz; one Independent Democrat, State Senator Malcolm Smith; and at least four Council members, Tish James, Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams and Steve Levin.

A video montage played shots of Jeffries shaking hands with Barack Obama, and standing over a bill-signing ceremony with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom he enjoyed a beneficial working relationship during his time in Albany.

Jeffries seemed to enjoy the moment and delivered one of his better speeches, with a steady stream of jokes about how he was bringing Brooklyn attitude to the halls of Washington.

"I've been so excited about the opportunity to finally serve you, the Eighth Congressional District, my sister Yvette knows, I've been tempted to go to the floor of the House of Representatives, look out at everyone, pause for a moment, and simply say: 'Holla,'" he said to a loud laugh from the crowd. "Hey, I'm from Brooklyn."

But Jeffries said he was concerned he'd hear the voice of Shirley Chisholm, saying, "We sent you down to Washington to stand up, so don't go down there and act up."

The crowd howled.

He talked about the diversity of the district, which includes more than two dozen languages. "I've got to admit, I only speak two," he said. "English and Brooklynese."

Jeffries said he was privileged to get a Muslim, a Jewish and a Christian blessing, said "when I'm down there with John Boehner and Paul Ryan, I'll need all the blessings I can get."

After a benediction prayer, the bass kicked in and gave way to the words of another young Brooklyn star: "It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine..."