Politics

De Blasio's rivals: Hakeem Jeffries weighs in on the mayor

Throughout Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries has frequented the steps of City Hall, the stomping grounds of press-hungry advocacy groups, City Council members and unions. Standing on the gray stone steps, the Brooklyn congressman has joined advocates who are upset that the de Blasio administration has not done more business with minority- and women-owned firms or failed to direct more funding to the Summer Youth Employment Program.

On everything from Uber to affordable housing, Jeffries has been critical of the mayor’s approach. His contention that de Blasio failed to deliver on several aspects of the criminal justice reform platform that the mayor campaigned on has landed Jeffries in the papers. And at one point, black church leaders tried to convince the congressman to challenge de Blasio, according to the Post.

“The disenchantment relates to policing issues, the mayor’s support of broken windows, his lack of support for banning chokeholds and his willingness to support making resisting arrest a felony,” Jeffries told The New York Times in 2015 detailing shifting dynamics in the black constituency that overwhelmingly supported de Blasio in the last primary. “We’re very early in the mayor’s first term, and there’s a lot of room for progress.” 

Since then, Jeffries has continued to fuel speculation about having designs on de Blasio’s job by being one of the mayor’s most vocal, high-profile critics. Jeffries has repeatedly framed the conversation as one he has engaged in solely because supporters are urging him to challenge the mayor. Sometimes he says he has not ruled it out. On other occasions, he suggests that he envisions a future in Washington, D.C., where he represents a district running from Fort Greene through central and southern Brooklyn to a small portion of southwest Queens.

“I’ve always said that my presumption is I want a progressive Democratic mayor in the city of New York to be successful,” Jeffries said on City & State’s podcast. “Now that’s not to say I’m going to refrain from publicly criticizing him (de Blasio), as I’ve explained to his administration. Sometimes you have private conversations, and hopefully they go well on behalf of the issues that you’re trying to push forward. But sometimes, in dealing with administrations – whether that’s the city, the state or even the White House – you have got to have a public conversation.”

The Brooklyn native has been engaged in this sort of conversation about police reform since his days in the Assembly, where he sponsored legislation that outlawed a database of New Yorkers who had been stopped-and-frisked but were found to have done nothing wrong. Jeffries has also long been supportive of charter schools.

The former white shoe lawyer ingratiated himself to progressives when he appeared in a 2010 documentary and discussed how he was drawn out of his Assembly district after unsuccessfully challenging the incumbent, according to the Observer. 

When Jeffries first ran for Congress, Jewish elected officials threw their weight behind him. At the time, Jeffries was facing then-New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party, whose stances on Israel were less palatable in Jewish communities, according to The Brooklyn Ink.

Jeffries, whose staff would not arrange an interview for this feature, told City & State in October that he was unlikely to pursue de Blasio’s position. The congressman said he viewed the U.S. House of Representatives as a “special place.” And his ties to the chamber are only likely to grow now that he has been elected co-chairman of the Democratic delegation’s Policy and Communications Committee, which steers the party’s platform.

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