Hakeem Jeffries isn’t the next Barack Obama

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Emily Assiran

Hakeem Jeffries isn’t the next Barack Obama

But he could be the next Nancy Pelosi.
August 20, 2019

When I started covering New York politics in 2011, Hakeem Jeffries was a rising star in the Democratic Party. Then an assemblyman from Central Brooklyn, he had a reputation as a bridge builder and a reformer – and a promising potential candidate for Congress. Some observers even suggested that he was the next Barack Obama.

The Obama analogy always felt a little hyperbolic. While there are certainly similarities – both were young, well-educated African American leaders with undeniable political talents and leadership qualities – Jeffries never seemed to match Obama’s charisma and oratorical abilities. (To be fair, that's akin to criticizing NBA stars for failing to live up after being anointed as the next Michael Jordan.)

Unlike Obama, who got his start as a community organizer, Jeffries also came from a legal and corporate background, which he has cited as a critical steppingstone in his career. “I practiced law for 10 years, in corporate litigation at a law firm and at a Fortune 500 company,” Jeffries told us in 2009 when he was featured on our Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list. If he weren’t in politics, he added, he “would be practicing law, perhaps still at Viacom.”

In this week’s cover story, City & State’s Jeff Coltin takes a closer look at Jeffries, the potential successor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who still comes across like “an attorney who overprepared his closing argument.”

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s former editor-in-chief.