Yesterday, author and historian Harvey J Kaye tweeted that he doesn’t think people realize what the Republican appeal is driven by... “45 years of Democratic neoliberalism = abandonment of working people (white/black/brown) = which has not reduced popular desire for social democracy = we need a progressive broad left empowered by labor.” If you’ve ever read DWT before, you’re probably aware that that has been one of our themes here since 2005 when we started this project. So I didn’t expect any surprises when I picked up Nick Fandos’ new profile of virulently anti-progressive, neoliberal, corrupt shitbag Hakeem Jeffries of, like me, Brooklyn.
I never liked Jeffries, a grotesquely glad-handing, hack politician willing to step on anybody to get ahead. But I never really hated his guts until he organized a multimillion dollar effort to defeat progressives last cycle— using stolen FTX money, GOP billionaire money laundered through his allies at AIPAC (and DMFI) and various slime bag rich conservatives like Reid Hoffman. He didn’t win all his battles, but he managed to harness tens of millions of dollars to defeat Nina Turner and elect Shontel Brown, Cristina Garcia and elect Robert Garcia, Andy Levin and elect Haley Stevens, Maria Newman and elect Sean Casten, Erica Smith and elect Don Davis (now the most right-wing Democrat in the House), Daniel Lee and elect Sydney Kamlager, Donna Edwards and elect Glenn Ivey, Nida Allam and elect Valerie Foushee and Jessica Cisneros and elect Henry Cuellar. Every candidate Jeffries supported was more conservative and more corrupt than the candidates he prevented from getting the party nominations.
Fandos wrote that “accounts of Jeffries’s history-making ascent have largely focused on his relative youth [he’s 52] and his time as a House impeachment manager [he made no mark]. But to fully understand how he claimed power and might wield it as the first person of color to lead a party in Congress, it is instructive to retrace the divergent experiences that fueled his rise from Brooklyn to Washington, as described in dozens of interviews with friends, allies and adversaries. Call it the dual education of Hakeem Jeffries, a charismatic and enigmatic son of both Brooklyn and Big Law, who was shaped as much by hip-hop and the Black Baptist church as by the offices of corporate America where he handled high-stakes litigation. He struggled to break into politics as an insurgent in one of the country’s most diverse political arenas.” Once he got in, he sank right into the Albany swamp, while holding down his job as an ambulance chasing attorney.
Asked in an interview in his spacious new Capitol office to describe his political brand, Jeffries, 52, replied, “Reasonable, common-sense, tough, get-stuff-done Democrat.” He said his upbringing and career choices formed the foundation for his center-left political identity, heightened sensitivity to racial and pocketbook issues and exceedingly deliberative approach.
…His critics, particularly on his party’s left flank, take a harsher view: They argue that Jeffries’s consensus-building style and long ties to Wall Street donors have made him too deferential to a power structure stacked against confronting climate change and the widening wealth gap.
“Hakeem Jeffries represents an old style of politics rooted in back-room deals and corporate donors,” said Jabari Brisport, a democratic socialist who was elected in 2020 to represent Jeffries’s longtime Brooklyn political base in the State Senate. “He has to choose who he is going to side with.”
…As a party leader, Jeffries has bristled as the Democrats’ activist left has challenged incumbents, many of them older Black lawmakers. But as a 29-year-old insurgent, that is exactly how he chose to make his entrance.
The 2000 race against Roger Green, a long-tenured state assemblyman, was more generational than ideological. It was also contentious, reflecting Jeffries’s eagerness to propel himself into Brooklyn’s fractious political scene and his early fund-raising skills.
Hustling around subway stops and parks, he cast his opponent as ineffective and calcified. After he made a comment during a televised debate highlighting Green’s Muslim faith, the incumbent accused him of stoking religious tension and stormed out.
Green won [59-41%], but Jeffries made an impression [with Wall Street, but in the general he ran as an Independence Party candidate and received just 7% of the vote]. Soon, new legislative lines cut Jeffries out of the district, a political “move that was gangster,” he said in a 2010 documentary about gerrymandering.
A 2002 rematch was even uglier, with Jeffries accused of sending misleading mailers [including one in which he lied and claimed gubernatorial nominee Carl McCall had endorsed him even though he had endorsed Green]. He lost again [having shown what a scumbag he was, and getting only got 38% of the vote].
But a broader changing of the guard was underway. Across central Brooklyn, a new generation of young Black political leaders with advanced degrees was demanding the baton of power from officials who, in many cases, had been the first African Americans to hold office. Among the newcomers were Letitia James, who is now New York’s attorney general, and Eric Adams, now the mayor.
In 2006, Jeffries finally found a path to join them when Green abandoned the seat. Once an outsider, Jeffries quickly became close with the borough’s Democratic machine and, some believed, too friendly to the interests of developers and charter schools often backed by the city’s wealthy.
…In Albany, Jeffries played a deft inside game. He courted party leaders but was most closely identified with a generation of downstate Black and Latino lawmakers who pushed the Legislature to correct what they saw as grievous inequities in the criminal justice system.
He also continued to work in private practice, taking a lucrative part-time position at a personal injury law firm that ultimately earned him more than $1.6 million in contingency fees.
… In 2011, he decided to once again take on a political elder, this time for a seat in Congress. Edolphus Towns was a powerful 30-year incumbent, but he was aging and increasingly out of step.
This time there would be no heavyweight race. Towns bowed out before the primary, reinforcing lessons Jeffries had learned years earlier. In the primary, he defeated Charles Barron, a New York City councilman and former Black Panther who has argued for years that Jeffries is too averse to butting heads with the powerful.
“He plays it safe,” he said. [Conservatives and pretend-Dems Ed Koch and Don Hikind campaigned against Barron and for Jeffries, who was largely financed by Wall Street, hedge fund managers and the charter school industry.]
Jeffries’ profile rose after he arrived in Washington. Black leaders tried to draft him to run for mayor; others tried for state attorney general. But he had little trouble saying no.
“Lawmaking,” Jeffries said in the interview, “was always more interesting to me.”
More than lawmaking, he’s been interested in power. In 2018 he ran against Barbara Lee to become House Democratic Caucus chair, a pre-Speaker job. Pelosi gave him an impeachment manager role in Trump’s first impeachment but he made no impression. When Pelosi decided to retire he worked for a year to clear the field and ran for party leader with no opposition, sickening progressives outside of Congress as they watched cowardly progressives inside of Congress pretend that Jeffries was himself a progressive because he is a non-active member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He is also AIPAC’s top non-Republican supporter on Capitol Hill.