When Congressional redistricting took place this year, the 8th Congressional District morphed. It now stretches from Bedford–Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, east to Howard Beach and then south to Coney Island. Howard Beach and a small portion of Ozone Park are the only Queens neighborhoods in the district.
When current Congressman Ed Towns announced he would retire after this term, it paved the way for a heated race between State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries—who represents Bedford Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill— and Councilman Charles Barron—who represents East New York.
The Forum spoke to both of the candidates on Tuesday. They explained how they believe Howard Beach remains an important part of the district and addressed some of the campaigning so far.
The primary election will be Tuesday, June 26.
Towns recently endorsed Barron to replace him in the 8th despite an often-combative relationship, but Barron said he and Towns had come together around issues such as supporting seniors and affordable housing.
“Ed Towns and I have had a very cordial, respectful relationship even though we were on the political opposite sides of the fence. We were political opponents not enemies,” he said.
But Barron also received the opposite of an endorsement this week from Jewish leaders in Brooklyn including former Mayor Ed Koch and Councilman David Greenfield. They held a press conference denouncing Barron’s run for Congress, calling him a “viper.” They seized on Barron’s past support of African dictators and comparisons he made of Israel to Nazi Germany.
Barron declined to address their anti-endorsement with The Forum.
He also declined to address past comments he’s made about Howard Beach.
In 2007, he was locked in a feud with then-Councilman Joe Addabbo. He accused Addabbo of not supporting a Guyanese family that claimed it was under attack from white neighbors.
At a press conference at the time, Barron said, “Hate is alive and all too well out here in Howard Beach,” and “There are enough racists in Howard Beach already. They don’t need a signal from the DA to think it’s okay to hate black people.”
He refused to say if he stood by those past statements.
“I’m not going to let you or any other leader talk to me about sound bites in the press. I want to meet with the people of Howard Beach who I will be—because I believe I’m going to win—representing and hear what their concerns are, and if they want to raise any statements I’ve ever made, if they want to talk about any positions that I’ve taken on any issues, I would gladly have an intelligent discussion with them,” he said.
“You don’t speak for all of Howard Beach to say that they’re concerned about a remark I made about Joe Addabbo. Because I met with at least with 40 or 50 people at this one association in Howard Beach. I went there late at night; we talked; no-one mentioned Joe Addabbo. I find that interesting. Not a single person mentioned any statements I made, and I’ll guarantee you when I meet with some other groups they won’t mention it either. There might be some along the way that will, but people were talking about foreclosure, unemployment; they were talking about poverty; they were talking about infrastructure.”
When asked if Howard Beach could be forgotten or ignored in a Brooklyn-dominated district, Barron said, “The Bangladesh community is afraid that they’re going to be forgotten. Some segments of the black community are concerned. Of course if I get in, nobody is going to be forgotten.
“I don’t have an interest group behind me. Nobody is pulling my strings.
“I’m going to see to it as I’ve done in my district. I’ve funded senior groups that were focusing on the Jewish community. I’ve helped save homes of Russian Jews, and the whites that were in the district were treated as fairly as anyone else.
“Everywhere you go in the district, you have a commonality, and that is human suffering. Poverty hurts everybody. Racism hurts everybody. Homelessness hurts everybody. It knows no discrimination.”
The Jeffries campaign may have received a boost when he appeared recently with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to announce the governor’s support of Jeffries’ bill to decriminalize up to 25 grams of marijuana in public view.
The same day his legislation received that nod from Cuomo, Towns endorsed Barron, but Jeffries said he’d rather have local Howard Beach support.
“It’s not surprising that the congressman chose to endorse Councilman Barron, notwithstanding the fact that they’ve had a longstanding political feud that has lasted for decades. At the end of the day, the endorsement should be less significant than the results at the polls,” he told The Forum.
“I’m not going to focus on the endorsement that my opponent has received. I’m proud to have the support of local community leaders like [Assemblyman] Philip Goldfeder and [State Senator] Joe Addabbo.”
“I think support from people who have dedicated their life to serving the community is far more significant than a 30-year incumbent who is on his way out.”
Like Barron, Jeffries said he’s concerned about affordable housing as well as supporting seniors in the diverse district.
“It’s important that we keep New York City affordable for middle class families. I’ve worked hard on that issue in the legislature, and I look forward to working on that more in Congress,” he said.
He also struck a note for bringing better health care to the outer boroughs, saying it’s a shared concern between Queens and Brooklyn.
“In Queens it’s become increasingly clear to me that the residents of Howard Beach community and beyond are underserved as it relates to high-quality medical institutions. For too long there’s been a disconnect between the level of medical services available to the residents of Manahattan as compared to outer-borough communities.”
When The Forum asked Jeffries how he too could be sure Howard Beach wouldn’t be forgotten, he said the new district is an opportunity.
“While modest in comparison to the rest of the congressional district, Howard Beach is still a very important neighborhood that is connected through both the waterfront issues the community confronts on a regular basis as well as the presence of Gateway National Park.
“The congressional district includes the entire Brooklyn waterfront as well as the Gateway National Park land that spans many of the neighborhoods in the southern part of Brooklyn. The inclusion of Howard Beach with communities like Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Coney Island and Sea Gate, will actually enhance the capacity of the next member of Congress to get the attention of the department of interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I think there’s a wonderful opportunity to address some of the erosion, flooding and waterfront issues the residents of Hamilton Beach as well as Howard Beach confront as a result of the inclusion of the entire Brooklyn waterfront in this congressional district as well.”
By Jeremiah Dobruck