“I actually think that it’s a strength,” Jeffries said. “Any reasonable person who looks at how do you get things done in a legislative body up in Albany, down in the United States Congress, will have to conclude that there needs to be an ability to form coalitions, to develop relationships, to get along with people on issues of principle in terms of advancing and moving an agenda forward.”
If the candidacy of Charles Barron — a so-called “angry black man” — raises red flags from certain constituencies, particularly whites, then those voters may view Jeffries as the better candidate, at least on paper. Yet Jeffries, the middle-of-the-road black conciliator who wants to “get along” draws the ire of others who have been down that road before.
To sum it up, Jeffries is being groomed by the corporate Democrats as a mini-Obama type of figure. And we know what happens next. Often hailed as a new generation of black leaders, Obama-lite candidates have a rather sketchy track record when it comes to issues that ordinary black people actually care about. And when they get into office, they aim to disappoint black supporters with their divided loyalties, hidden financial interests and shifty-eye syndrome.
For example, Newark mayor Cory Booker, in theory an Obama surrogate, found himself in politically treacherous waters when he defended Mitt Romney and his venture capital firm Bain Capital. That Bain and other venture capitalists, Wall Street bankers and investors gave Booker over $565,000 for his mayoral campaign — and presumably their investment in Newark—provides an explanation.
Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the centrist who defended Booker’s comments, claimed his grandmother was a white woman passing for black when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006. He lost his bid for the Senate in a highly racialized political campaign where his white opponent used a racially offensive and sexually suggestive television ad featuring a white woman.
Adrian Fenty, former D.C. mayor, was cited for an offensive leadership style and ignoring his constituents. He took an unannounced vacation to Dubai that was paid for by a foreign government, while he faced allegations of cronyism as his frat brothers allegedly enjoyed plum city contracts. And he didn’t share tickets to sporting events. Meanwhile, Fenty’s schools chancellor engaged in the wholesale firing of teachers and principals, many of them black, and black faces were missing in his administration. He lost reelection miserably.
Meanwhile, former Congressman Artur Davis recently turned his back on President Obama and the Democratic Party when he became a Republican and claimed the GOP is better for blacks. In 2010, he positioned himself as the race-neutral candidate for governor of Alabama and lost the Democratic primary as a result. Davis, who voted against the president’s health care reform and refused to court the black political establishment, became the first black candidate for statewide office to lose the black vote. He even lost his own district, and rightly so.
Taking it back to the congressional race in New York, it is plausible that Hakeem Jeffries could disappoint in the tradition of other anointed black candidates. So, is Charles Barron the lesser of two evils?
If Barron is angry, there are lots of reasons for the black community to be angry these days, with high unemployment, poverty, a cradle-to-prison pipeline and a conservative assault on voting rights. President Obama tried to play nice with his conservative adversaries as they plotted his political demise and refused to cooperate on anything. We saw what the middle of the road got him–lots of wasted time.
Activists are known to make incendiary statements, perhaps offensive at times, or take positions that are designed to challenge the establishment. That’s their role. And some activists may even find it difficult to govern when given the chance. While successful politicians must learn to work well with others and compromise in order to get legislation passed, activists have created change and forced the passage of legislation, particularly where black interests are concerned.
Ultimately, the voters of New York’s 8th Congressional district must decide.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove