Hakeem Jeffries rides a wave of (mostly deserved) praise, which happens to ignore his caution on Atlantic Yards; what kind of AY governance compromise is coming?
|January 2012 photo by Tracy Collins|
Mr. Jeffries, 41, a former lawyer at the Paul Weiss firm, is politically moderate and untouched by scandal, and can talk to the gentrifiers in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene and to the Hasidim in Crown Heights. “He has the potential to swing a much larger bat in the power game than any of the black leaders in Brooklyn,” said Norman Adler, a Democratic political consultant.Indeed, Jeffries has real accomplishments in his record, notably, as the Times put it, sponsoring a bill that "prohibited the police from collecting data on people stopped and frisked but not charged with a crime." I'd add that he got another bill passed that ensures that prisoners upstate are counted as part of the population of their home counties.
For all the reasons to admire Jeffries, his not-so-forthright stance on the most controversial issue in his district, Atlantic Yards, should not be ignored.
It's sometimes been difficult to know exactly where he stands. And that's important because Jeffries may wind up playing a key role establishing some sort of community advisory council for Atlantic Yards, as the state agency in charge of the project now supports.
There's no sign yet that the council would be attached to a dedicated governance body that includes board members appointed in consultation with local legislators. And that governance entity, not merely a community council, was key to the governance concept promoted by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition and which Jeffries has pushed. So the devil's in the details.
Rope-a-dope and caution
An initial effort to establish an Atlantic Yards Development Trust, which prescribed how members would be appointed, failed in the legislature. In 2010, the Empire State Development Corporation seemed supportive of a vague bill that would merely authorize the establishment of a governance entity.
Last year, Forest City Ratner opposed such a bill, with rather specious reasoning. It passed the Democratic-dominated Assembly, but stalled in the Republican-dominated Senate.
The parishioners and many far beyond central Brooklyn have been expecting bigger and better things from Hakeem Jeffries since before he was even a candidate for the Assembly. His funky first name, his appeal to both black churchgoers and earnest reform types and his academic pedigree-graduate degree from Georgetown University, law degree from N.Y.U.-have earned him the label “Brooklyn’s Barack.”
“He’s got charisma, he’s personable, he’s bright, he’s good-looking, he’s got a great family,” said a local lawmaker who has served alongside him. “I think if most of his colleagues were being honest, they would tell you that they wouldn’t mind being him. It’s a good thing he’s a nice guy, because it overlooks the fact that people are jealous as hell of him.”
Jeffries is the Scott Stringer of Brooklyn: overly ambitious, opportunist and talks out of both sides of his mouth.
Jeffries has "been meaningfully involved in passing laws affecting key issues close to home, focusing on affordable housing, education, policing, and the counting of prisoners in their home districts," Pillifant wrote, adding that Jeffries is also operating in a local political environment with "no Cory Booker-like figure in New York at the moment."
The charter school issue
Despite aforementioned portrayals of Jeffries as gaining support from all sides on the education issue, Liza Featherstone (who couldn't get an interview with Jeffries) writes more critically in the May 2012 Brooklyn Rail, On Hakeem Jeffries:
Jeffries is a champion on housing issues—a big deal in a city so thoroughly whipped by real estate interests—passing legislation to turn empty luxury apartments in Brooklyn into affordable housing, fighting foreclosures, and pushing to strengthen rent regulation. He’s fought stop-and-frisk, as well as the Rockefeller drug laws. He has also pushed for higher minimum wages, Glass-Steagall, green jobs, a financial transactions tax, and many other decent things. It almost makes sense that the Working Families Party has dubbed Jeffries the “clear choice for the 99%.”
Jeffries is progressive. Yet on education, he’s deeply in thrall to the hedge fund reformers.
Sure, he did sue the city to challenge the hiring of Cathie Black, the insultingly unqualified schools chancellor. He’s also pushed for more funding for public education. But Jeffries is close to the financiers lobbying for ever more school privatization, and that relationship has deepened in the last couple of years.