NEW YORK (AP) — A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would step down, New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries launched an attempt to make history on Friday by becoming the first Black person in Congress to lead a major political party. House Democrats.
In a letter to colleagues, Jeffries saluted the “legendary figures” before him: Pelosi, the first female speaker in US history, and her leadership team. He encouraged councilors to embrace “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to unlock their “full potential as a team”. And after the Republican House narrowly took control of the midterm elections, he promised to take advantage of the various Democratic factions trying to run a divided Congress and win back the majority.
“The Democratic House Caucus is the most original representation of the wonderful mosaic of the American people,” Jeffries wrote.
“As I prepare to welcome the moment once again, I am writing to humbly ask for your support for the position of the Leader of the Democratic Party.”
Along with Pelosi, two other top House Democrats – majority leader Representative Steny Hoyer from Maryland and whip-up Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina – also announced their intention to withdraw from the leadership. All three are in their 80s.
The new generation wasted no time preparing to replace them. Representatives Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California, who had worked together as the lower-tier leadership team, quickly wrote to their colleagues their bids for second- and third-rank positions in the Democratic Party leadership, along with Jeffries. Jeffries and Clark are in their 50s, and Aguilar is in their 40s.
The trio has been working together for years, preparing for this moment to design a smooth transition when Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn decide to leave.
Pelosi wholeheartedly supported potential new leaders.
“I greet President Hakeem Jeffries, Vice President Katherine Clark and Vice President Pete Aguilar with pride, gratitude and confidence in their abilities,” Pelosi said Friday. said.
House Democrats will meet behind closed doors to elect their members within two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday. So far, Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar have no identified competitors.
Brooklyn-born Jeffries has long been viewed as a charismatic new leader, known for his sharp but cautious style, first in New York politics and then on to the national scene by winning the Congressional election in 2012.
A former corporate attorney and state legislator, Jeffries represented Brooklyn and parts of Queens for ten years and quickly rose through the ranks of Congress, serving as the party’s 5th highest-ranking member as chairman of the Democratic House.
“You could sense there was purpose in him,” said civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, remembering the quiet and thoughtful young MP he had met for the first time decades ago.
“He always seemed like the kind of guy who was going somewhere but was willing to increase his speed to get there,” Sharpton said. “You meet a lot of people who are ambitious, capable of anything. You never got such an impression from Hakeem.
While Jeffries is part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he is seen as a more moderate, business-friendly MP and is sometimes at odds with the far-left members of the House.
But her appeal rests on her political prowess in a transformative time as Pelosi and her team pave the way for a new era.
Carl Heastie, a Democratic state legislator who became the first Black person to serve as a spokesperson for the New York State Assembly, bonded with Jeffries on the campaign trail two decades ago because of his love of hip-hop.
“Hakeem had that factor,” Heastie said. “It stands out in the room.”
If Jeffries is elected as minority leader, the Democrats will be led by Brooklyn men in both houses of Congress – Brooklyn Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lives in a neighborhood where Jeffries lives with his wife and two sons.
Its district includes the Black cultural center of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, home to Jackie Robinson and represented by Shirley Chisholm, who was once the first Black woman elected to Congress.
The minority leader’s job puts Jeffries in line to be the spokesperson if Democrats regain control of the House.
“Another glass ceiling has been broken,” said D-Mass Representative James McGovern of his colleague’s rise. “I can’t wait to be able to call him speaker.”
Jeffries first won the House election in 2012, replacing Democrat Edolphus Towns, who decided to retire rather than face what was expected to be a tough primary challenge from Jeffries.
Growing up in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, Jeffries attended New York City public schools before graduating from the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he studied political science. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a law degree from New York University.
He was a clerk for a federal judge and worked for a few years at a law firm in New York and later as a corporate attorney for CBS.
His first nomination for public office was back-to-back strong, but they were unsuccessful attempts to oust longtime Democratic state Assemblyman Roger Green, beginning in 2000.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, Green’s campaign manager, said Jeffries was “an up-and-coming rebel” at the time “who wanted to make his mark on downtown Brooklyn, and actually did”.
Jeffries won when the seat opened in 2006. He served six years at Albany, working on criminal justice and civil rights legislation.
He sponsored legislation that would prevent the New York Police Department from maintaining a database of personal details of anyone who was stopped and interrogated as part of the department’s controversial stand-and-go tactic, even if those individuals were released and not charged with any crime.
He continued these studies in Congress. “I can’t breathe!” in New York in 2014. Becoming part of a national rally against police brutality, Jeffries sought to pass a law that would make drowning maneuvers a federal crime.
James, who has risen from the same Brooklyn Democratic political circles as Jeffries and worked with him on affordable housing issues while on the City Council, said he reached out to Jeffries Thursday night.
“I texted him and told him not to forget the residents we serve,” James said. “And he answered and said ‘Never.
Mascaro reported from Washington.
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