Give me a reformer politician today and I’ll show you the entrenched and powerful politician of tomorrow.
Give me a reformer politician today and I’ll show you the entrenched and powerful politician of tomorrow. At least that’s my hunch when it comes to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. In many ways, Jeffries came in on the back of the late City Councilman James Davis, who took on the old Clarence Norman machine and beat it before being assassinated in City Hall in 2003. Jeffries, like Davis, fought that machine, losing the first few go-rounds to former Assemblyman Roger Green. In one race, Green actually had the block Jeffries lived on cut out of the district so he couldn’t run against him. But in losing, Jeffries learned the game and now that he has tasted victory he runs the tightest ship since Captain Ahab was hunting down whales.
In the meantime, he has gotten some of his pals good-paying jobs when the Democrats took over the Senate last year, and political pundits whisper how he’s gotten real cozy with Andrew Cuomo. Jeffries also knows how to play to the crowd on easy hot-button issues like opposing Cathie Black as Schools Chancellor, but can disappear like a rabbit in a hole when it comes to sticking his neck out. Perhaps this explains why he has avoided speaking to this paper for several weeks on Cuomo’s cuts of the Work Advantage Program, which threatens to throw 15,000 at-risk and formerly homeless households on the street. Jeffries’ mouthpiece, Lupe Todd, who is to political operatives what Einstein was to physics, has repeatedly told me Jeffries can’t speak to this paper because he is so busy on the floor in Albany hammering out the budget. But that didn’t stop Jeffries from penning a lofty piece for a uncritical online media outlet recently where he quoted a German statesman that “laws are like sausages, it is better to not see them being made.” Jeffries also covered Cuomo’s back in blaming the Senate Republicans for letting the “millionaire’s tax” expire instead of pinning the tail on the governor, who long has said he wants the tax to expire.
There’s no denying that budget cuts had to be made, but Cuomo’s spending plan did not spread the pain out equally. It most hurts the poor and the “at-risk”. It cuts them off at the knees with cuts in education, Medicaid and housing while the rich are getting more tax breaks than ever. But Jeffries the reformer is learning the quickest way to higher positions is making friends with people like him – those on the way up. And I see quite a future for Jeffries. Congressman Ed Towns has been in office over twenty years and Jeffries might just be the one to succeed him one day. It isn’t even that much of a stretch to see him one day vying for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s seat. The sky is the limit for reformers that learn how to play the game.