NEW YORK (AP) — A day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would step down, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York on Friday launched a historic bid to become the first black person to lead a major political party in Congress in as leader of the House Democrats.
In a letter to his colleagues, Jeffries gave a nod to the “legendary figures” before him: Pelosi, the first female lecturer in US history, and her leadership team. He encouraged his fellow House members to seize a “once in a generation opportunity” to unleash their “full potential as a team”. And he pledged to rely on the diverse Democratic caucus as he strives to govern in a divided Congress and win back a majority after House Republicans narrowly took control in the election of mid-term.
“The House Democratic Caucus is the most authentic representation of the magnificent mosaic of the American people,” Jeffries wrote.
“I am writing to humbly ask for your support as Democratic House Leader as we prepare to meet the moment again.”
Along with Pelosi, the other two top House Democrats — Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the whip — also announced their intention to step down from the most senior positions. students. All three are octogenarians. Clyburn is stepping down as whip, but says he wants to stay on as leader.
A new generation wasted no time preparing to take its place. Along with Jeffries, Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California — who worked together as a lower-level management team — quickly wrote to their colleagues with their offers for the second- and third-tier leadership positions. of the Democratic House. Jeffries and Clark are in their 50s, while Aguilar is in their 40s.
The trio have worked together for years, just preparing for this moment, looking to engineer a smooth transition when Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn decided to leave.
Pelosi warmly supported the potential new leaders.
“It is with pride, gratitude and confidence in their abilities that I salute President Hakeem Jeffries, Deputy President Katherine Clark and Vice President Pete Aguilar for being ready and willing to take on this enormous responsibility,” Pelosi said Friday in a statement.
House Democrats will meet behind closed doors as a caucus two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday to select their members. So far, Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar have no declared challengers.
Brooklyn-born Jeffries has long been seen as a charismatic new leader, known for his sharp but cautious style, first in New York politics and then when he entered the national stage after winning the election. in Congress in 2012.
A former corporate lawyer and state assemblyman, Jeffries represented Brooklyn and parts of Queens for a decade and quickly rose through the ranks in Congress, serving as the party’s 5th highest ranking member as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
“You could feel there was a purpose to him,” said the Reverend Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, recalling the quiet, thoughtful young lawmaker he first met decades ago.
“He always seemed like a guy who was heading somewhere but was willing to take the step to get there,” Sharpton said. “You meet a lot of people who are ambitious, who would do anything. You never got that impression of Hakeem.
Although Jeffries was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he is seen as a more moderate, pro-business lawmaker who sometimes disagrees with more left-leaning members of the House.
But his appeal lies in his political skills in a time of transformation as Pelosi and his team usher in a new era.
Carl Heastie, a Democratic state lawmaker who became the first black to serve as New York State Assembly speaker, tied himself to Jeffries on the campaign trail two decades ago for love of the hip hop.
“Hakeem had that ‘it’ factor,” Heastie said. “He stands out in the room.”
If Jeffries is chosen to serve as Minority Leader, Democrats will be led in both houses of Congress by men from Brooklyn – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn native, lives in a neighborhood close to that where Jeffries lives with his wife and two sons. .
Her district includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood Black Cultural Center, home of Jackie Robinson and once represented by Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.
The Minority Leader job puts Jeffries in line to become president if the Democrats regain control of the House.
“Another broken glass ceiling,” Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., said of his colleague’s rise. “I can’t wait to call him speaker.”
Jeffries first won the House election in 2012, replacing Democrat Edolphus Towns, who decided to retire instead of facing what was expected to be a tough primary challenge from Jeffries.
Growing up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, 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 clerked for a federal judge and worked for several years at a law firm in New York, then as a corporate attorney for CBS.
His early bids for public office were strong back-to-back but unsuccessful attempts to unseat longtime Democratic MP Roger Green from 2000.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was Green’s campaign manager, said Jeffries was then “an up-and-coming insurgent” who “wanted to make his mark in downtown Brooklyn — and in fact, he did. do”.
When the seat opened in 2006, Jeffries won. He served six years in Albany, working on criminal justice and civil rights legislation.
He sponsored a law that prevented the New York Police Department from keeping a database of the personal details of every person arrested and interviewed as part of the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactic, even though the people were released and not charged with a crime.
He continued this work in Congress. Following the 2014 New York strangulation death of Eric Garner, a black man whose gasps of “I can’t breathe!” becoming part of a national rallying cry against police brutality, Jeffries sought to pass legislation that would make the chokehold maneuver a federal crime.
James, who grew up in the same Democratic Brooklyn political circles as Jeffries and worked with him on affordable housing issues when she was on city council, said she reached out to Jeffries on Thursday night.
“I texted him and urged him not to forget the residents of the social housing we serve,” James said. “And he responded by saying, ‘Never.’
Mascaro reported from Washington.
By Michelle L. Price and Lisa Mascaro
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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