Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll look at the rise of Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader. We’ll also find out about a name change for the agency responsible for attracting visitors and conventions to New York City.
Hakeem Jeffries has been the House minority leader for three months. He’s both charismatic and enigmatic, according to my colleague Nicholas Fandos, who interviewed dozens of Jeffries’s friends, allies and adversaries, as well as Jeffries himself. I asked Nick to talk about the influences that have propelled Jeffries’s rise to power, making him the first person of color to win a top party position in the House or the Senate.
You write that Jeffries was shaped by hip-hop, the Black Baptist church he attended when he was growing up in Brooklyn and the corporate law offices where he later worked as a lawyer. How so?
Jeffries came of age in central Brooklyn in the 1970s and ’80s, at a time of remarkable Black cultural and political output. His friends say that both an obsession with hip-hop and Sundays spent at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant are clear in his speaking style today: heavy on repetition, alliteration and hand movements. After witnessing the crack cocaine epidemic up close and the policing that followed, he has made changing the criminal justice system his central legislative focus. And he has said that his upbringing helped instill a basic political outlook that race, not class, is “the defining problem in America.”
His time as a corporate lawyer was just as influential, though. For one thing, it introduced him to Ted Wells, a law partner and important political mentor who helped Jeffries map out his earliest campaigns and build a network of wealthy donors. But complex litigation also helped form Jeffries’s deliberative decision-making. Even some of his allies say it’s too deliberative.
Not everyone likes his style as a consensus-seeker. What do progressive Democrats say about him? And what about Republicans?
Jeffries is enjoying something of a political honeymoon right now. But many progressive lawmakers and activists are openly critical of his attempts to find middle ground and his ties to corporate, Wall Street-type donors. They argue that he is too deferential to the country’s economic power structure, and that as a result, his approach on big issues like the nation’s gaping wealth gap and climate change is too incremental. They are also worried he will give too much ground to Republicans who want to expand charter schools or relax banking regulations.
As you might expect, Republicans don’t agree with that at all. They view Jeffries as an out-of-the-mainstream liberal. They have also been portraying him as inexperienced, in an apparent effort to suggest that Nancy Pelosi, his predecessor, is still really calling the shots.
You write that as a student leader with a flattop and a dashiki in the early 1990s, he defused a tense situation involving a speaker who had been invited to campus. How did he do that, and how did it shape his approach to problem-solving later on? And wasn’t it particularly personal for him?
This is a fascinating episode. When Jeffries was a senior at Binghamton, the Black Student Union invited a polarizing Black studies professor who had been accused of making antisemitic remarks to speak on campus. Jewish students demanded the appearance be canceled. Black students said that would be censorship. As the Black Student Union’s political representative, Jeffries had to navigate the conflict.
As if that was not tricky enough, the professor who had been invited was his uncle, Leonard Jeffries, the longtime chairman of the Black studies department at the City College of New York.
Republicans have resurfaced the incident to try to tie Hakeem Jeffries to his uncle’s incendiary views (which he says he does not endorse). But what I found fascinating was how, even as a 21-year-old, Jeffries handled the whole controversy with unusual poise. He did not shrink from the criticism or inflame the opposition, but tried to build a bridge by reframing the debate in academic terms.
“The proper way to debate scholarship is with scholarship,” he said. “Not with high-tech lynchings, media assassinations, character desecrations and venomous attacks.”
As a lawyer, what cases did he handle that attracted attention?
Jeffries’s decade in corporate law put him in the middle of some really big cultural moments. While working at Paul, Weiss, he helped settle an intellectual property case involving the acclaimed album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
And when he worked at CBS, he defended the network after Justin Timberlake briefly exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show — the infamous “wardrobe malfunction.”
He eventually won a seat in the New York State Assembly. How did he figure in the legislature’s efforts to repeal 1970s-era drug laws and to bar the New York City Police Department from running a database on people who had been stopped and frisked but not charged with a crime?
As a state lawmaker from 2007 to 2012, Jeffries was a key part of a group of young Black and Latino lawmakers from New York City who pushed to confront a series of thorny issues around policing and race.
He mostly played a supporting role in the repeal of those Rockefeller-era drug laws. But he was the author of the legislation barring the police from maintaining an electronic database of innocent New Yorkers whom officers had stopped and frisked. He had to outmaneuver then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner, who opposed the bill. It was that fight that really put Jeffries on the political map.
Enjoy a sunny day in the mid-50s. Late at night, expect a chance of rain and snow, with temps dropping to the low 30s.
In effect until April 6 (Passover).
The latest New York news
Trump investigation: The grand jury hearing evidence in the Donald Trump hush-money investigation is expected to reconvene later this week, but the timing of any potential indictment remains unknown. Here’s what we know and don’t know.
Plan B for Penn Station: A proposal that Gov. Kathy Hochul once championed to help fund renovations at Pennsylvania Station has been mothballed, and an alternate has emerged as a possible front-runner.
A Ryan-only party: Hundreds of people packed into a bar in Lower Manhattan for a very exclusive party over the weekend. “First name must be Ryan,” the flier for the event said. “No Bryans allowed.”
A convention and visitors bureau by yet another name
For the last 24 years, the agency responsible for attracting visitors and conventions to New York City has been known simply as NYC & Company.
As catchy as that name may have been, it caused confusion. Fred Dixon, the agency’s president, said he and his colleagues often had to explain just what NYC & Company was (and that it wasn’t a private travel agency) and what it did.
Not anymore. The agency has renamed itself New York City Tourism + Conventions. “It’s really an effort to unambiguously define who we are,” he told my colleague Patrick McGeehan.
Including online. The agency and the city had to go to arbitration to regain ownership of the domain name nycvb.com, which carried the initials of its original name, the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. A company called New York Show Tickets had registered that domain name. In early 2021, the World Intellectual Property Organization ordered the company to relinquish nycvb.com to NYC & Company.
No matter what it calls itself, the agency is not a department of the city government. It is a nonprofit that operates on a contract with the city, which this year paid it $31 million to help rebuild tourism. Dixon expects more than 63 million people to visit the city this year, roughly seven million more than last year but still short of the 66.6 million who came to New York in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.
I was on a bus going uptown on Madison Avenue from Lower Manhattan. I was in a seat not far back from the driver, which allowed me to observe him as we went along.
He was clearly a veteran and was able to identify people waiting at the door at each stop, answer questions and move on without ever taking his eyes off the road and traffic ahead.
By the time we got into the 60s, the bus had filled up and the line of people waiting to get off at each stop had grown. At one point, a woman standing near the driver began to pepper him with questions.
“Do you stop at 68th Street?” she asked.
Yes, he replied, eyes straight ahead.
“Do you stop at 78th Street?”
“Do you stop at 86th Street?”
The driver turned his head slowly to look directly at the woman.
“Look, lady,” he said, “I know where I’m going. Where are you going?”
— Van Whisnand
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
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The post Hakeem Jeffries’s Path to Power in the House appeared first on New York Times.