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Hakeem Jeffries Could Be Pushed Into Running for Mayor, Pundits Say

By Jeff Mays | April 11, 2016 8:12am
 Ask Rep. Hakeem Jeffries if he's running for mayor against Bill de Blasio in 2017 and his answer couldn't be any more final.
Ask Rep. Hakeem Jeffries if he's running for mayor against Bill de Blasio in 2017 and his answer couldn't be any more final. "I have no interest in running for mayor of the City of New York. Period. Full stop." But in spite his protestations, some still think Jeffries could be pushed into running against de Blasio next year if the conditions are right.
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN —  Ask Rep. Hakeem Jeffries if he's running for mayor against Bill de Blasio in 2017 and his answer couldn't be any more final.

"I have no interest in running for mayor of the City of New York. Period. Full stop," Jeffries said in a recent interview. "My strong inclination is to stay the course and remain in the House of Representatives."

That's Jeffries' current seat in Brooklyn where pundits say his future is bright and that he could one day move into a leadership role, run for statewide office or even the Senate.

"For me the bigger question is in what public policy arena can I best serve the people," Jeffries said.

But some still think Jeffries could be pushed into running against de Blasio next year if the conditions are right.

"I don't think he wants to run. Some of his criticisms of the mayor are constructive critiques, not 'I want to tear you down,'" said Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political strategist who has known Jeffries for years.

"But if he felt it was a matter of duty and honor and he had a racial ethnic and ideological coalition that felt he was the only person who could defeat de Blasio, he would take a second look."

Gyory compared it to the coalition that pushed Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, to run for elected office.

"Harold Washington never really wanted to run for mayor of Chicago but it was put to him as a matter of duty," Gyory said. "He was the only African-American progressive people thought could win after Jane Byrne fizzled out."

Jeffries is not up for re-election in 2017 and many think running for mayor would be a "risk-free" proposition, especially after a sometimes-rocky first two years of the de Blasio administration.

Jeffries has not held back on criticizing de Blasio on everything from homelessness to his affordable housing plan to how often the mayor traveled outside the city.

"The first two years of the de Blasio administration were a mixed bag for a lot of people in New York City," Jeffries said. "Therefore, some were searching for credible, potential candidates to challenge the mayor in 2017. For whatever reason, I have been one of the few names floated as a possible candidate."

De Blasio has also faced criticism from his liberal base that some of his policies, such as his support of "broken windows" policing and his plan to rezone 15 city neighborhoods, do not jibe with his campaign promises to end what he called "a tale of two cities" in New York.

Some see the mayor's support of "broken windows" policing, which targets smaller crimes to prevent larger ones, as the continuation of a policy that unfairly targets blacks and Latinos. There has also been criticism that the rezoning plan would not provide enough affordable housing for the city's poorest residents.

"Let's be clear, the mayor won under the rhetoric of stopping stop-and-frisk and then hired the architect of stop-and-frisk as police commissioner. That doesn't make a lot of sense to liberal Democrats in this city," said Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University. "A lot of progressives are also uncomfortable with his relationship with the real estate industry."

Nevertheless, De Blasio has maintained overwhelming support from the black and Latino communities. The mayor has also strongly refuted those criticisms, saying he has tweaked "broken windows" policing to focus on those who commit crimes and that his rezoning efforts are the only way to preserve affordable housing in neighborhoods facing unchecked gentrification.

After a rocky summer, de Blasio's poll numbers had begun to rise, though he now faces questions about federal investigations into police corruption, his fundraising practices, and elevated lead levels in the blood of NYCHA residents. The mayor has said he's unaware of any investigation into his fundraising and that the city will fully cooperate with the other investigations.

Most political observers believe the investigations are damaging but not yet crippling.

"De Blasio is not failing. He needs to get a lot better at articulating his successes. I call it the 'Obama problem,' but it's not like the city has gone down the drain," Greer said.

Rep. Charles Rangel, the dean of New York's congressional delegation who is retiring this year, agreed.

"The mayor has not received a threat to his re-election to my knowledge," Rangel said.

As the senior statesman of the delegation, Rangel said he has advised Jeffries to stay in Congress.

"I told him that I thought he had an outstanding career as a legislator, that we needed him badly in our city and state delegation, and I saw unlimited opportunities for him," Rangel said in an interview. "But by the same token he has to consider what he thinks is in his best political interests."

Rangel was part of the "Gang of Four" Harlem political powerbase that helped elect David Dinkins as the city's first and only black mayor in 1989. He's not sure race is as much an issue now in the campaign for mayor as it was back then.

"I have not really gotten over the pain of supporting [Bill] Thompson for mayor and I truly believe as a result of his last campaign that color does not necessarily prove an effective campaign," Rangel said about his support for the former comptroller, an African-American, who lost by 14 points to de Blasio in the Democratic primary.

"One should not get overly involved in just 'It's time for another black mayor.' I learned that the hard way." 

An October poll by Quinnipiac University showed Jeffries polling at 7 percent in a Democratic Primary, behind another oft-mentioned candidate, Comptroller Scott Stringer, but ahead of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. 

Even as a "rival star," Jeffries would have to do some work on name recognition, Greer said.

But with plenty of time before the next election, Gyory said it's hard to completely rule out a Jeffries challenge because of the way unexpected issues, such as the fundraising probe, can materialize.

"The thing about mayoral politics is that it could turn on a dime for better or worse. If things fell apart for this mayor, one could see people coming to Hakeem again," Gyory said. "And he would listen."