We are bearing down on important congressional primary races next week, with new districts, courtesy of the 2010 census and the feds.
In Queens, there is, as we’ve been closely following, a four-way race between Assemblymembers Rory Lancman and Grace Meng, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley and Dr. Robert Mittman.
In Manhattan and the Bronx, a New York and congressional institution, Charlie Rangel, is in the fight of his life against State Senator Adriano Espaillat.
In Brooklyn and parts of Queens, Congressmember Nydia Velasquez is also in a battle against Councilmember Erik Dilan.
So how is it that the congressional primary race that could be the most-watched may be between Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and Councilmember Charles Barron, also in Brooklyn and parts of Queens? Indeed, because many Democrats are concerned about the outcome.
Anyone who’s ever interviewed Barron knows how it goes: he’s usually affable, but almost always manages to outrage somebody. Barron has been quoted saying some of the most provocative things that have infuriated city officials and many voters.
Barron declared his candidacy back in November, and announced that “Robert Mugabe is my hero, and guess what, so is Muammar Qaddafi.” Mugabe is the president of Zimbabwe and has been accused of many human rights abuses.
Barron also said once that he “wanted to go up to the nearest white person and say, ‘you can’t understand this, it’s a black thing,’ and then slap him just for my mental health.” He likened Gaza to “a concentration death camp.” And he called Thomas Jefferson a pedophile.
Barron is obviously not checking with political consultants before giving his stump speeches. But nonetheless, he apparently is making this quite the race. He got the endorsement from DC 37, the city’s largest public employees union.
Jeffries has also been getting endorsements, from 1199 SEIU and the Transport Workers Union. And he’s the polar opposite to Barron, in demeanor and in some policies.
What could be crucial is turnout. Primaries traditionally have low turnouts, but this one could be even worse, since it’s the first one held in June in decades.
“The early primary won’t bring out a lot of people,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told me. “But the ones who do will be the most educated, the most engaged.”
Sheinkopf sees that favoring Rangel and Jeffries. And the get-out-the-vote will be critical, something union support can help with.
So we will be watching all these races. And we’ll find out if Barron, who was dismissed as having no chance at all, can pull off a stunning upset.
It’s just so ironic that so few voters will show up for these races, which will affect the future of so many neighborhoods.