Ed Towns’ fellow elected Democrats are doing their best to spare him the fate that Hillary Clinton suffered this year.
“We don’t want to have Barack Obama in the White House, and all of a sudden lose the seniority that Ed Towns would bring to us,” said City Comptroller Bill Thompson at a reasonably well-attended tribute to the 13-term congressman this weekend at the Berean Baptist Church just south of Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights.
Thompson warned some 200 attendees that they would “lose all the benefits of the years that Ed has put in.”
That Towns, a longtime incumbent in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, should need saving at all is somewhat remarkable. It’s a result, depending on who you ask, of the semi-celebrity status of his primary challenger, former MTV Real World star and hip-hop journalist Kevin Powell, of Towns’ presidential endorsement of Hillary Clinton in an overwhelmingly pro-Obama district, or simply of the district finally being ready for someone new.
One volunteer at the church bore a tacit acknowledgment of that last possibility, wearing a brown campaign T-shirt touting “Experience for Changing Times.”
Powell is something of an unusual standard-bearer for change in the district. While he is certainly an outsider, he’s hardly a squeaky-clean-reformist challenger to ossified power. For one thing, he has had a lifelong, and well-publicized, problem with violent outbursts, some of which have been directed at women. (Towns, in his public appearances, has taken to saying the Congress is no place for rehab.)
But while beating women might normally, and not unreasonably, be considered something of a disqualifier for a man running for public office, Powell has one thing going for him that seems to carry a fair amount of weight within the district at the moment: He endorsed Barack Obama.
In fact, the September 9 primary has become, in large part, a race to see which candidate can more effectively seize on Obama’s mantle in New York’s 10th Congressional District, where roughly 57 percent of primary voters supported the Illinois senator over establishment favorite Hillary Clinton.
(Obama, for his part, has not made an endorsement in the Towns-Powell race.)
Towns has sought to make the most of support from several local elected officials who backed Obama in the primary, while Powell has folded a number of Obama volunteers into his campaign, tapped into the preexisting Obama primary campaign infrastructure, and tied himself thematically to Obama at just about all of his public appearances by arguing that now is the time for broad change in black leadership.
At the church event, where Towns is a member, the goal, in large part, was to take some last-minute hacks at the credibility of Powell’s Obama ties.
Towns, who sat on the church’s stage next to the pastor of his church, nodded along as speaker after speaker praised him and criticized his younger opponent.
Representative Anthony Weiner said that the Republican National Convention was “not dissimilar from the campaign being waged against Ed Towns. That, too, really is a campaign about nothing.”
Weiner channeled Powell providing a rationale for the primary challenge: “I’m young, I’m ready to go, put me in, Coach.”
And, in time-honored fashion, Weiner said that Towns was a “work horse” rather than a “show horse” who is “honored and respected” around Congress.
Teamsters Local 237 president Greg Floyd said, “Knowing politics, you have to be groomed, you have to have experience, and you have to know what you’re doing. And I understand every now and then, there’s someone who comes along that is new, that has all these attributes — that’s a rare case. That’s Barack Obama. Congressman Towns’ opponent is not Barack Obama.”
Also in attendance at the event, in addition to the New York delegation stalwarts led by Charlie Rangel, were Representatives Maxine Waters of California and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina.
Both told The Observer they flew into New York specifically to campaign for Towns’ reelection.
The assemblage of Democratic luminaries was as direct a recognition as any from the Towns campaign that the threat Powell presents is a real one. As was the case in his last election, when Towns essentially ignored City Councilman Charles Barron and then Assemblyman Roger Green during the primary, he has studiously avoided attending anything like a debate or joint appearance with Powell this year.
Referring to the people who had shown up to campaign for him, Towns told the audience, “That, to me, is very, very special. Anytime you have your colleagues to come and to lend support, that means a lot.”