Smaller (Ed) Towns Takes On the Big Borough

So, unlike the rest of the New York delegation, Mr. Towns is perpetually fending off primary threats. As far back as 1988, a little-known Pakistan-born pharmacist got nearly 25 percent of the vote against him. In 1998, Mr. Towns won just over 50 percent of the vote against Barry Ford, a Harvard-educated lawyer close to the Clintons. In 2006, he received even less than that in a three-way race that included City Councilman and former Black Panther Charles Barron. And, in the last two primaries, a former star of MTV’s The Real World, Kevin Powell, earned almost a third of the vote.

Mr. Towns has been able to hang on, politicos say, thanks to a fine-tuned political sense and even more fine-tuned control over the redistricting process. But that skill might be less insulating, as his district becomes more Latino, more white and more middle class.

And Mr. Towns’s increasingly wobbly position as a Brooklyn power broker could invite more credible challengers. As the deal with the Dilans was falling apart, Hakeem Jeffries–a young assemblyman long viewed as a comer in Brooklyn political circles–quietly opened a congressional exploratory committee. Mr. Jeffries has been cautiously courting the party’s leadership while broadening his outreach to anti-Lopez reformers, and with a degree in public policy from Georgetown and a pedigree that includes a stint at the white-shoe law firm of Paul, Weiss, he could appeal to many of the district’s new residents.

Mr. Towns said he isn’t concerned.

“It doesn’t bother me at all. He’s ambitious and that’s it,” Mr. Towns told The Observer. “There have been other ambitious folks. I can give you their names. Some of them were pretty bright, too.”

Mr. Barron and Mr. Powell have each been making noise about a rematch, and once the new district lines are drawn, a host of ambitious young legislators could suddenly find themselves in the district of a long-serving congressman who seems to have lost his touch.

In the meantime, the next measure of Mr. Towns’s muscle will be the summer-long, all-out campaign to install his daughter, Deidra, in his son’s old Assembly seat, over a challenge from Erik Dilan’s chief of staff, Rafael Espinal. Mr. Towns is determined to see Deidra win. The family has hired Democratic uberstrategist Hank Sheinkopf to advise her campaign, and her opponents expect her father to lean on his congressional fund-raising network.

“If his daughter loses that race, there will be a lot of talk about the strength of the Townses’ power,” said one politico connected to the Dilans. “If you keep winning, people think of you as a winner. If he loses, the ministers and local leaders start to get a sense of vulnerability. That could create a groundswell.”

Mr. Towns said that the results last week–a vote of party insiders largely chosen by Mr. Lopez–will have no bearing on his daughter’s race. The voters, he says, will show how much the Towns family still matters in Brooklyn.

“This is going to be something you take to the people. That was like trying to win in Atlantic City–the fix was in,” Mr. Towns said. “People know the name. They know the name Towns. So even though you have challenges, I’ll be ready.”



Smaller (Ed) Towns Takes On the Big Borough