At a town hall last night in Bed-Stuy, congressional candidates Hakeem Jeffries and Charles Barron gave their pitches and took questions, striking familiar themes: Mr. Jeffries portrayed himself as a serious legislator while Mr. Barron proclaimed his ability to help lead a national movement to change the country.
As the two competitors spoke at different times in different rooms, they never interacted or had the opportunity to have a fiery back-and-forth, as already happened on Inside City Hall. However, both candidates did take identical questions on foreign policy, “especially related around Africa and the Caribbean,” and their responses showed an interesting yet unsurprising divergence.
“This is a very diverse district and so there are going to be different parts of the district that have significant foreign policy interests,” Mr. Jeffries noted, adding that Africa was dear to the heart of many residents in places like Bed-Stuy, the Caribbean was important to Canarsie and Flatlands, and, unprompted, stressed the importance of Israel as well.
“In the southern part of the district you have people who are rightfully concerned with making sure America continues its strong 60 year partnership and friendship with the State of Israel,” he continued. “So there’s a variety of foreign policy interests that are going to be important to the next member of Congress.”
Israel, of course, has been a topic of high contention in this election. Indeed, yesterday morning, a coalition of elected officials gathered to denounce Mr. Barron’s views on the subject in the harshest terms.
Accordingly, Mr. Barron did not bring up the country when asked about Africa and the Caribbean.
“Well that’s going to be my Number One,” he said. “And I thank you about that because some people want to talk about other countries.”
Mr. Barron went on to speak at some length about the problems affecting Africa, while continuing to defend the record of leaders like Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe, something he’s been criticized for in the past as he used to be an outspoken defendant of their regimes.
“The global economy is trouble and it all starts with Africa and the Caribbean and Latin America for me,” he concluded.
After the candidate forum, we asked Mr. Jeffries if he felt some of the heavy rhetoric his supporters used against Mr. Barron on the Israel issue was appropriate. Among other things, Mr. Barron was called a “snake,” “monster” and “anti-Semite” at yesterday’s event.
“He’s not a shy, bashful individual, I’m sure he will have the capacity to defend his record,” Mr. Jeffries responded, adding, when pressed, “You’re going to have to ask Councilman Barron that question.”