The Jeffries Junior League: Hakeem a Dream for Fresh-Faced Volunteers

Saint Ann's Grads, Ivy Leaguers Want to Know How They Can Help

Democratic congressional hopeful Hakeem Jeffries. (Photo by Gray Hamner)

If you were wandering down Fulton Street between Washington Avenue and St. James Place in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Clinton Hill starving and with $3.50 to spend, you might stroll into trendy taqueria Cochinita and exchange it for a pork shoulder taco heaping with pickled onions. A couple of doors down, for the same price, Brooklyn Victory Garden would sell you a bagel slathered with “faux gras” (or, walnut lentil pâté—not that you didn’t know). Where you could not spend that small wad of dollars is the vacant storefront of Joloff, a shuttered Senegalese restaurant that, after 17 years in this location, has recently been nudged out and relocated deep in Bed Stuy.

Also nestled in this block of Fulton is the small campaign headquarters for Democratic congressional hopeful Hakeem Jeffries. On a visit last Sunday, The Observer found an array of frantic, fresh-faced college and high school students, typing away on brought-from-home MacBooks, noshing on tacos from the aforementioned Cochinita, and phone banking furiously. It is an odd (or perhaps perfectly fitting) place for an ideological battle to land: in a neighborhood newly defined by hastening gentrification, the race that has emerged is between an old-guard, ultra-left black Brooklyn politician and a young moderate, modern coalition-builder who has fairly painlessly raised $700,000.

That afternoon, the campaign office—staffed by living symbols of the population change—was in a fever pitch. Ten young volunteers circled a table with campaign-issued, pay-as-you-go cell phones, calling voters to politely remind them of today’s primary.

The staff had been so busy for the past week that a copious bouquet sat wilting high above the office on a bookshelf, completely forgotten.

The Observer approached Eliza Schultz, an 18-year-old Johns Hopkins student pursuing international studies and public health, who was organizing a massive sandwich order for poll workers volunteering on primary day. As a sophomore in high school, Ms. Schultz had traveled to State College, Pa., for a week and volunteered on the Obama campaign, an experience she described as, “super exciting.” We asked her about the makeup of the regular volunteers in Mr. Jeffries’s office.

“It’s similar [to the Obama campaign volunteers. Most people you see coming in here are a certain age—a lot of us are in college, a lot from high school,” she said, shifting her weight in her wooden Swedish Hasbeens clog-sandals, favored by Sarah Jessica Parker and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

“It’s really amazing how many people were pulled from Uptown Manhattan [to come volunteer]. When I worked on the Obama campaign, we saw that, too. It’s amazing how many people have been pulled from all over the place. So many people come in from Westchester everyday. [Hakeem] has that same pull,” she said.

Indeed, for those whose first political solid food was the Obama run—or even those too young then to participate—the Jeffries run has provided a little bit of that old hope-and-change magic. Young and younger, they have flocked to Fulton Street for the latest hip political campaign to appeal to self-identifying locavores and proud public-radio supporters.

The Jeffries Junior League: Hakeem a Dream for Fresh-Faced Volunteers