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

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

In the run up to the 2008 election, Steve Hildebrand, deputy national campaign director of Obama’s first run, told the Boston Globe that not only did the campaign see young people being galvanized to vote (66 percent of voters under 30 would end up casting their ballots for Obama), but unprecedented numbers of people volunteered. “Millions of Americans who haven’t been involved in a political campaign ever in their lifetimes [became] very active,” he said, estimating that it was the first time for 70 percent of their two million grassroots volunteers.

Jumping into such a campaign, especially one with eventual national ramifications and featuring a star candidate, no doubt also contributed to the constellation of helpers in the room.

This is volunteer Steve Kung’s first campaign, and he came looking for that excitement. The 22-year-old, who graduated in May from Brown with a degree in history, is still looking for a job.
What kind, we wondered?

“I’m not exactly sure. I’m casting my net pretty wide because of the economy, but I’m willing to lend my hand to this” in the meantime, he said. Asked why he chose this campaign, Mr. Kung said it had a reputation. “Apparently it’s supposed to be really intense and heated, one of the most intense primary races in New York City,” he said.

Chloe Shanklin, 19, another first-time campaigner, sported hot pink shorts as she worked on a laptop, tapping her white boat shoes anxiously as we spoke. (She had things to do.) On the advice from a professor, she joined up. “I thought I’d try something new and ended up loving it and sticking with it,” she said.

Ms. Shanklin is taking a semester off from Hamilton, but the experience has shaped her interests. “Last semester I thought biology, now I’m thinking something on the politics end. It’s changed my viewpoint. Being involved is great and it’s something I want to keep doing,” she said.

Exactly zero of the above young supporters live in Mr. Jeffries’s district—but given the prevailing trends, they might just end up there soon.

There is a very real demographic creep happening in the district, and it’s not just anecdotal. A recent article by education analyst Michael J. Petrilli named 11238, the zip code in which the Jeffries HQ is squarely located, one of the fasting gentrifying neighborhoods in the country, with a “change in white share” of 21.5 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Nevertheless the 8th district remains hugely diverse, with mostly white neighborhoods in north and south Brooklyn (Coney Island, Brighton Beach and the gentrification centers Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights) and a middle containing Bed Stuy and East New York—primarily black neighborhoods thought to be strongholds for his opponent Charles Barron. (The district is 53 percent black.)

It’s been a weird journey, this campaign. After the long-term congressman for the district, Ed Towns, unexpectedly dropped out of the race, it was suddenly wide open. An endorsement war followed (Mr. Towns, the powerful DC37 municipal union and former klansman David Duke endorsing Mr. Barron; Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and most every other union or politician who matters endorsing Mr. Jeffries), and despite Mr. Jeffries’s legislative accomplishments, star power and 10-times-greater fundraising cache, some began to worry that Mr. Barron was “surging,” as The New York Times put it.

The Jeffries campaign has publicly denied being worried, though the candidate did note in an interview that Mr. Barron had “morphed into an establishment candidate.”

Many agree today’s primary election will hinge on voter turnout, which could well depend on Mr. Jeffries’s small army of young supporters.

A fact they no doubt had in mind Monday evening as they handed flyers to commuters disembarking the C train at the Clinton-Washington stop—many new residents in the neighborhood themselves.

lgriffin@observer.com

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