In the wake of the city council electing Manhattan City Council Member Corey Johnson speaker in a near unanimous 48-1 vote, something of a political war has broken out between forces loyal to U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Brooklyn and forces to loyal to Borough President Eric Adams and Adams’ ally, Kings County Democratic Party Boss Frank Seddio.
According to sources loyal to Adams and Seddio, Jeffries is the political loser because he failed to get City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) named speaker.
But according to sources close to Jeffries, the deal made to make Johnson speaker was a plus for the borough as Jeffries will get some key chairs and appointments.
What does seem likely is that Queens County Democratic Boss U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley played a great game of divide and conquer, and in doing so, opened old and deep wounds in Brooklyn politics.
To understand the feud, a bit of Brooklyn political history is in order.
Four years ago Seddio succeeded in getting Brooklyn a number of city council members key committee assignments along with both council and city patronage jobs in exchange for supporting Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s choice for speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito.
This infuriated Crowley, who has long enjoyed the reputation of being a kingmaker in the city in that he can bring the council members of Queens and the Bronx (which he partly represents in Congress) together to pick the speaker along with key committee chairs and patronage jobs.
In this go-round, Crowley refused to speak to Seddio and let it be known through the media that he thought Seddio was losing his power in Brooklyn, and that power had shifted over to Jeffries.
Crowley’s camp also leaked that he was eyeing the House Democratic leadership position that U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) currently holds, and he needed Jeffries support as an up-and-coming African-American Congressional member with a growing national presence.
Jeffries, who was instrumental in helping the late reformer District Attorney Ken Thompson defeat his corrupt predecessor, Charles Hynes in 2013, through silence and playing things close to the vest, appeared to be enjoying his new-found publicized role of Kings County powerbroker and political reformer.
Jeffries himself first got elected to Congress with strong initial help of the powerful Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA) political club in Bedford-Stuyvesant. VIDA’s president at that time was Cornegy, who himself was a protegé of former City Councilman and Assemblymember Al Vann.
Vann, along with former Assemblymembers Roger Green and Clarence Norman, had for years controlled the Brooklyn African-American Central Brooklyn political machine. Norman, the former Kings County Democratic Party Boss, was finally brought down in a questionable Hynes indictment and conviction.
The African-American political machine itself had roots in a fragile political power sharing agreement between blacks and Italians. Under the pact, former Brooklyn Party Boss Anthony Genovesi controlled Southern Brooklyn while Norman controlled Central and a large part of Northern Brooklyn.
After getting elected to Congress and getting Thompson elected DA, it was whispered that Jeffries and a few other central Brooklyn African-American Democratic District leaders were not happy with Seddio, and were seeking to replace him – first with possibly former Assembly Member Karim Camara, and later with Assembly Member Walter Mosley.
In the meantime, Adams, a former NYPD Captain, was raising in the political ranks in the vein of the late former City Councilman James Davis, also a former cop and who succeeded in beating the African-American political machine to get elected to the city council.
Adams never had the blessing from the African-American political machine, and instead forged an alliance with Seddio. This paid off after former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was term-limited out of office and Adams ran for the seat unopposed.
When Crowley interjected himself into Brooklyn politics through the speaker’s race, it brought the borough’s ongoing political feuds bubbling to the surface.
To hear sources from the Adams/Seddio camp tell it, Seddio was a “real gentleman” and stepped aside to let Jeffries take the lead to see if he could get Cornegy in as speaker. That Jeffries inability to do that, proved he is a political lightweight.
“Hakeem was schooled by Crowley,” said sources in the Seddio/Adams camp. “It was like taking candy from a baby. Hakeem is not in the same league as these guys.”
These sources maintain what Jeffries didn’t understand was Crowley has a reputation for screwing the African-American community out of political clout, and instead forges a much better relationship with Queens immigrant communities.
But several sources familiar with the speaker’s race said Jeffries inability to get Cornegy named speaker had as much to do with the fact that Johnson outworked Cornegy, who often showed up late and sometimes not at all, to political and committee meetings.
And Jeffries supporters note a good many of the new wave of political leaders see Jeffries as a reformer and rising star in the Democratic Party national ranks. Locally, he has also made some key alliances with independent minded electeds that move across racial lines. This includes City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch.
“Rep. Jeffries is a rising star in Congress, a member of House democratic leadership, just helped Rep. Jerry Nadler become the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, regularly appears on CNN and MSNBC, is beloved by his constituents, has more than a million dollars in his re-election account and twice defeated DA candidates backed by Eric Adams and the so-called Brooklyn machine (including incumbent Joe Hynes),” emailed a source close to the Jeffries camp.
“Do you think he cares about a few janitorial patronage positions at the City Council? The haters should pipe down, issue some more proclamations and watch where the Council members closest to Rep. Jeffries land – including Laurie Cumbo, Mark Treyger, Chaim Deutsch and Robert Cornegy,” the source added.