Three weeks before the primary election day, Brooklyn Assemblyman and Congressional candidate Hakeem Jeffries dropped out of a debate in his district because of the inclusion of two non-Democratic candidates.
The debate was originally announced as a face-off between Jeffries and Councilman Charles Barron, the two Democrats competing for outgoing Congressman Ed Town’s congressional seat. On Wednesday, the group organizing the debate, the Fort Green Association, extended last-minute invitations to the presumptive Republican and Green party candidates.
"Given the addition of two candidates who will not appear on the ballot this June and the confusion this poses to the electorate, we are declining the invitation at this time," said the Jeffries campaign in an e-mail to the debate organizers. "Should the people decide to select Assemblyman Jeffries as the Democratic nominee, he looks forward to participating in a debate with the other general election candidates in the fall."
Even though Jeffries will not be in attendance, Barron, Green Party candidate Colin Beavan and Republican candidate Alan Bellone will take the stage at Monday’s debate at Brooklyn Music School in Fort Greene.
Barron said he was surprised when he heard on Thursday that Jeffries dropped out of the debate.
"If you don't have the strength to take on a debate in your district, you don't have the strength to take on Washington," he said. "That's not encouraging."
Beavan, whose campaign had requested to join the debate and prompted the Fort Greene Association’s invitation, described the news of Jeffries' dropping out as "sad." He added that Jeffries is also running on the Working Families Party ticket and will be on the general election ballot whether or not he wins the June 26 Democratic primary.
"The real losers are the community members," he said. "It's a real shame that Jeffries underestimates the intelligence of the community."
The decision to include other parties' candidates also led the New York Times' Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Local blog, one of the original hosts, to also drop out of the event. Editor for the Local Gersh Kuntzman called the decision "a repudiation of the democratic process that pits Mr. Jeffries and Mr. Barron — and no one else."
Barron and Jeffries are still scheduled to do a televised debate on NY1 on Monday, June 4.