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The Empire

Jeffries Brings the Brooklyn Congressional Race To Queens

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The Old Mill Yacht Club building sits in front of the six-lane Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens. As the evening commute began to die down, about 30 Howard Beach residents gathered inside the red-brick building to talk about next week’s Democratic primary.

"We have a lot riding on this race," said Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio, a 35-year resent of Howard Beach. "The important thing is that we don't just talk about this here, but we talk about it to our neighbors and friends.

Gulluscio led Wednesday night's meeting of the South Queens Democratic Club. While the night's agenda addressed more than the upcoming primary race, those in attendance were there to listen to Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries make his case to represent the neighborhood in Congress.

"I'm urging you not just to come out next week," Jeffries said, "but to tell your friends, tell you neighbors, tell your family that this is an important election."

When a federal judge approved the latest Congressional lines in March, the newly formed 8th Congressional district's demographics didn't change drastically, but its coverage area did. While it retained most of central Brooklyn, it added significant parts of South Brooklyn and, for the first time, neighborhoods from South Queens. 

Howard Beach and Ozone Park fell in the 9th Congressional district, currently represented by Republican Bob Turner. Turner's district was eliminated during the redistricting process, moving the two neighborhoods into a district made up an overwhelmingly Democratic Brooklyn.

"The matter in which the Congressional lines are drawn, no Republican is going to win this district," said Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, who sat at the front of the room with Gulluscio. "So whoever wins next week's primary is going to be the congressman."

Braton then showed the audience the latest political mailing she received, one from the Jeffries camp. It's title read, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but sometimes words do hurt."

The single-page, glossy color mailer listed quotes from Jeffries' Congressional rival, Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron. Barron currently represents parts of East New York, Brownsville and Canarsie -- all within five miles of Howard Beach.

Among the list of quotes were some of Barron's comments on reparations for African Americans and on American-Israel relations. One quote, however, seemed to particularly resonate with Braton. In June, Barron was quoted as saying that he was realistic enough to know that he would not be able to pass legislation in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

"We send somebody to Washington to get bills passed," Braton said and added that the one of the chief complaints about Congress is its inability to pass any legislation.

Earlier this month, Barron visited Howard Beach and took some time to talk with local civic associations. 

"We had a good meeting," Barron told an audience in Bedford-Stuyvesant. "You know what they said? 'Could you help us get jobs? Could you help with foreclosures? Because we need a fighter like you.'"

Gulluscio said that whoever ends up going to Congress needs to address issues that matter to every part of the district, but that Howard Beach faces issues that not many other neighborhoods have to deal with, particularly issues regarding the waterfront. He applauded Jeffries, who in addressing the audience said that he would be in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

"I don't see that out of the other gentleman," Gulluscio said of Barron. "I've seen him working on specific things when he feels like it."

One woman at the meeting had similar concerns about Barron's effectiveness in Congress. A former East New York resident, she told WNYC that she had supported Barron multiple times in his races for City Council. She recently moved to Howard Beach and was unimpressed with Barron's track record.

"I want a new face, a new voice," said the woman, who did not want to give her name.

While the woman said that she was still learning about her new neighborhood, she admitted to staying in touch with some of her old neighbors in Barron's district. 

"They're saying they're voting for Jeffries," she said. "I hope they do."