By Amanda Escotto, Lead Editor
Art by Rhea Da Costa, Resident Artist
Read this article and more in our 2023 winter edition, on campus now!
The introduction of the 118th Congress has come with a new minority leader: Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Nominated as the first Black congressman to lead a political party in Congress, Jeffries has already pushed boundaries previously unexplored in congressional politics. Hakeem Jeffries has a special place in the heart of the Binghamton University community, completing his bachelor’s degree at the university in 1992 (Ellis 2022). With Jeffries becoming more prominent in American politics now than ever before, Happy Medium offers a profile of the congressman as a politician and as a Binghamton alum.
Jeffries is a Brooklynite, born and raised. He grew up in Crown Heights with his parents Marland Jeffries, a substance abuse counselor, and Laneda Gomes Jeffries, a social worker. He is a product of the New York City public school system, graduating from Midwood High School in 1988. After graduating from Binghamton University in 1992, Jeffries went on to earn a Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University in 1994. He did not stop there; by 1997, he graduated with a Juris Doctorate from the New York University School of Law (“Hakeem Jeffries Fast Facts” 2023).
While working towards his undergraduate degree at Binghamton University, Jeffries immersed himself in the Binghamton community, both inside and outside of the classroom. He recalled being named head of his pledge line and how it impacted his ability to see himself as a leader, sharing that it was “one of the first moments as a teenager when someone else seemed to think there was some measure of leadership in [him]” (“Jeffries is in the House” 2013). He later served as president of that fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, during his junior and senior year at Binghamton (“Jeffries is in the House” 2013), and he was also an engaged member of the Black Student Union here on campus (Ellis 2022). Being the minority leader requires an extraordinarily developed set of leadership skills, and Jeffries has credited Binghamton University and the experiences it brought him for the development of his personal confidence and ability to lead assuredly. He has since continued to discuss his time at Binghamton University, which he fondly referes to as “bingo”, as a place that provided him with the environment and opportunity to receive a foundation of knowledge about public service and government (Ellis 2022).
After graduating from NYU Law School and before his career in the New York State Assembly, Jeffries briefly dabbled in a career as a lawyer (“Factbox” 2022). From there, Jeffries served in the State Assembly for six years, from 2007 to 2012 (Congressman Hakeem Jeffries 2022). It was in the Assembly that he began his growth as a political figure. Jeffries championed a variety of notable issues such as affordable housing and policing, namely opposition to the controversial “Stop and Frisk” practice in New York City subways (“Factbox” 2022).
Throughout Jeffries’ nine years in Congress representing New York’s 8th district he served on several committees, including the House Judiciary Committee and the House Budget Committee (“Committees” 2022). By 2019, Jeffries had become the 5th highest-ranking Democrat after being appointed as chair of the House Democratic Caucus. As Democratic caucus chair, Jeffries was tasked with forming the “Caucus Issues Task Forces–through which legislative and party policy is developed and communicated” (“Who We Are” 2022). He also appointed members to lead each task force.
For the last several years of Jeffries’ time in office serving New York’s 8th district, his campaigns have outlined priorities such as more affordable housing, healthcare, and education (“Issues” 2022). Jeffries’ election as House minority leader makes him the first Black congressman to lead a political party in Congress. Although this milestone is notable, it is not his first time making congressional history. Jeffries began to substantially rise in popularity in January 2020 when former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appointed him as one of seven impeachment managers that acted as prosecutors in the Senate’s first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, becoming the first Black man to assume this role (Congressman Hakeem Jeffries 2022). The national recognition he received as an impeachment manager and his continuous legislative efforts boosted him closer to the speakership.
Following Hakeem Jeffries’ election as minority leader on November 30, 2022, a number of prominent New York political figures expressed their approval, satisfied with having a New Yorker and Brooklyn local leading the Democratic Party in Congress.
“There is no better advocate for our Democratic values than Brooklyn’s own Representative Hakeem Jeffries.”Statement by Governor Kathy Hochul
“New York City will have a champion in our nation’s capital while we continue to fight for our fair share of federal funding and a multitude of other priorities that will support New Yorkers.”Statement by NYC Mayor Eric Adams
Jeffries also received positive feedback regarding his new position from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a leading organization promoting racial justice in the law.
“His election marks another important moment for our nation as our legislative halls at the federal and state levels continue to become more representative of our multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy.”Statement by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
During the House Speaker elections, which began on January 3, the American public watched as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R) struggled to attain a majority of votes cast as his caucus stood divided. Meanwhile, Democrats remained unanimous in their support for Jeffries’ nomination. McCarthy was elected Speaker on the 15th round of voting, and there was a unanimous and peaceful transfer of power as Jeffries passed McCarthy the gavel in the early morning of January 6, 2023 (Sprunt and Davis 2022).
Jeffries’ first official speech as minority leader laid out his prioities for Democrats for the next two years. He mentioned Democrats would continue to promote economic opportunities and reproductive freedom. With Republicans’ slim majority, many have been concerned about increasing polarization and the lack of bipartisanship in Congress and throughout the country’s political environment. Jeffries addressed these concerns in his speech, and to his Republican colleagues, he affirmed, “We do extend our hand of partnership to you. We want to make clear that we extend and intend to try to find common ground, wherever and whenever possible on behalf of the American people. Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, not as Independents, but as Americans” (“New York Democrat” 2023).
While we live with a divided government, Americans will witness the attempts by the major parties and their members to negotiate new policies, this comes with the necessity for the new majority and minority officials to work together in order to arrange effective ways to govern. Hakeem Jeffries’ new position as minority leader stands as a proud moment for his supporters and the Binghamton University community. For many students, Jeffries’ legacy will serve as inspiration for their future career paths and the possibilities that lay ahead.
Amanda Escotto is a copy-editor for Happy Medium Magazine as well as the lead editor for the High School Magazine Development Program (HSMDP). She is an undergrad at Binghamton University studying political science and a candidate for a Master of Public Administration through the university’s 4+1 program. She is from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and loves to listen to music and paint in her free time. Over the last year, Amanda worked on two congressional campaigns and gained experience in driving political mobilization and strategic campaign operations. Amanda is especially passionate about congressional politics, elections, and public policy, as well as issues relating to reproductive rights, immigration, and representation. She plans to dedicate her career to the public sector.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. jeffries.house.gov/about/.
“Committees: Hakeem Jeffries.” 2022. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. jeffries.house.gov/legislation/committees-and-caucuses/.
Ellis, Katie. 2022. “Binghamton Grad Hakeem Jeffries ‘92 Elected House Democratic Leader.” BingUNews, November 30. www.binghamton.edu/news/story/3998/binghamton-grad-hakeem-jeffries-92-elected-house-democratic-leader1.
“Factbox: Who Is U.S. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries?” 2022. Reuters, November 30. www.reuters.com/world/us/who-is-hakeem-jeffries-favored-candidate-us-house-democratic-leader-2022-11-18/.
“Hakeem Jeffries Fast Facts.” 2023. CNN, January 5. www.cnn.com/2023/01/05/us/hakeem-jeffries-fast-facts/index.html.
“Issues.” 2022. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. jeffries.house.gov/issues/.
“Jeffries is in the House – Binghamton’s first alumnus elected to Congress.” 2013. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, August 9. jeffries.house.gov/2013/08/09/jeffries-is-in-the-house-binghamtons-first-alumnus-elected-to-congress/.
“LDF Congratulates Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on Historic Election as House Minority Leader.” 2022. Legal Defense Fund, November 30. www.naacpldf.org/press-release/ldf-congratulates-rep-hakeem-jeffries-on-historic-election-as-house-minority-leader/.
“Mayor Adams’ Statement on Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ Election as U.S. House Minority Leader.” 2022. The official website of the City of New York, November 30. www.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/873-22/mayor-adams-on-u-s-representative-hakeem-jeffries-election-u-s-house-minority.
“New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries Delivers Speech after McCarthy’s Election as Speaker of the House.” 2023. C-SPAN, January 7. www.c-span.org/video/?c5050190%2Fyork-democrat-hakeem-jeffries-delivers-speech-mccarthys-election-speaker-house.
Sprunt, Barbara and Susan David. 2023. “Kevin McCarthy is elected House speaker after 15 votes and days of negotiations.” NPR, January 7. www.npr.org/2023/01/06/1147470516/kevin-mccarthy-speaker-of-the-house-vote.
“Statement from Governor Kathy Hochul on Election of Hakeem Jeffries to House Democratic Leadership.” 2022. Governor Kathy Hochul, November 30. www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-kathy-hochul-election-hakeem-jeffries-house-democratic-leadership.
“Who We Are.” 2022. House Democrats. www.dems.gov/who-we-are.
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