Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Hakeem Jeffries is getting his money’s worth out of the unlimited MetroCard these days. A third-year litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and, at 29, a Democratic candidate for the State Assembly from Brooklyn, N.Y.’s 57th District, Jeffries in recent weeks has been shuttling several times a day between the firm’s midtown Manhattan offices and campaign stops in the central Brooklyn neighborhoods he hopes to represent. The race figures to be an uphill battle for Jeffries, who is a relatively unknown quantity in the district, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Park Slope, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. His opponent in the Democratic primary in September, the 10-term incumbent Roger L. Green, will have the vital backing of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. But Jeffries describes the campaign — his first for public office — as a long time coming, particularly since he grew up just outside the district in Crown Heights. “The reason I went to law school was the idea that the law can be a vehicle for social change,” he said. “Seeking to represent a community in the Legislature sort of merges the skills I’ve learned as an attorney with my desire to serve the community and make it a better place to live.” With a father who is a retired social worker and a mother who is a civil servant, Jeffries was raised in a household in which political debates were a dinner table staple. After graduating from Midwood High School in Brooklyn in 1988, he earned a degree in political science from SUNY-Binghamton, where he was active in student politics and a local Big Brother-Big Sister program. Jeffries continued to work with children when he moved on to the Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, volunteering as a tutor in an after-school program in a troubled neighborhood in southeast Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in 1994, writing his thesis on police misconduct. CALM DEMEANOR At New York University School of Law, Jeffries helped run the High School Law Institute, teaching constitutional and criminal law, oral advocacy and legal writing to visiting New York City high school students. He also served as an associate editor of the Law Review and graduated magna cum laude in 1997. He joined Paul Weiss for four months that year before starting a clerkship with Southern District Judge Harold Baer Jr., who remembered him as smart, poised and a patient listener. “He was always capable of projecting a calmness, which is fairly important in this operation,” Baer said. “He was remarkable.” Deborah J. Verdile, who clerked with Jeffries before moving on to the New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, described him as almost preternaturally self-composed. She recalled that when Jeffries awoke one day to find that his car had been stolen, he took the subway to the courthouse before calling the police because he did not want to be late for work. “It was just so funny,” Verdile said. “He was so calm it was like he’d lost his pen or something.” Returning to Paul Weiss last year, Jeffries impressed partner Moses Silverman with his work on a long-running employment arbitration. “He is articulate. He is tenacious. He is incredibly disciplined and hard-working and bright,” Silverman said. “He’s a very strong lawyer.” In the community, Jeffries, who lives in Prospect Heights with his wife Kennisandra, an oncology social worker, has been busy. Last January he and about 15 other lawyers who live in central Brooklyn founded a group called the Committee for Legal and Social Progress, with the goal of using their legal training to contribute to the improvement of their neighborhoods. The group’s first project, Brooklyn Counts, educated residents on the importance of participating in the 2000 Census. Jeffries also teaches street law classes to high-school age kids at the Crown Heights Youth Collective, classes that have a practical focus on the rights of civilians in confrontations with police. And he is a member of the 77th Precinct Council, the citizens’ group that meets with officers from the local precinct to discuss policing in the neighborhood. Encouraged by people in the community who consider Green’s style of representation too passive, Jeffries decided around the beginning of the year to challenge the incumbent. “I think his major weakness is he’s not responsive to the needs of the community,” Jeffries explained. “He’s a decent man without a plan.” With the slogan “New Vision for a New Day,” Jeffries is billing his campaign as a necessary infusion of energy for the district. His platform emphasizes the need to fight for state subsidies and tax breaks to encourage economic growth in the district’s commercial corridors; better relations between the police and neighborhood residents, with an emphasis on community policing; and improved public schools that will provide an education equal to that offered in the suburbs. FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE With Paul Weiss’s blessing, Jeffries has been working a flexible schedule over the last several weeks, campaigning in the mornings and early evenings and finishing his work at the firm at night. He has also arranged to take a leave of absence, beginning in June or July and lasting at least through the primary on Sept. 12. (In the 57th District, the primary tends to be the de facto election. In 1998, Green beat his Republican challenger with almost 97 percent of the vote.) Silverman said that although the firm would feel Jeffries’s absence, it was clearly for a higher good. “I’d much rather have him around working for us full-time,” Silverman said. “On the other hand, it’s exciting to see a young person who wants to give back to his community, to the community he grew up in.” As a grass-roots candidate with neither party backing nor widespread name recognition, Mr. Jeffries is faced with the challenge of engaging voters about a primary that is still four months away, an endeavor he described as fraught with uncertainty. “When you run for political office as a first-time candidate, you’re taking a leap of faith,” he said. “At this level, there’s no way to gauge what the community response is going to be.” To combat that, Jeffries is taking every chance he finds to make himself known in the district, pressing the flesh at subway stops, schools, block parties and community meetings of all types. He said he hopes his home-grown appeal is contagious. “The most important thing is that people are genuinely excited about a young person from the community deciding to offer [himself] up as a candidate for public office,” he said. “That has really been the key to getting people involved this early, because it’s such a novelty.” The first step for Jeffries in the official process is to collect the signatures of 500 registered Democrats in the district he needs to get himself on the ballot for the primary, a requirement he said he should have no trouble fulfilling. After that, he plans to campaign full-time most of the summer. As for longer-term aspirations, given the challenge of knocking off an entrenched incumbent, Jeffries is not looking too far ahead. “I’m willing to go as far as the community will take me,” he said. “But my only focus is the State Assembly.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.