By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — After serving in the House of Representatives since 1982, and in the midst of a primary campaign in which a popular opponent seemed to be gaining on him, Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-Central Brooklyn) yesterday formally announced that he was no longer seeking re-election.
At first, his withdrawal was unconfirmed. But no sooner did it become definite than tributes began pouring in from well-known officials with whom Towns had served with over the years.
Towns’ official statement read, in part; “After months of long family discussions, I have decided not to seek re-election for my seat in the United States House of Representatives. I am very grateful for the support we have received over the years. I believe firmly that we would have won a 16th term had we decided to run.”
During the past few months, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries picked up endorsements from Transport Workers Union Local 100, the Working Families Party, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, Communications Workers of America Local 1 and others.
Towns was also opposed by Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York), who came within 10 points of ousting Towns in 2006. According to the Capital New York blog, Barron’s campaign is largely self-financed and has to date raised only about $40,000.
Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Towns’ campaign, said the idea that Towns dropped out of the race because of Jeffries’ challenge is “nonsense and foolishness. He’s faced primary opponents before. It came after family discussions with his wife.”
Asked about Towns’ accomplishments in office, Sheinkopf mentioned Towns’ chairmanship, in the last congressional session, of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in which he “took the big banks and insurance companies to task.”
Towns, whose district has changed over the years, was a hospital social worker, a professor and a public school teacher before getting into politics. He also served as the first African-American deputy borough president before being elected to Congress. He has served on numerous committees and once chaired the Congressional Black Caucus.
Towns is no stranger to controversy — he was criticized for supporting Republican Rudy Giuliani in 1997 and for supporting Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. He has also been criticized for taking money from the tobacco lobby (his home state, North Carolina, is a tobacco-producing state). In general, however, Towns has supported the urban, liberal Democratic agenda.
Borough President Marty Markowitz said, “Congressman Ed Towns served Brooklyn with distinction, honor and integrity, and we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his tireless service to our nation. Not only did Congressman Towns bring together Brooklynites of all ethnicities, religions and walks of life in a diverse district that mirrored Brooklyn itself, but he made sure Brooklyn received its fair share from Washington. The ongoing renaissance of Brooklyn is due in no small part to his commitment.”
Towns’ colleague, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn/Queens), said, “Ed Towns has led a distinguished career and been a strong champion for Brooklyn. He will be sorely missed.”
Congressman Steve Israel (D-Long Island), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “As chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressional Black Caucus chair and serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Ed has been a strong advocate for improving the public health care system, strengthening consumer protections and investing in education.”
And Towns’ erstwhile opponent, Assemblyman Jeffries, said, “I commend Congressman Towns on his 30 years of service to the people of Brooklyn and wish him well on the next chapter of his professional life.”
Councilman Barron, who now faces Jeffries in the congressional race, says he expects to win despite Jeffries’ financing and favorable media coverage. “Take a walk around the district with me and my opponent, and see who they recognize. I’ve renovated more parks, built more affordable housing. I saved two schools, two senior centers in my district from being closed. My opponent hasn’t done anything like that,” he said.