NEW YORK -- Friday was supposed to be a day for controversial City Councilman Charles Barron's allies to "stand by their man," according to a press release from his congressional campaign. The retiring incumbent, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), and representatives of New York City's powerful DC 37 public employees union were supposed to "declare their steadfast allegiance."
But two days after former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke bizarrely inserted himself into the Democratic primary with his own video endorsement of Barron because of their shared anti-Israel views, those steadfast supporters were nowhere to be seen.
With time running out before the June 26 primary for Congressional 8th District, Barron's campaign -- previously deemed "surging" by The New York Times on the basis of Towns' endorsement -- is hitting some roadblocks. Duke's endorsement crystallizes for some a feeling that Barron's long history of radical statements, including support for dictators Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi, has no place in Congress. It has also hurt Barron in the money race, where state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries holds a commanding $375,000-to-$11,000 lead in cash on hand.
On Wednesday, the Sephardic Community Federation spent an additional $15,000 against Barron, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Despite those signs, Barron effused optimism on the steps of City Hall, at a Friday press conference that started 35 minutes late under a blistering sun. Barron brushed off the no-shows from Towns and DC 37. (The union, a branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, did send a statement.)
"We never said they would be here. We said that statements would be read," Barron claimed, contravening his campaign's own release. Towns would appear at campaign events later in the day, Barron said. Also, shouted a supporter, Towns was "stuck in traffic."
"That Congressman Towns is not here means absolutely nothing," Barron said. "He is solidly behind me."
City Councilwoman Diana Reyna did appear as scheduled.
The Jeffries campaign has denounced Duke's endorsement and asked Barron to do the same. But the councilman, decrying the video as "foolishness," did not issue a clear denunciation.
"We're not going to be sidetracked by non-issues. So my reaction to that is none," he said.
Instead, Barron attempted to present himself as a fighter for the district willing to buck the establishment. A spokesman read a statement listing off all the powerful people who have endorsed his opponent: Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), state party bosses, even -- not directly, but with a photo-op -- President Barack Obama.
"Never in the history of this district have all those forces joined together in opposition to one candidate," the statement went. "The people in the 8th Congressional district with whom this campaign has interacted are asking why, and our response is it has everything to do with Charles Barron's service to them."
But it's not clear that Barron's defiant demeanor will play well in the 8th District, which extends far beyond his City Council power base in the East New York and Brownsville neighborhoods. His opponent, Jeffries, has been touted as an Obama-like up-and-comer. Jeffries was born in the area and went on to New York University School of Law and a well-connected city law firm. To some extent, he represents the aspirations of the black middle class.
Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime political consultant who was advising Towns before he dropped out of the race, doesn't give Barron a chance. Even before Duke's intrusion, Jeffries had the money advantage and, despite his ties to the city establishment, sufficient credibility among the district's black residents based on his vigorous opposition to the New York Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk program.
"Hakeem will win because David Duke just elected him," Sheinkopf said. "This is great. A black man is being elected to a congressional seat by a Nazi."
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