Hakeem Jeffries' Socialist Problem
He can't beat them, and they can't beat him
On Friday, there was a small item in Politico about Jabari Brisport, a Democratic state senator from Brooklyn. Brisport, a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America, could be a target for a primary next year after angering moderate Democrats over his pro-Palestinian, Israel-skeptical politics. Democratic operatives close to Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader who represents a district that overlaps with Brisport’s, say he would be interested in backing such a primary. None of this is surprising. For DSA, Jeffries’ ascension in the House is a particular problem. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, who occasionally mocked the Squad but invested little political capital in actually weakening leftists, Jeffries has been a long-standing opponent of democratic socialism in New York. He has spoken openly about the need to defeat socialist politicians and endorsed candidates, in multiple primaries, against DSA contenders. He still harbors a grudge against DSA for ousting his protégé, Walter Mosley, in the Brooklyn Assembly seat he once held.
Brisport is likely of particular annoyance to Jeffries. A Black socialist who is a native of central Brooklyn, Brisport is, perhaps, one of the lawmakers most loyal to DSA in the United States. Outside critics of the organization don’t quite understand there are differences in how various DSA-endorsed politicians actually work with it. Some, like Jamaal Bowman, are effectively no longer involved. Others, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, maintain a cordial relationship but never came through the actual ranks of DSA. When Ocasio-Cortez ran against Joe Crowley, she was, at the outset, a recruit of Justice Democrats (then Brand New Congress), not DSA. DSA endorsed later in the race. She had no prior involvement with the democratic socialists and didn’t always endorse their candidates when she got to Congress. Brisport had her endorsement when he first ran in 2020, but Zohran Mamdani, who managed my own unsuccessful campaign two years prior, did not.
Brisport and Mamdani are what DSA rank-and-file refer to as “cadre”—politicians who were active members of the organization prior to their election, those who are especially invested in the future of DSA. DSA’s goal, in New York and elsewhere, is to elect a large number of legislators who will vote as a bloc and work collectively on policy aims the organization cares about. They do not care, like labor unions or the left-liberal Working Families Party, about endorsing an enormous slate of candidates and claiming victory. They want more Brisports and Mamdanis in office. They want politicians who will care as much about the future of DSA as their own political careers.
Jeffries, a very astute tactician, undoubtedly senses this. If he could remove Brisport tomorrow and replace him with a conventional Democrat, he would. He is probably feeling confident after another protégé, Chris Banks, finally unseated the far-left (though not DSA) Charles Barron in an eastern Brooklyn City Council race. If Barron, a Black Panther who presided over a miniature political dynasty in East New York, can fall, why not Brisport, a 36-year-old former public school teacher and Yale School of Drama graduate?
Unfortunately for Jeffries, Brisport, for a variety of reasons, will be much harder to beat.