Who is Hakeem Jeffries, the likely next House Democratic leader?

U.S. representative Hakeem Jeffries.
U.S. representative Hakeem Jeffries.
WikiMedia Commons

A native of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Hakeem Jeffries has risen to the top ranks of American politics. 

The midterm elections are over, but there’s still much to be decided within the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives — as longtime leader Nancy Pelosi, who served as Speaker of the House for six years, will not seek a leadership post in the upcoming congress. 

Pelosi’s exit, which she made official on Thursday afternoon, leaves a major vacuum in the Democratic party.

Many political insiders believe that void will be filled by New York’s own Congressman Jeffries

The son of a social worker and a government-employed substance-abuse counselor, Jeffries attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn, before attending a SUNY college in upstate. 

He later went on to attend NYU Law School, and clerked for a local federal judge. After that, he entered private practice. 

He never went far from home, though, and later returned to launch a promising political career that now puts him on the path to becoming one of the most influential legislators in the country. 

In 2000, he made his first attempt at capturing public office, but lost a race for the New York State Assembly with just 41% of the vote in the Democratic primary election to incumbent Assemblyman Roger Green. 

He kept at it, though, and ultimately won the nomination, and later the seat, for the Assembly in 2006.

Quickly, political insiders began to whisper about the kid from Brooklyn, saying he had both the charisma and know-how to go further on the political scene. 

He was an active member of the Assembly, and developed a reputation for introducing, and passing, a large number of bills that became law — including many around police reform during the later days of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure in office, when racial tensions were running rampant around the city. 

He also became a tepid supporter of the redevelopment of the Atlantic Yards site, which is now home to the Barclays Center, which earned him significant praise and disdain from both sides, and is largely credited with getting that project over the finish line. 

Adhering to those who were petitioning the up-and-comer to pursue higher office, he left the Assembly in 2012, and ran for the seat in the House of Representatives that covered large swaths of Central and Southern Brooklyn, from Fort Greene to Coney Island. 

He won. 

In the nation’s capital, Jeffries kept up his aggressive pace of legislation, and soon became one of the most dominating forces in New York City’s political scene. 

His endorsement has become the stuff of gold, while his disdain has proven to be a kiss of death for would-be politicos. 

Soon, on-lookers that expected Jeffries to continue his meteoric rise began speculating about his future. 

Many considered him to be a top-tier candidate in the 2021 mayoral race in New York City, but he ultimately reneged on joining that campaign, which was ultimately won by his frenemy Eric Adams (who has served as the State Senator in the district that overlapped Jeffries’ Assembly District). 

Instead, Jeffries ran for, and won, the position of Democratic Caucus Chair in the House, and was nearly-universally considered the frontrunner to replace Pelosi, whenever her tenure was over. 

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the G.O.A.T,” Jeffries tweeted after Pelosi’s announcement that she would be stepping down. “Thank you for all that you have done for America.”

He also served as a House manager during the first impeachment of the-President Donald Trump, surrounding his improper contact with the Ukrainian government.  

For his part, Jeffries won his re-election earlier this month with 72.4% of the vote over Yuri Dashevsky, who garnered just 27.6%.

Now, Democrats will look to elect a new leader in the House. 

While Republicans are likely to have control of the chamber, and elect their own Speaker of the House, the move would put Jeffries just one step away from securing the gavel in the legislative body. 

Interestingly, for New Yorkers (and specifically Brooklynites), Jeffries’ elevation would make the borough home to both the Democratic leader in the federal House and the Senate. 

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who will control the Senate for at least two more years after Democrats held the chamber earlier this week, lives in Park Slope — just a few miles from the home base of ​​Jeffries. 

A final vote on the next Democratic leader will come when all newly-elected members of the incoming congress are determined and sworn in next January.

For more coverage of Hakeem Jeffries and American politics, head to amNY.com.