The presumed front-runner to succeed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats started his political career as an insurgent.
Hakeem Jeffries, then a young attorney, launched his first campaign in 2000 against a longtime incumbent to represent his central Brooklyn home in the state Assembly. He failed twice before prevailing on his third try in 2006.
“Everyone told him he was crazy,” recalled State Sen. Diane Savino, a former union leader who went on to serve with Mr. Jeffries in the legislature. “It was clear that he was going somewhere.”
On Friday, Mr. Jeffries sent a letter to all House Democrats announcing his candidacy for minority leader, saying he would give priority to empowering members, improving security and winning back the majority. He is currently running unopposed.
Ms. Savino and other people who remember the early campaigns of Mr. Jeffries, now No. 5 in House Democratic leadership, say he has long shown an impressive work ethic and grasp of public policy. He demonstrated a passion for liberal causes such as increasing access to affordable housing and criminal-justice overhaul, including reining in New York City’s stop-and-frisk program. But he shied away from flame-throwing, those who know him said, building a reputation as an even-keeled legislator who built key relationships across the political spectrum.
The Wall Street Journal