I was frankly scared to face Barron. Operatives from the Jeffries campaign and the mainstream Democratic establishment had demonized Barron in the press, accusing him both of being anti-white and an anti-Semite, apparently in order to stimulate campaign donations to Jeffries from Jewish sources. The Democrats made Barron seem unreasonable and, frankly, nasty.
In person, I discovered the opposite. Barron's charisma, obvious dedication to his community, and willingness to say what he believed helped make our debates interesting and engaging to voters who listened. Surprisingly, Barron whispered words of encouragement to me while I spoke when I said things he agreed with. When I jokingly complained to one of his supporters in the audience that she never shouted "That's right!" to things I said, Barron himself started shouting it.
Indeed, one moderator, Mel Baxter, chairman of United Community Centers, which hosted the last debate, said that ours was the "most productive, thought-provoking political dialogue he had heard in over a decade." My volunteers were ecstatic. We were making a difference. We were causing real conversation in the community. This, we thought, was what democracy was about.
Then the Democratic primary came. Jeffries won. He closed up shop in our district. He began traveling around the country campaigning for other Democrats, ignoring, to my mind, the possibility of engaging his own electorate. The press, as predicted, moved on. Our district was so strongly Democratic that the election had been decided, four months before it actually took place.
"We don't have the resources to cover candidates who aren't likely to win," one New York journalist told me when I complained to him over coffee. Another, when I asked what it would take to get coverage, wrote to me, "You have to find something in Hakeem's voting history that is absolutely egregious to working people. Or you have to find adultery."
We needed scandal. Sure enough, we got it.
Vito Lopez, a powerful Democrat in the New York State Assembly to whom Jeffries had strong ties, was accused of sexual harassment. It emerged that previous allegations against Lopez had been swept under the carpet by the Democratic leadership. Green Party activists within my campaign volunteer corps wanted us to attack Jeffries over his weak response to the controversy.
The overwhelming majority of our volunteers, however, rejected attack-based politics. They could not see how wading into the Lopez scandal moved forward important discussions about the direction of our society, its fossil fuel dependence and the failure of consumption-based economics. Instead, the campaign put forward a set of policies that would, if adopted, prevent future ethical abuses. Needless to say, the press didn't cover our suggestions.
So we were back to pounding the pavement.