Rep. Katherine Clark (Minority Whip) (L), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (Minority Leader)(C) and Pete Aguilar (Democratic Caucus Chairman) (R) soon after their election as the House Democratic Leadership.
Rep. Katherine Clark (Minority Whip) (L), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (Minority Leader)(C) and Pete Aguilar (Democratic Caucus Chairman) (R) soon after their election as the House Democratic Leadership. Credit: Katherine Clark twitter page

Kenneth Kipruto | BVN

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat, New York) made history on Wednesday when he was elected as leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Black lawmaker to lead a political party’s caucus in either chamber of congress.

The 52-year-old congressman, who represents the vast Eighth Congressional District of New York, an area that encompasses large parts of Brooklyn and a section of Queens, will lead a Democratic Party that narrowly lost its majority in congress last month.

Jeffries, who was elected unopposed, will serve  alongside Reps. Katherine Clark (59), and the Inland Empire’s own Pete Aguilar (43), as the party’s new top three leaders in an election held on Wednesday.  Ms Clark (Democrat, Massachusetts) was elected the minority whip, while Mr Aguilar (Democrat, California) becomes the new Democratic Caucus chairman. Mr Aguilar succeeds Mr Jeffries,  who held the post for the past four years. 

Their election ushers in a new era for the Democratic Party following the decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to step aside in the aftermath of the Nov 8 midterm elections that saw the Republicans regain control of congress.

“Today, with immense pride, I stood in front of the House Democratic Caucus as a candidate for Democratic Leader, and I am eternally grateful for the trust my colleagues placed in me with their votes,” Rep. Jeffries said in a statement soon after his election.   

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Crown Heights, Jeffries is a product of New York City’s public school system, having graduated from Midwood High School.

A member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Budget Committee, Rep Jeffries was also the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a position he has held since November 2018. By virtue of that position, he was the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives until his election as the Minority Leader on Wednesday.  He also served as Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chaired the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, where he helped develop the For The People agenda.

Social and Economic Advocate

“This is a moment of transition. We stand on the shoulders of giants but are also looking forward to being able to do what’s necessary at this moment to advance the issues,” he said in a statement after his election.

A dedicated advocate for social and economic justice, the new Democratic leader has been at the forefront of helping residents in his district recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and has led efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

Rep. Jeffries became the first African American man to serve as a member of the House Impeachment Managers when in January 2020, Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected him as one of the seven managers in the Senate Trial of President Trump.

Prior to his election to Congress, Jeffries served for six years in the New York State Assembly where he authored laws to protect the civil liberties of citizens during police encounters, encourage the transformation of vacant luxury condominiums into affordable homes and improve the quality of justice in the civil court system. 

Speaking after his election on Wednesday, he signaled that the same issues remain dear to him, even as he assumes leadership of the Democrats in the House.

“More must be done to combat inflation, defend our democracy, secure reproductive freedom, welcome new Americans, promote equal protection under the law and improve public safety throughout this country,” he said following his election on Wednesday.

Jeffries also thanked his parents for their role in shaping him up, having grown up in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood in the New York of the 1980s and 1990s.

“I’m thankful for them, thankful for their love, support and prayers throughout the years, throughout my journey into adulthood and my journey as a public servant,” he said.

Kenneth Kipruto, a multimedia journalist and assistant editor with the Black Voice News and the IE Voice, covers the environment, climate change and health.