New York Rep. Ed Towns will not seek reelection in 2012, several Democratic sources said on Sunday night.
Towns, 77, was first elected to the House in 1982 and eventually rose to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Towns had insisted in recent months that he would seek a 16th term, rebutting repeated suggestions that he was preparing to step aside. The Democrat had been facing a competitive June 26 primary, and his decision to bow out comes just a day before petitions for a spot on the ballot were due.
His exit leaves the race to the two men who’d been running against him, state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, an outspoken former Black Panther who unsuccessfully challenged Towns in a bitter 2006 race.
Jeffries, a rising star in New York political circles, had been picking up momentum over the last several weeks, winning the backing of a slate of influential labor groups. Campaign finance reports filed over the weekend showed Jeffries out-raising Towns by more than $40,000 during the first quarter – a precarious sign for the nearly three-decade incumbent.
On the campaign trail, Jeffries has branded himself as a problem-solver who would bring a fresh face to the district, which encompasses part of Brooklyn.
With Towns’s exit from the race, Jeffries is well positioned to take control of the seat, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. But he will face opposition from Barron, who has slammed Jeffries as a consummate insider and tool of New York City party bosses. The two hail from different generations of New York black politicians, as well as different constituencies: Jeffries, a former white shoe firm lawyer who represents an Assembly district in a rapidly gentrifying section of Brooklyn, versus Barron, a longtime activist who’s hewed close to his roots in black politics in his East New York city council district.
Towns’s political career has been in decline in recent years. In 2010, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings to replace Towns as the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee – an embarrassing blow that seemed to raise questions about his political effectiveness.
Towns’s son, former Assemblyman Darryl Towns, once was widely seen as his father’s likely successor. But last year the younger Towns accepted a post in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, turning down talk of a possible congressional career.
Towns was born in Chadbourn, N.C., and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He later received a masters in social work from Adelphi University in 1973.
Following a stint in the U.S. Army, Towns became a teacher in the New York public school system and Fordham University in the Bronx. He also worked in health care and minority program education programs. Towns served as a director of the Metropolitan Hospital and as an assistant administrator in Beth Israel Hospital.
Towns then became a top aide to Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden, moving up to deputy borough president from 1978 to 1982. He was the first African American to hold that post.
Towns credits the late Rep. Shirley Chisolm for “grooming him for an eventual run for Congress,” according to his official biography. In 1982, he won his first race for the House.
That same year, Towns was videotaped taking $1,300 from undercover police officers posing as businessmen seeking help with federal contracts. Towns later returned the money and was never charged with any wrongdoing, but his critics repeatedly used the incident against Towns throughout his career.
As chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform panel, Republicans criticized Towns for not moving more quickly in probing failed mortgage giant Countrywide Financial. It was later revealed that Towns had accepted to two mortgages thought Countrywide’s VIP program, overseen by former CEO Angelo Mozilo. Towns denied knowing he was part of the VIP program.