Rep. Edolphus Towns (D)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: July 21, 1934, Chadbourn, NC .
Education: NC A&T, B.S. 1956, Adelphi U., M.S.W. 1973.
Family: Married (Gwendolyn); 2 children.
Military career: Army, 1956–58.
Professional Career: Baptist minister; Social worker; Prof., Medgar Evers Col.; NY public schl. teacher; Dpty. hospital admin., 1965–71; Brooklyn Dpty. Borough Pres., 1976–82.
The congressman from the 10th District is Edolphus Towns, first elected in 1982. He is a Democrat from East New York who is as experienced in government as in politics. He was born in North Carolina, the son of a tobacco sharecropper. He graduated from the historically black North Carolina A&T State University, served two years in the Army and then moved to Brooklyn. He got a job teaching in the public schools and at Medgar Evers College. He became a social worker and hospital administrator, and was active in community affairs. In 1976, he became Brooklyn’s deputy borough president, a position he held for six years.
|Edolphus Towns (D)||155,090||(94%)||($1,568,247)|
|Salvatore Grupico (R-C)||9,565||(6%)|
|Edolphus Towns (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (92%), 2004 (91%), 2002 (98%), 2000 (90%), 1998 (92%), 1996 (91%), 1994 (89%), 1992 (96%), 1990 (93%), 1988 (89%), 1986 (89%), 1984 (85%), 1982 (84%)
In recent years, Towns’s voting record has lost some of its liberal edge, especially on economic issues, where he occasionally sides with business. He now chairs a major House committee, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, having overcome initial qualms among Democratic leaders. In November 2008, when Rep. Henry Waxman of California gave up the chairmanship of the Oversight and Reform panel to take over at Energy and Commerce, Towns was the next most senior Democrat. But some senior Democrats worried that the low-key Towns would not be aggressive enough in the role, and they considered Elijah Cummings of Maryland as an alternative. But as Towns made his case in one-on-one conversations and rallied support, opposition quickly dissipated, especially after Towns agreed to relinquish his seat on Energy and Commerce. Towns pledged vigorous oversight of the executive branch, although there naturally would be less of it with a Democratic president than there had been in the previous Congress (2007-08), when Republican George W. Bush was in the White House. Taking over as chairman, Towns sought to tamp down the panel’s rancorous internal dealings. Some Democrats worried that he was giving Republicans too much leeway, but Towns cited President Barack Obama’s call for bipartisanship.
In the past, Towns has demonstrated an ability to work effectively across party lines. Working with Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan, he got the House to pass a bill imposing uniform safety rules on food. In 2005, he infuriated Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by breaking ranks to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement on a very close roll-call vote. The agreement passed 217-215. She demanded an explanation and threatened to deprive Towns, and a few other maverick Democrats, of their committee seats. When Democrats took over the House in 2007, Towns did not get a subcommittee chairmanship on Energy and Commerce, perhaps as a result of Pelosi’s unhappiness over his CAFTA vote.
Still, he managed to get a few things done once Democrats were in the majority. He won enactment of a bill to permit state and local governments to purchase equipment for homeland security and law enforcement at the discount prices available to federal agencies. And he won passage of a provision in the higher-education bill to aid minority colleges. Earlier in his House career, Towns had sponsored the Student Athlete Right-to-Know Act, which required colleges to report the graduation rates of student athletes.
Towns has faced serious primary challenges in recent elections. In 1997, he endorsed Republican Rudolph Giuliani for re-election as mayor of New York City. Voters in Bedford-Stuyvesant were not wild about Giuliani, and in 1998, Kings County Democratic Chairman Clarence Norman recruited Barry Ford, a Harvard-educated Wall Street lawyer, to run against Towns in the primary. Towns’s critics concentrated on his opposition to anti-tobacco legislation, which he’d argued would hurt farmers. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids put up billboards reading, “Representative Towns: Big Tobacco or Kids?” Towns beat Ford 52%-36%. Emboldened by his decent showing against a longtime incumbent, Ford barely stopped campaigning over the next two years. Towns defended his support of Giuliani by pointing to the mayor’s support for commercial development, and he refused campaign contributions from tobacco companies. This time Towns beat Ford 57%-43%.
In 2006, his opponents in the primary were Councilman Charles Barron, who said that Towns had been “missing in action for years,” and Assemblyman Roger Green. But the challengers had their own problems. Barron’s call for reparations for descendants of slaves was controversial, and Green had pleaded guilty in 2004 to petty larceny for phony travel expenses while in office. Towns stayed above the fray and raised a lot of money. He won the primary with 47%, to 37% for Barron and 15% for Green—less-than-impressive results for a 12-term incumbent. Towns fared better in 2008 against Kevin Powell, a television reality show celebrity. Powell criticized Towns for his lack of influence in Congress and for endorsing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary while many of his constituents supported Obama. But Towns stepped up his own campaigning and defended his support for his home-state senator, and he won 68%-32%.
There has been speculation that the incumbent would like to pass the district to his son, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, when he retires. But his rise to a chairmanship at age 74 might delay that prospect.