When the news leaked last Sunday that Representative Edolphus Towns was retiring, everyone was caught by surprise. “After months of long family discussions, I have decided not to seek reelection for my seat in the United State House of Representatives,” Rep. Towns said Monday. Towns served in the House for 30 years representing parts of Clinton Hill, Mill Basin, downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill and parts of Williamsburg.
Congressman Towns had faced a contentious primary with two formidable opponents: Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and Councilman Charles Barron. Both have strong bases of support within what is now known as the 8th Congressional District. Until Sunday, Rep. Towns gave no hint that he would retire. “I believe firmly that we would have won a 16th term had we decided to run,” Towns said.
News that the congressman would not seek another term came just one day before the petitioning deadline, which raised quite a few eyebrows. Speculation that his petitions might not have passed muster came from someone within Towns’ East New York base. The source said the congressman’s petitions from the East New York section of the district looked strong, but while technically having enough signatures from the Bed-Stuy, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill areas, there may not have been enough signatures from those areas to survive a challenge.
Rep. Towns’ position was complicated by his home being drawn outside the new district. He could have proceeded forward. State law only requires that a candidate reside within the county and the state during a campaign. If the incumbent had moved forward defending his seat and survived the primary and general election he would have had to make other arrangements regarding his legal address.
The congressman’s wife might have been another factor. It is said she encouraged him to consider retiring. At age 77, it is not unreasonable for the congressman to enjoy time with his wife, children and five grandchildren.
Another factor might have been the untimely death of Donald Payne, a New Jersey Congressman who served for 23 years. “Donald Payne and I were the same age. Donald Payne and I were very close,” Towns said. “We talked about things we wanted to do after we finished Congress.”
During the campaign, Congressman Ed Towns had been promoting his seniority as an asset. During the 111th Congress, he served as Chair of the House Oversight Committee and to make his point recently brought an Oversight hearing to Borough Hall. During his tenure as Chairman of Oversight, Towns refused to issue subpoena records involving Countrywide Financial, a company that played a major role in contributing to the subprime mortgage crisis. It was later revealed that Towns had two mortgages with Countrywide designated with the company’s V.I.P. preferred customer status.
When Republicans gained control during the 112th Congress, Towns was not asked to become Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee. Instead, the position was given to Rep. Elijah Cummings, who uses high-profile aggressive methods to challenge Chairman Darrell Issa on numerous issues, a sharp contrast to Ed Towns’ low-key style. In particular, Cummings’ persistence found that the ATF Fast and Furious gun-walking program in which guns trafficked into Mexico leading to the deaths of several law enforcement officers was not an initiative conceived by high-ranking Dept. of Justice Obama Administration political appointees. Instead, the reckless operation was limited to ATF’s Phoenix Division and began during the previous administration.
The retiring congressman has not made an endorsement in the race, although there is speculation he will do so. If Rep. Towns does make an endorsement, the likelihood that his choice would be Charles Barron is slim to none. It is common knowledge that there has been an ongoing bitter rivalry between the Towns and Barron camps.