News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Feb. 2, 2018: Is Adem Bunkeddeko a young Barack Obama from Brooklyn? We will find out in a few months on Primary Day, June 26, 2018, when he challenges veteran Caribbean-American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke for her seat in the U.S. Congress.
While Congresswoman Clarke may not look like the Goliath of mythology, the task of unseating a veteran Democratic Congress member in New York City will require the determination and skills comparable to what young David used long ago to cut down his giant adversary in that historic victory.
What David did not need, but Bunkeddeko surely does need, is lots of campaign funds to win this battle. Money – lots of money – not a rock and sling shot.
If you read the typical news story about a race like this, reporters are hardly researching how often a Democratic incumbent loses to a challenger in New York City. Almost never. The value of incumbency in primary elections is always overwhelming, unless the incumbent is under indictment.
Just ask Clarke and her mother Una. They both ran against Congressman Major Owens, who had been accused of being old and out of touch with the district. Despite the Clarke name golden in the area, each lost to him. Yvette Clarke only won once Owens retired.
Now Adem Bunkeddeko is the candidate to face an incumbent who has been in Congress since 2007. Bunkeddeko has no huge campaign pile or major name recognition. But he does have one thing in common with another famous African-American politician who went on to become the US’ first black President.
Like Barack Obama, Bunkeddeko’s father was also born in Africa. Adem’s in Uganda. His parents fled to New York City where Adem was born. Bunkeddeko, like Obama was long ago, is a very self-confident articulate, well-educated young Black man.
Obama once lived in the very Congressional District that Bunkeddeko now seeks to represent. What Obama and Bunkeddeko most importantly have in common is the same very powerful and very well-connected mentor – Vernon Jordan.
In an exclusive two-part interview over two days, News America Now spoke with Bunkeddeko and dug deep into the man and his campaign to unseat Yvette Clarke.
The range of questioning was wide – from the Founding Fathers to the New York Islanders. Bunkeddeko demonstrated he will clearly have no problem holding his own in any debates with Clarke.
All Adem’s answers are mainstream Democratic Party gospel. There does not seem to be any substantial differences between Adem and Yvette on issues. They both preach the same gospel.
So he is not likely to score any knock-out blows debating Clarke, if that were even possible in a Congressional primary debate with an audience likely to be less than 100 and even scanter media coverage.
So what separates him from Congresswoman Clarke? Age does.
Bunkeddeko just turned 30 while Yvette Clarke is 53. Clarke is old enough to be Adem’s mother, but neither is she a senior citizen. Demographically, in age and other ways, both represent significant segments of the district.
Both are Black. Adem is African-American, Yvette is Caribbean-American. Since it is no longer fashionable to use the term “trump card” in today’s environment, let’s say Clarke may have a very useful asset in being a woman in Congress – both in bringing out the vote and raising funds. We need more not less women in Congress could be her slogan.
What Bunkeddeko feels separates them is how that he will be far more responsive to the residents of the 9th Congressional district. He repeatedly criticized, what he states is, the congresswoman’s poor constituent services. Whether that is anecdotal – just a campaign strategy or factual – is unclear. So far, Bunkeddeko admits he has done no polling of any kind in the District to confirm such a contention.
He is equally adamant that Clarke is failing on his signature issue – the lack of adequate affordable housing for Brooklyn, an issue he mentioned again and again. If passion is a factor, he may have some success if he wins, although first term Congress members are as influential as new freshmen on a college campus.
Right now, in addition to gender politics, it looks like Clarke’s advantages are name recognition and incumbency, and Adem Bunkeddeko’s is youth, passion and Jordan.
If anyone cared to put out an early betting line on this race, Clarke would be the overwhelming favorite, but it is far from over.
And this is where the fun begins for those who consider politics and elections a riveting spectator sport. Many don’t and is why many registered voters may ignore this contest. Voters in most places, and certainly places like the 9th Congressional District, vote once a year -Election Day in November. They come out to vote the entire Democratic ticket and names don’t matter much – just Party.
If this race is going to be competitive, and it might, it will be a contest of fund raising prowess and strategy. Bunkeddeko claims he will raise as much money as he needs to beat Clarke. That may not be an idle claim since he has raised over $120,000 already – because of Jordan most of all, and others he has cultivated.
If he can raise $500,000 – $ 1Million for this primary battle – only a fool would count him out. Money makes a big difference in many general elections and it can make all the difference in a low turn-out primary, especially if Clarke does not match him dollar for dollar.
Concentrate on the term Primary Voters, but first let’s circle back to Bunkeddeko’s youth and background to fill out this story. Adem grew up as typical middle class Black kid in Brooklyn until he won a scholarship to an exclusive boarding prep school in Princeton, New Jersey for his last two years of high school. He admits that was the turning point of his young life.
It gained him entry to a world of privilege and wealth he had no access to in Brooklyn and he was smart enough to put it to good use. After graduating college, he went on to Harvard Business School, which gave him even more access to power, money and privilege. Along the way, a high paying job at a firm helped him meet and impress The Great Vernon Jordan of Clinton and Obama fame.
Jordan is an ultimate insider in the ranks of the Democratic Party Elites. While Jordan is now 82, he is still in the game, and cultivating young talent. Bundeddeko moved on to take community development jobs in Brooklyn but kept Jordan on his side, and that may make all the difference for him.
To Bunkeddeko’s credit, he did not get swept up in the world of personal wealth and dreams of amassing a fortune for himself. It appears power and doing good – running for public office – caught his fancy. Not starting at the bottom, although he does serve on a community board, he is not running for city council, or state assembly.
Rather, in the world of politics, Bunkeddeko is reaching as high as a young first time candidate might – the U.S. Congress. Even Obama first ran for and was elected to the state legislature in Illinois before losing when he ran for Congress and then coming back strong and getting elected to the U.S. Senat. Of course the rest is history.
Adem Bunkeddeko is clearly ambitious and confident. Two qualities that should not be discounted or the $120,000 raised so far. It is doubtful anyone else who ever thought of running against Clarke could have come close. But Bunkeddeko claims he can raise “as much as it takes” to beat her. And if so, then its game on.
Back to those Primary Voters. There is a distinct subset of registered voters who understand there are two elections each year, and in New York City the only one that typically counts, takes place months before November.
In New York City, Republicans are always an endangered species, who come to life occasionally, but never in the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
This battle between Clarke and Bunkeddeko will be decided by Primary Voters. The majority of voters in the district will not come out for the primary even if one of these candidates was the second coming of the Lord. Advantage Clarke; big advantage.
There are about 350,000 registered Democrats in the district. They are the voters eligible to vote in the primary. The largest turnout for a primary in the district was the 2016 Presidential primary, a very high profile race actively fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. 106,000 Democrats in the district voted, less than a third of the Democrats in the district.
Substantially less will come out to vote in a Congressional primary. Who will vote? Government workers, union members, members of the teachers union, police union, municipal workers union, others active in political clubs and special interest groups. Those with a vested interest in the status quo and urged to vote by their leaders. Big advantage for the incumbent as it is their way of showing appreciation to Congresswoman Clarke.
The good news for Bunkeddeko is that he can know who those primary voters are. Voting histories are public records, available to be bought, and a dynamic candidate has the potential to sway them.
Bunkeddeko has already done what no one has done before since Clarke was first elected to Congress in 2006. He has established himself as a credible challenger. Whether he does more is unclear.
One good reason we have elections is to ensure these positions do not become jobs for life; but in fact they often do. If voters were more thoughtful, there might be far more successful challengers for all elected positions. Change is an inherent aspect of progress. If Bunkeddeko overcomes the obstacles and convinces enough voters, change itself becomes the campaign issue and he has a fighting chance.
Obama’s message of change real or imagined was his major asset.
Clarke is fighting for her life. It’s her ultimate motivation! She will argue that 12 years in Congress proves her success, and the longer she stays there the more she can do for her district. It will not be all that unusual if Clarke is still in Congress 20 year from now when she is approaching 75. One of the truly senior members.
The very, very good life of a Congressmember, with increasing seniority in a Washington Bubble of exclusion where seniority counts for almost everything – from where you get seated in the Congressional dining rooms, to becoming ranking members of sought after Congressional committees. Plus all the DC perks.
She will pull out all the stops if she believes Bunkeddeko is a threat. Since Clarke does not have higher aspirations, remaining in Congress for another 20 years or more, barring Trump starting a nuclear war or a giant meteorite hitting Brooklyn – Congress is her Nirvana.
If she is under threat, the big pile of campaign dough she has not needed in the past, will be needed this time and campaign funds will probably come pouring in from many different sources, like DC special interests.
In a time of ascendancy for women in a Congress still overwhelmingly male, the possible loss of a woman in Congress will motivate Emily’s List and others to show up with wads of cash for Clarke and troops too as well as many motivated female voters.
There may even be the Chuck Schumer factor in Clarke’s favor. Serendipitously Clarke is the Congress member in the district where the most powerful Democrat in Congress lives. Senate Minority Leader Schumer lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn within the 9th Congressional District.
In the game of power politics, Schumer may consider it a personal embarrassment if his own Democratic Congressmember were to lose to an insurgent. Schumer can twist a lot of arms if he wants to assist Clarke.
Barack Obama’s story is instructive here as well, concerning the loyalty toward incumbents in Congress. Obama, then largely unknown, ran in a primary for Congress in Illinois against the incumbent Congressman Bobby Rush in 2000. Even though Democrats had a lock on this Congressional seat whoever won the primary Rush, was able to get both President Clinton and Vice President Gore to endorse him in the primary.
Obama lost by a 2-1 margin, although that turned out to be a blessing for him. Four years later, he set his sights even much higher ran in the primary for U.S. Senate and won and the rest is history.
If Schumer does not present enough of a potential problem for Bunkeddeko, he might get hit with the ultimate double whammy. The two most powerful Democrats in Congress stomping on or off-stage for Clarke. Nancy Pelosi, the Grand Dame of Congress, Minority Leader of the House and legendary fund raiser will undoubtedly not stand aside while one of her own female Democrats is under attack. The Sisterhood is powerful!
Yes, Bunkeddeko can hope all the players in Washington stay on the sidelines. It is possible, but not likely, since after 12 years in Congress, Clarke is a certified member of the “club” and it is unlikely they will do nothing to protect her from getting kicked out if she asks for their assistance. Why wouldn’t she?
So is it hopeless for young Adem Bunkeddeko?
Not at all if he both runs a brilliant campaign and can raise as much money as he claims he can. If Vernon Jordan is all in with Adem, and sees him as a young Barack Obama and is willing to spend plenty of his political capital to get Bunkeddeko elected, then he becomes a serious threat to win.
Most of all, for political junkies, this race may turn out be fun. David from mythology seemed to be in a hopeless situation to many but David had a very clear understanding and the skills to exploit Goliath’s vulnerability. We will find out on June 26th if Adem Bunkeddeko slings himself into Congress or is destroyed.
June 26, 2018, may be the start of a brilliant new political career in Congress and beyond for Bunkeddeko or it may be more proof of the power of incumbency and the continuation of the reign of Yvette Clarke that may go on for decades more to come.
Let the game begin. To the victor always belongs the spoils.