Towns, Edolphus 1934–

views updated

Edolphus Towns 1934


At a Glance


Edolphus Towns represents a section of Brooklyn, New York, in the United States House of Representatives. Since 1982, his constituents have re-elected him seven times. Townss political viability in the Congressional district, which is 57 percent African American and also predominantly Hispanic, depends as much on the intricate, behind-the-scenes maneuvering that characterizes New York City politics as it does upon his service in Washington.

Towns was born in 1934 in Chadbourn, North Carolina, and attended the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1956, and then spent two years in the United States Army. By the mid-1960s, he resided in Brooklyn with his wife and children, and had taught in the New York City public school system for several years and at Brooklyns Medgar Evers College. He became a deputy hospital administrator in 1965, a job that he held for six years, and also returned to school to earn a masters degree in social work from Adelphi University in 1973. In 1976, he ran for and won the deputy president slot for the Borough of Brooklyn. He held this post until 1982, when he was elected to the 98th Congress as a representative from the Eleventh New York District, which encompassed part of Brooklyn. He was reelected in 1984 and has won six subsequent biennial elections.

During his first years in Congress, Towns became involved in the fight to save family farmsmany of which were owned by African Americans. Severe cutbacks in small farm subsidies over a period of decades had left many rural households economically devastated. Towns also chaired the Human Resources and Intergovernmental Affairs committee, and served on the House Commerce committee. Since 1991, he has chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, an influential group of African American lawmakers. When the Los Angeles riots erupted in 1992, Towns spoke on behalf of the Caucus: America witnessed a terrible travesty of justice, he told the Los Angeles Times, and declared that the jury verdict acquitting white police officers of beating motorist Rodney King in 1991 was a manifestation of prejudice and racism in their most virulent form.

Townss bid for re-election in the fall of 1992 was more of a challenge than previous campaigns. The boundaries

At a Glance

Born July 21, 1934, in Chadbourn, NC; married Gwendolyn Forbes, 1960; children: Darryl, Deidra. Education: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, B.S., 1956, Adelphi University, M.S.W., 1973. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist.

Career: Teacher in the New York City public schools, and at Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY, early 1960s; deputy hospital administrator, 1965-71; Borough of Brooklyn, deputy president, 1976-82; elected to the 98th U.S. Congress as a representative from the Eleventh Congressional District (now the Tenth), 1982-; chair of the House Human Resources and Intergovernmental Affairs committee, member of the House Commerce committee, and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, early 1990s. Military service: U.S. Army, 1956-58.

Awards: Honorary degrees from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and Shaw University.

Member: Congressional Black Caucus; advisory council, Boy Scouts of America.

Addresses: Office 2232 Rayburn House Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20515; 16 Court St., 15th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11241.

of his Eleventh Congressional District had been redrawn to better reflect the changes in Brooklyns population and demographics. The new boundaries gave Towns a potential constituency that was more Hispanic, but less African American. In addition, the state of New York had lost three of its 34 seats in the House of Representatives. Towns, noted Todd S. Purdum in the New York Times, had fought hard in this years districting wars to preserve the districts overwhelming concentration of black voters. Voters, both black and Hispanic, responded favorably to Towns and he was re-elected as representative of the renamed Tenth Congressional District.

Towns was re-elected in 1994 and, before facing reelection again in 1996, was a co-sponsor of a provision attached to the important Telecommunications Act of 1996. The provision set up a development fund to provide low-interest loans to help small entrepreneurs launch telecommunications companies. In 1997, Towns became involved in a series of political maneuvers that were symptomatic of the somewhat cutthroat nature of New York City borough politics. He voiced his support of the Reverend Al Sharptons tentative bid for the New York City Mayors Office. The endorsement, explained the Village Voices James Bradley, exposed the divisive alliances within Brooklyn politics. Towns and Sharpton supporters comprised only two of the four factions courting black voters in Brooklyn. Sharpton eventually dropped out of the race and Towns swung his support behind Republican incumbent mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Townss support of Giuliani, who was perceived as hostile to the interests of the citys African American community, earned Towns widespread criticism. Giuliani won the race and Sharpton hinted that he might run against Towns for his seat in the 1998 elections. Towns was also at odds with his former mentor and chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Clarence Norman Jr. As Jonathan P. Hicks in the New York Times explained, in the last two years, the two Democrats began sparring, first over competing sets of delegates to the partys convention to select judicial candidates, a race that Mr. Norman won. Hicks went on to note that Townss endorsement of Giuliani had fanned the flames of the conflict between Norman and Towns. In June of 1998, Norman told the New York Times that we are not supporting Ed Towns and indicated that the Brooklyn Democratic Party would support Townss opponent, Harvard-educated lawyer Barry Ford. Towns was unimpressed with the street-level credentials of Ford. Ive never seen him at a town hall meeting, a community board meeting or a tenants association meeting, Towns told the New York Times. So, I dont have any idea of what his record of public service is, and the voters dont either. This is one Ford this Congressional District wont buy.

Towns married Gwendolyn Forbes in 1960 and is the father of two children. His son, Darryl, serves in the New York State Assembly representing the 54th District in Brooklyn. The younger Towns was elected in 1992 and defeated a ten-year incumbent; his State Assembly district overlapped with his fathers Congressional one, and Congressman Towns often campaigned with his son. In a city with a long history of politically active families, noted Jonathan P. Hicks of the New York Times, it is not surprising that the father-and-son Townses are increasingly viewed as a an emerging political dynasty form the working-class neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick, where dynasties of any sort are not particularly common. In 1998, Darryl Towns was serving as the Brooklyn district representative at the State House in Albany. He used to follow me around, Towns told the New York Times, and although I never thought he had an interest in politics when he was young, he developed that interest. Hes developed into a good campaigner and a good Assemblyman.


Entrepreneur, June 1996, p. 134.

Jet, January 27, 1997, p. 46.

Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1992.

New York Daily News, September 30, 1997; March 6, 1998.

New York Times, July 28, 1992, p. B1; September 12, 1994; June 8, 1998, p. B10.

Village Voice, June 10, 1997, p. 26.

Carol Brennan