Representative Hakeem Jeffries ’97 delivered the keynote speech to a crowd of more than 300 attending NYU Law’s Annual Alumni Luncheon at the Pierre Hotel on January 25, just three weeks after being sworn in as the Congressman for New York’s Eighth Congressional District, which includes parts of both Brooklyn and Queens. His constituency, he said, was among the most diverse in the nation, speaking more than two dozen languages and comprised of “blacks and whites; Latinos and Asians; wealthy as well as working families; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; young and old; gay and straight. It’s a district that is really a microcosm of the gorgeous mosaic of New York City and the great diversity that we have in this country.”

Hakeem Jeffries '97In his speech, Jeffries, who spent six years in the New York State Assembly before running for Congress, addressed the challenges of finding common ground in a multicultural democracy. An increasingly stark left-right divide meant, he said, that “‘compromise,’ among many, seems to be a dirty word.” But, he added, meeting in the middle had characterized the United States from its founding: “Compromise is uniquely American. Compromise gave birth to this great union.” While the issues have changed—Jeffries rattled off the current problems of the stagnating economy, problematic immigration policy, and gun violence—the need for compromise, he said, has not.

Jeffries reinforced this point by observing how the Republican-Democrat pendulum has swung back and forth every two years in recent elections; with no one party achieving consistent primacy, working across ideological divides was more important than ever. “In politics, it’s often been said that there are no permanent friends, there are no permanent enemies. All there should be are permanent interests. I believe that we as members of Congress have a sacred charge to make sure we advance the permanent interests of the people of the United States of America.”

Posted on February 1, 2013