Rep. Ed Towns has been popping up in a lot of Google alerts lately. His son, Assembly Member Darryl Towns, just took a job in the Cuomo administration. His daughter is running to replace her brother. And the congressman wants to run for his son’s old district leader spot. All the while, the Dilans—Sen. Martin Dilan and his son, Council Member Erik Dilan—are angling to get those seats in their corner. Meanwhile, Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries’ advisors have been making noise about Jeffries running for Congress against Towns. In an interview, Towns talked about his daughter’s political prospects, his training regimen for 2012 and one of his top legislative priorities: building more women’s bathrooms.
What follows is an edited transcript.
City Hall: Why run for district leader after three decades in Congress?
Ed Towns: That little corner around there, we’ve sort of been the district leader of it for quite some time between me and Darryl, and, of course, Darryl is moving on, so I thought maybe I would just come back and help because that corner is sort of at the end of the borough and sometimes it’s forgotten. That’s basically the reason for it.
CH: Council Member Erik Dilan, who wants to run for district leader also, has argued that a younger person should be in the position. What do you make of that?
ET: I think what the party needs is an experienced, stable hand. I think that’s very much what it needs, more than ever. I think that’s part of our problem today, not having a stable situation in our political organization. I’m concerned with the fact that people running for national office in the most populated Democratic county in the nation and people will run for national office and never come to Brooklyn. So I think that we need to have folks that need to be able to stop this from occurring. Can you imagine one of the most populated counties in the nation, that people run for national office and never come here? I’ve been around a little longer and have more contacts and ties around the nation than most people. I also think we need to bring the county organization together and I feel I can be helpful in that regard.
CH: The Dilans have also said your son’s Assembly seat should now be filled by a Hispanic and are running Council Member Dilan’s chief of staff Rafael Espinal. Do you buy into that logic?
ET: I don’t have a problem with that—my daughter’s Hispanic. She’s from the Dominican Republic. She’s adopted. She’s been with us since she was six weeks old. So those kinds of arguments should be eliminated. It’s not something that I make a case of, but when people make statements like that, I have to respond.
CH: The Dilans say they will be in control of who gets the Democratic nomination for both the district leader and Assembly seat. Do you agree with that?
ET: I think that’s logical, but that doesn’t stop us from running. You can go out and create a line and it’s a special election, there have been a lot of situations where people in a special election have won. Charlie Johnson ran up in the Bronx in a special election and won. Bobby Garcia ran for Congress in a special election on the Liberal Party line and won. When there’s nothing there but that race, the Democratic line is one you would always like to have, and I think you make your life a lot easier if you do have it. That does not stop us from going out and running. The name Towns is known in the district.
CH: Have you thought a name for the ballot line? The Towns line?
ET: Save Our Children? There’s a lot of things that can be used. Rent’s Too Damn High and the Gas Too? [Laughs.]
CH: Are you planning on running for re-election to Congress in 2012?
ET: Oh, I’m running. I feel good, I feel good. I know some people have mentioned my age, but I’ll take on whoever’s mentioning my age. If they want to have a track race, I’ll race with them on foot, I’ll take that. And I really mean that, whoever it is. You just tell them I’m prepared to give them a foot race, a contest to see how many hours we can go in a day. Whatever.
CH: You’re in training?
ET: Oh yeah. I enjoy what I’m doing. It’s hard to beat somebody who enjoys what they’re doing.
CH: Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries is looking at running for your seat. Does that worry you?
ET: That’s one of the weaknesses of democracy—that people are able to run against me. But no, no, I have no problem with that. If people are eager, that’s it. But would I be worried? Absolutely not. I mean, really. I’ve represented this district 29 years. And I’m prepared to take on whoever or whatever. And I’m the kind of guy who’s had a lot of races throughout the years.
CH: Jeffries is seen as an up-and-comer though…
ET: I think he has a lot of potential. And I personally like him. But I understand how politics go. That doesn’t stop him from being eager or wanting to take my place or thinking I should retire when I don’t want to.
CH: Charles Barron is also talking about running, what do you think about that?
ET: The more the merrier. If you hear of anybody else, tell them, ‘Come on.’
CH: Was it difficult losing your spot chairing the House Oversight Committee, and then your spot as ranking member?
ET: No, no. All my advisors and all my immediate staff felt that I should get back to Energy and Commerce. Because when you’re the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, you really have no say. Being on the Energy and Commerce committee is one of the most prestigious committees in the United States Congress. Fifty-five percent of all legislation in the House goes through that committee.
CH: What issues are you working on right now?
ET: We’re still looking at the student athletes’ right to know, in terms of the college and universities reporting college graduation rates with athletes. Because what had happened in many instances is that you have young people who sign up with a university and have no chance of graduating. In fact, some schools have gone 10 or 20 years without graduating an athlete. So making sure athletes or anyone advising them have the information that anyone advising them knows, that in the letter offering them a scholarship to the university, they have to put that information in. We’re working on a bill called bathroom parity, which is very important. That’s making sure any building funded with government dollars has an a comparable amount of bathrooms for women. You see women standing in long lines to go to the ladies room and we need to correct that. In the old days, women didn’t go to sporting events and things like that, so therefore, they didn’t provide for them. Up until a few months ago they didn’t even have a bathroom for women on the floor of the House of Representatives. So we’re looking at issues like that that are very, very important.