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Three winners from Tuesday’s primaries seem assured of becoming Members of the 110th Congress next year due to the political leanings of their district. Here are brief biographies for each.
New York City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, 41, narrowly won a tight, four-way Democratic primary Tuesday with 31 percent of the vote and likely will succeed retiring Rep. Major Owens (D) in New York’s 11th Congressional district. Owens’ son, Chris, came in last with 20 percent.
Clarke entered electoral politics in 2001 when she won a seat on the New York City Council, succeeding her mother, Una Clarke. She proceeded to run for the 11th district Congressional seat in 2004, one of two primary challengers to Owens that year. In that bid, Clarke came in second to Owens with 29 percent of the vote. Clarke later was re-elected to her council seat in 2005.
During the primary, Clarke and her three opponents sought to position themselves as the candidate most clearly opposed to the Iraq War. Though all of her primary opponents vehemently opposed the war and one even recorded an anti-war song during the campaign, Clarke managed to procure the endorsement of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the staunch Bush administration critic and anti-war icon.
Clarke also received endorsements from an array of other local and national politicians, including Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), New York Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-V.I.). In addition, Clarke received the endorsements of EMILY’s List, the New York Daily News and the influential New York branch of the Service Employees International Union.
The primary also was noted for controversy surrounding the candidacy of David Yassky, a white city councilman who ran in the primarily black district. Some thought Yassky was opportunistic by jumping into a race with the three other black candidates who could split the black vote. The Rev. Al Sharpton even entered the fray, calling on the community to rally behind a single black candidate to prevent Yassky from succeeding.
Yassky ended up garnering 26 percent of the vote, coming in second.
Clarke was born in Brooklyn to Jamaican immigrant parents in 1964. While she would go on to study at Oberlin College, she would not graduate from there — a point that caused a stir during the primary when it was discovered that she falsely claimed to have graduated.
Before entering elective politics in 2001, Clarke worked as a legislative aide to state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, executive assistant to New York Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, confidential assistant to New York Compensation Board Chairwoman Barbara Patton, loan executive to the New York State Job Development Authority, director of youth programs for the Hospital League/1199 Training and Upgrading Fund and director of business development for the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.
Clarke is a virtual lock to defeat her Republican opponent, physician Steve Finger, in the general election in November. The 11th district supported Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) with 86 percent of the vote in 2004.
She is single and has no children.
Minnesota state Rep. Keith Ellison overcame questions about his past to win the Democratic primary in the 5th district, which likely will make him the first Muslim Member of Congress and the first black elected to federal office from Minnesota.