Edolphus Towns

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Edolphus Towns
Edolphus Towns 112th congressional portrait.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2013
Preceded by Charles Schumer
Succeeded by Jerrold Nadler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1993
Preceded by James H. Scheuer
Succeeded by Major Owens
Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
In office
January 3, 2009 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Henry Waxman
Succeeded by Darrell Issa
Personal details
Born Edolphus Towns, Jr.
(1934-07-21) July 21, 1934 (age 84)
Chadbourn, North Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gwen Forbes
Children Darryl Towns
Deidra Towns
Residence Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Alma mater North Carolina A&T State University
Adelphi University
Occupation Social worker
Religion Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1956-1958

Edolphus Towns, Jr. (born July 21, 1934) is an American politician who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1983 to 2013. A Democrat from New York, Towns was Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2009 to 2011.

During his 30 years in Congress, Towns represented districts based in Brooklyn: first New York's 11th congressional district, from 1983 to 1993, and then the 10th district from 1993 to 2013. On April 16, 2012, Towns announced he would be retiring at the end of his 15th term.[1]

Early life, education, and early career

Towns was born in Chadbourn, North Carolina, the son of Versie (née Brown) and Edolphus Towns.[2] He earned his bachelor's degree from North Carolina A&T State University and a master's degree in social work from Adelphi University.

Towns worked as an administrator at Beth Israel Medical Center, a professor at New York's Medgar Evers College and Fordham University and a public school teacher, teaching orientation and mobility to blind students. He is also a veteran of the United States Army and an ordained Baptist minister. In 1970, he ran for New York Assembly District 38, and was defeated in the Democratic primary by John Mullally, 75%-25%.[3] In 1972, he ran in District 40 and was defeated in the Democratic primary by Edward Griffith, who won the primary with a plurality of 37%.[4]

U.S. House of Representatives


After redistricting, Towns ran for the open seat in the Brooklyn-based New York's 11th congressional district. Towns won the primary with a plurality of 48%.[5] He won the general election with 84% of the vote.[6] He has never won a general election campaign with less than 85% of the vote since.[7] He has won the Democratic primary with at least 60% of the vote all but three times (1998, 2000, and 2006).

From 1996 to 1998, Towns got into a rivalry with Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Clarence Norman. In addition, he has received criticism for endorsing Republican Rudy Giuliani for Mayor of New York City in 1997. He got a primary challenge from Barry D. Ford, a 35-year-old lawyer with the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and Harvard University alumnus.[8] He faced a challenge from political activist Ken Diamondstone. Towns won the primary with 55% of the vote.[9] In 2000, Ford ran for a rematch against Towns and lost 57%-43%.[10]

In 2006, Towns faced Democratic primary challenges from Charles Barron, a member of the New York City Council, and Roger Green, a former member of the New York State Assembly. Barron was a staunch ally of Al Sharpton. Green was convicted of stealing $3,000 in taxpayer dollars.[11] Towns defeated Barron and Green 47%-37%-15%.[12] This was Towns' worst primary performance of his career.

Kevin Powell, a hip hop activist, writer, and former cast member on the MTV Reality TV show The Real World, opted out of challenging Towns for the 2006 Democratic nomination[13] challenging him in 2008 instead. Powell criticized Towns for supporting Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries. Towns defeated Powell 69%-31%.[14][15]


Towns served on the Energy and Commerce Committee[when?] and is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. On January 7, 2009, his proposed legislation to require information on Presidential donors kicked off the new session of the 111th Congress.[16] Towns' past accomplishments include, co-sponsoring or enacting several pieces of federal legislation, including the Student Right To Know Act, which mandated the reporting of the rate of graduation among student athletes, creating the Telecommunications Development Fund, which provides capital for minority business initiatives, and the development of a federal program for poison control centers.[17]

He had been targeted by various Democratic Party constituencies, including factions led by his political rival Al Sharpton, and national and local labor unions, who resent his support for passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which passed the House of Representatives by a razor-thin margin. In addition, he has been heavily criticized for taking money from telecom PACs and opposing net neutrality.[citation needed]

He put particular emphasis on arguing in behalf of underserved Brooklyn communities, and has won recognition from several organizations for his efforts. The National Audubon Society has honored him for his efforts in fighting to secure federal funds for the restoration of Prospect Park. Towns fought to have Environmental Protection Agency testing in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, including neighborhoods outside of the borough of Manhattan.[citation needed]

Edolphus Towns and wife Gwen meet with Shirley Chisholm (center)

Towns delayed the investigation into Countrywide Financial's VIP loan program when he was the House oversight panel's chairman by refusing to issue a subpoena for Bank of America records. After The Wall Street Journal reported that public loan documents indicated Towns had received two mortgages from the VIP program, he issued the subpoena and his office denied wrongdoing.[18]

In December 2010, he announced that he would not seek the position of Ranking Minority Member of the Oversight Committee in the next Congress, even though his seniority and service as Chair would typically result in him filling this post. Towns reportedly withdrew due to lack of support from Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly feared Towns would not be a sufficiently aggressive leader in an anticipated struggle with incoming committee chair Darrell Issa (R-CA).[19][20] Towns' successor is Elijah Cummings, who defeated Carolyn Maloney in a vote of the House Democratic Caucus.[19]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships


In 2011, Congressman Towns was leasing a Mercury Milan Hybrid at a cost of $1,285 per month. This was one of the highest costs of a taxpayer financed cars leased in Congress. The complete cost of the two-year lease was projected to exceed $30,000 as opposed to the $28,180 MSRP cost if it was bought new. Towns' personally financed leased Infiniti costs him $600 per month.[21]

In November 2000, Towns was severely criticized by India for requesting that the White House "declare India a terrorist state" because of "the pattern of Indian terrorism against its minorities." Towns published a "list of attacks on Christians" to bolster his views. The White House dismissed the allegation, saying there is "no credible evidence" of any government involvement in the massacre.[22]

In 1992, Towns was named in the House banking scandal, having written 408 checks on an overdrawn bank account. On April 16, 2012, Towns announced his retirement. His district had been renumbered as the 8th District in redistricting and become significantly whiter (though it still has a large black majority).[1] He had been somewhat invisible on the campaign trail. He skipped several local Democratic club meetings, and his campaign Website hadn't been updated since 2011.[23]

Personal life

Towns is married to the former Gwendolyn Forbes and they reside in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn. They have two children, Darryl (who had served in the New York State Assembly but vacated his seat to become commissioner and chief executive of New York State Homes and Community Renewal agency when appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo) and Deidra, who ran in special election to replace her brother, on a self-created ticket, Community First.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dobnik, Verena (2012-04-16). "NYC's Towns retiring after 30 years in Congress". Associated Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/%7Ebattle/reps/towns.htm
  3. 1970 campaign info, Cummings v Mullally
  4. 1972 campaign info, Cummings v Griffith
  5. Cummings campaign info
  6. Cummings campaign info
  7. Cummings campaign info
  8. Hicks, Jonathan P. (June 8, 1998). "Expert Fund-Raiser Challenges Congressman". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Cummings campaign info
  10. Cummings campaign info, 2000
  11. "Roger Green must drop out"
  12. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=364402
  13. "Kevin Powell To Withdraw From 10th Congressional Race"
  14. "Primary Elections: Big Changes in Brooklyn"
  15. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=686230
  16. "OpenCongress: Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2009"
  17. Towns' profile, demopedia.democraticunderground.com
  18. John R. Emshwiller. Senate VIP Loans Mount "Countrywide Dealt With More Lawmakers and Staffers Than Previously Known", Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2010
  19. 19.0 19.1 [1]
  20. "Ed Towns Steps Down; Sources Blame White House". Daily News. New York.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Miller, S.A. (December 27, 2011). "B'klyn Congressman overpaying for car lease". New York Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. [2]
  23. Towns profile, politicker.com (April 5, 2012)

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James H. Scheuer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th congressional district

Succeeded by
Major Owens
Preceded by
Charles Schumer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jerrold Nadler
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Waxman
Chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Succeeded by
Darrell Issa