As City Councilman Noach Dear contemplates a second bid to win one of the nation’s most heavily Jewish congressional districts, incumbent Rep. Anthony Weiner is making inroads in Dear’s political backyard.
Angered by Dear’s siding with the police after the controversial shooting of a disturbed Borough Park man in August, some of his former supporters are now backing Weiner for re-election.
“I was disappointed that Noach gave the mayor carte blanche by supporting the police without waiting for an investigation to unfold,” said Shlomo Perl, a businessman and former Dear contributor who hosted a reception for Weiner in his Borough Park home (a short walk from Dear’s office) on Sunday night.
Although only a small slice of Borough Park is part of Weiner’s Brooklyn-Queens district, which is about 40 percent Jewish, the heavily Orthodox area was a major source of campaign cash for Dear, who placed third in the 1998 race to succeed Charles Schumer, despite spending a record $1.6 million. Dear won about 90 percent of the Orthodox vote in 1998.
Barred from another Council run by term limits, Dear recently filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Elections Committee and has been quietly calling contributors, sources said.
Although Dear is considered a long shot to unseat Weiner (incumbent Democrats rarely lose in New York) the ambitious freshman isn’t taking chances. The former Sheepshead Bay councilman has hired a consultant, Mordy Mehlman, who specializes in marketing to the Orthodox community.
Weiner recently stood with Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a longtime Dear nemesis, at a demonstration outside the Polish consulate. And he made an impassioned pitch for support from some two dozen Orthodox community leaders at Perl’s home Sunday night. To aid large families who pay yeshiva tuition, he said he would seek to double the federal per-child tax deduction and expand the income eligibility for that deduction as a way around the unpopular voucher issue.
Guests at the reception included lay leaders of Borough Park institutions such as Ohel Children’s Home and the Hebrew Academy for Special Children, of which Perl is chairman. Weiner said he was helping HASC obtain a federal grant for an upstate campground.
Dear declined several requests for an interview, but his press secretary, Matt Solomon, said the councilman “has not made a decision about whether he will run for Congress.” As for the Gideon Busch shooting last summer, Solomon said, “It is always tragic when someone dies. It is appropriate that the federal government should stage an investigation [into the shooting].”
Weiner did not mention the Busch shooting at the Borough Park reception, but in an interview he blasted his former Council colleague for pre-judging the incident.
“When you’re in the City Council, one of your most important jobs is to be a watchdog over the executive branch,” said Weiner. “That means sometimes being critical of your friends.”
Dear endorsed Republican Mayor Rudolph Giulianiís re-election in 1997 and attended a Senate fund-raiser for the mayor last year.
Hikind said Dear’s support of the police while witnesses were raising questions about the incident “was not one of Noach’s finest moments, there’s no question about that.”
Politics related to the shooting may turn out to be small potatoes, however, in a Weiner-Dear rematch. Weiner said he considered an FEC audit of Dear’s 1998 fund raising a bigger issue. “It is one of the largest fund-raising abuses in recent memory,” he claimed.
In a January report, the FEC determined that Dear’s committee accepted 511 contributions worth $564,000 that exceeded the federal limit, and that he improperly spent funds designated only for a general election after being defeated in the primary.
Citing sequentially numbered money orders delivered to the campaign, the FEC said there was an appearance that individuals tried to surpass the $1,000 maximum by submitting at once several contributions under different names. The campaign is also accused reporting refunds of excessive contributions which could not be documented by auditors. The FEC has yet to determine whether to seek civil penalties.
Crain’s New York Business reported last week that Weiner has $387,865 on hand compared to Dear’s $29,524. Dear raised $244,756 in 1999, but used most of it to repay contributors, the journal said.
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A new poll suggests that while Jewish voters aren’t necessarily warming up to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate race, they are tiring of Giuliani. A March 23 poll by Zogby International found the first lady now leading Giuliani by more than two to one among Jews, 57 percent to 27 percent. Historically, Democrats have needed two-thirds of the Jewish vote to win a statewide election.
Clinton’s rating has risen 6 points from a March 6 poll, while Giuliani’s has plummeted 14 points.
“While some progressive Jewish voters are giving Rudy high marks for keeping the city safe and clean, they feel that he’s crossed the line on the Amadou Diallo case, and even more so on the Patrick Dorismond case,” said pollster John Zogby.
Twenty-two percent of Jews polled considered police conduct a major issue, said Zogby, less than blacks and Hispanics but more than whites and Catholics.
A Marist poll released Wednesday tells a different story with the mayor leading Clinton by 6 points, 48-42, about the same as February’s poll.
While noting that use of force by the NYPD has declined in recent years, Jewish groups have called for a review of procedures following shooting incidents. But few are likely to endorse the call for a federal monitor to oversee the department, which is gaining momentum in some circles following the recent Dorismond shooting.
“On an individual basis it night be helpful for the U.S. Attorney’s office to be looking at these cases,” said Howie Katz, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, “but I don’t think there is a major pattern here. The vast majority of NYPD officers never fire their guns, and as a whole the Police Department fire their weapons much less often than any major police department.”
Katz did say the department should do a better job of filtering out cops who may be predisposed to violence. “The focus needs to be on the fact that officers who have fired their guns are most likely to fire again,” he said.
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Dear-Weiner isn’t the only local congressional rematch in the making.
Westchester Democrat Paul Feiner, who won 40 percent of the vote against veteran Republican Rep. Ben Gilman in 1998, announced his second bid on Sunday. This time Feiner, supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, says he has more support from his party. Rep. Nita Lowey attended his kickoff Sunday, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will headline an April 25 fund-raiser.
Feiner says his challenge is being seen as “more doable” during a presidential election year, when turnout is higher. “There is the question of whether the religious right will keep control of the House or the Democrats will have a chance to change the national agenda,” Feiner said.
Gilman, the only Jewish Republican in the House, chairs its Foreign Relations Committee. His district includes all of Rockland and parts of Westchester, Orange and Sullivan counties.