Rumble In The Bronx


Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel is white and Jewish. His likely opponent in September’s Democratic primary, state Sen. Larry Seabrook, is African American. Both candidates insist that difference should play no role in the campaign. But Seabrook, in numerous newspaper interviews, has been saying it is "time to elect a black congressman" to represent the heavily minority Bronx-Westchester district, leading Engel to accuse him of duplicity.

"He talks about electing the first African American to Congress from the Bronx and Westchester out of one side of his mouth, and on the other side says this isn’t really about race," says Engel, who has been re-elected six times in the district, largely because of heavy turnout in his home base of Riverdale and sections of Yonkers and Mount Vernon. The district is believed to be about 58 percent black and 80 percent minority. Engel estimates the Jewish vote at 10-12 percent.

"This isn’t about race, it’s about leadership," Seabrook told The Jewish Week, insisting Engel has not taken an interest in community issues. "If you go from 149th Street to Yonkers, you’ll see an absence of his involvement."

But adding a tinge of racial politics is the question of Engel’s residence. While he maintains a two-bedroom co-op in Riverdale, his family lives in Maryland.

In an interview with the weekly Riverdale Review, Seabrook painted Engel as an upper-crust suburbanite who could not relate to inner city problems. "He is part of the community in Maryland known as Potomac … an affluent, luxurious community of green lawns and big houses. That is where he pays taxes and the taxes he pays support Maryland schools. That is an outrage. I think a representative should be a part of the community."

Engel says he wants his kids nearby while he’s in Washington. "Republicans talk about family values. I practice it. My children belong with me. I want to participate in their education and do their homework with them. I don’t make any excuses."

Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf predicted that an appeal based on race would backfire.

"Seabrook needs to create a greater rationale," said Sheinkopf. "New Yorkers are much past race. We’ve had a black mayor, a black state comptroller. I don’t think race is part of the dynamic."

Many Jewish organizations breathed a sigh of relief as an attempt to oust Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (one of the most powerful Jewish officials in state history) collapsed this week.

Silver has long been a 911 for many Jewish groups who need help from the state and the quickest route to legislation on everything from ritual divorce, religious objections to autopsies, kosher food and Holocaust restitution. He even sponsored a bill to help his rabbi’s son regain some confiscated property.

But despite the widespread perception that the coup attempt was fueled by Silver’s closed-door leadership style, the speaker says he sees no need for change.

The only lesson from the failed overthrow led by Syracuse Assemblyman Michael Bragman is that "you don’t trust someone who has political ambition to be your partner. I should have listened to the advice of people who told me this was coming," Silver said.

Silver stripped Bragman of his majority leader title, cut his pay and locked him out of office. By Tuesday, the group of 50 members Bragman claimed to have gathered to depose Silver had shrunk to a group of fewer than 20. Those members signed a seven-point statement of principles calling for more open procedures in the Assembly and, among other things, that Silver’s senior staff treat all members "with respect due an elected official."

Silver scoffed: "Mike Bragman is not an agent of change. This is about nothing but his lust for power."

But Bronx Assemblyman Steve Kaufman, a Bragman loyalist, said the fight was far from over. "We have no access to the speaker, no participation; decisions are always announced without any discussion," said Kaufman, who says he hasn’t had a conversation with Silver in recent memory. "This has been brewing for a long time."

Queens County leader Tom Manton, who initially backed Bragman but reached a truce with Silver over breakfast at Ratner’s on Sunday, said the coup was "a wake up-call" that Silver needed to change his management style.

Earlier this year Hanina Sperlin, a Crown Heights activist loyal to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, caused a stir when he told the Village Voice that Hillary Clinton could forget about Jewish votes in his community, and wouldn’t even get a meeting with the local community council.

So what was Sperlin doing on the floor of last week’s Democratic convention in Albany while Clinton was being coronated as the party candidate for Senate?

"I’m a national delegate for Al Gore," said Sperlin. "They asked me to come so I came." Sperlin said he moved "to the back" during Clinton’s speech.

With Giuliani out of the race, Sperlin said he will "wait and see what other leaders do. I’m new in politics. I’ve made mistakes in life."

The state’s top Republican, Gov. George Pataki, is apparently making a rare cross-party endorsement in a Democratic primary for City Council more than a year off.

At a fund-raising dinner last week for Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Pataki announced that Hikind’s chief of staff, Simcha Felder, was running for the Council in Borough Park. "God bless you, good luck, yasher koach to you," he said. Although Pataki did not use the word "endorse," his comment came after Hikind announced, "the governor has an endorsement to make," and Pataki expressed no objection.

At least four Democrats, including Felder, are planning to seek the seat to be vacated by term-limited Councilman Noach Dear. It is unclear whether there will be a Republican candidate.

Sources say Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum discussed a position with Rick Lazio’s Senate campaign this week. But on Tuesday, Teitelbaum said he would not be part of the Lazio effort.

"For the next several weeks I’ll be working with colleagues to wind down the campaign," he said. "Thereafter I will take a short, well-deserved vacation and then I will make more decisions." He did not rule out managing a future campaign for Giuliani after the mayorís treatment for prostate cancer. Giuliani is reportedly mulling a run for governor in 2002.

"Suffice it to say whatever he needs me to do, I’ll always be there for him."

Giuliani’s campaign is deciding what to do with more $9 million in funds. The same likely goes for all its anti-Hillary research. "We’re going to be as cooperative as we can with them," said Teitelbaum.

Line Items

State Comptroller H. Carl McCall has purchased $5 million in Israel Bonds on behalf of the State Common Retirement Fund. In the past 10 years the fund has purchased $10 million of floating rate Israel bonds and an additional $47 million of fixed rate bonds issued by Israel.

Juda Engelmayer, an executive assistant and Jewish liaison to McCall, is leaving his position to become senior vice president of the Hudson Stone Group, an investor relations firm.

Rep. Anthony Weiner(D-Brooklyn/Queens) was sitting shiva this week after his older brother, Seth, a real estate broker died in a hit-and-run accident Saturday in Alexandria, Va. Seth Weiner was 39.