How’s Hillary Rodham Clinton faring with the Jewish vote? It depends on whom you believe. A Quinnipiac University poll taken between May 30 and June 5 showed no benefit for Clinton from the withdrawal of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a factor some predicted would return many of the popular Republican’s voters to their Democratic roots. The poll placed Clinton at 44 percent of the Jewish vote, in a statistical dead heat with Suffolk Rep. Rick Lazio, at 37 percent, because of the large margin of error for poll subgroups.
But in a New York Times/CBS Poll released Tuesday, Clinton had an enormous lead over Lazio among Jews, 61-19, her largest numbers to date in the community and within striking distance of the two-thirds of that vote a Democrat has traditionally needed to win statewide.
A third poll, by the Zogby Group, released May 25 placed Clinton at 57 percent to Lazio’s 31 percent.
While the Times survey offers the Clinton campaign its best hope yet of inroads among Jews ("We’re pleased at the progress we’re making," said spokesman Howard Wolfson), some are dismissing the results because two of the polling days were on Shavuot.
"I would suspect the figures are badly skewed by the fact that the poll was taken during the festival of Shavuot when all Orthodox and many Conservative Jews would not answer the telephone," said David Luchins, a political science professor at Touro College and an aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. "There is no other explanation."
Some of Clinton’s most vehement opposition is among the Orthodox, and Lazio has been warmly received in that community in the early stages of his campaign.
Discounting the Times poll, Clinton appears from the other polls to be leading solidly among Jews, although still falling short of the two-thirds majority and showing no substantial benefit from Giuliani’s exit. In the Quinnipiac poll, the undecided Jewish vote nearly doubled, from 8 to 14 percent, when Lazio became the candidate.
"Double-digit undecided among Jewish voters is kind of rare," said pollster John Zogby. "They are active voters and aware voters and their minds are generally made up. It’s probably worse news for [Clinton] because they certainly know her. She has 99 percent name recognition. She will probably have to work a lot harder to close the deal."
If Lazio is polling in the 30s among Jews, as the Zogby and Quinnipiac polls suggest, that would be an impressive standing for a candidate with little name recognition who is only a few weeks into his campaign, running against the first lady of the United States.
Should he increase that standing and break the 40 percent mark, recent political history is in his favor. In areas with significant Jewish populations, no Republican running for Congress or governor who won 40 percent or more of the Jewish vote has lost since 1980, says Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
"If he is able to take that essential component out of the Democratic base, her electoral house of cards falls apart," said Brooks.
A handshake on the state’s long-delayed bias crime bill in Albany was expected by the end of the week.
"We are very close," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Tuesday evening as negotiations continued to produce a unified version of the bill approved by the Assembly and Senate.
Silver said he wants an "intent" clause that would allow judges to consider mitigating circumstances that may have led to a bias crime, and a clause that defines obstruction of a religious practice as discrimination, such as cutting off the payot of a chasid.
Clinton firmly supports the bill’s passage; Lazio, whose position had been murky, endorsed it this week in Albany. The New York Post quoted Lazio as having earlier said he favored an "enhanced sentencing option as opposed to creating a new statutory crime."
"We are glad he finally took a position," said Howie Katz, of the Anti-Defamation League, a chair of the New York Hate Crimes Bill Coalition. "We had never heard one before."
Katz noted that Lazio had cosponsored a 1993 federal law to enhance sentences for hate crimes, including those perpetrated against gays and lesbians, and had later supported a measure reauthorizing a federal hate crimes statistics act. He has, however, declined to cosponsor a current bipartisan bill strengthening federal hate crimes laws.
Charges of bias were flying in the Assembly itself last week as a Queens member, Anthony Seminerio, accused Silver of running a session overtime to keep legislators from attending an Italian American conference in Albany.
Seminerio and some other Italian American pols had supported last month’s aborted coup attempt against Silver. Seminerio noted in a TV interview that Silver always ended sessions early when it came to leaving Albany for Jewish holidays.
"Mr. Seminerio is certainly a divisive individual," said Silver, who attended the ethnic reception himself and said the legislators arrived only 15 minutes late. "Every Italian American in the house with Seminerio had absolutely no problem. They understood they were there to do the business of the state."
A Jewish Democrat in Queens is making the bias crime bill a central theme in his state Senate campaign. Rory Lancman, who is challenging Republican Frank Padavan (a longtime foe of the bill) insists Padavan had his re-election in mind when he became one of 24 Republicans to vote in favor of the statute.
"I don’t know whatís worse, the fact that he opposed the bill for 10 years, or that he sold out his principles the first year he had a tough election" said Lancman, a Kew Gardens Hills lawyer.
A spokesman for Padavan, whose district includes Jamaica Estates, Laurelton, Douglaston and Bayside, said the passed Senate bill differed from previous versions opposed by Padavan.
"This bill dealt with the scope of parties that would be included," said Ed DeCosmo. "The senator felt that by including individuals with mental disabilities, the aged and others, it was fairly inclusive, not exclusive."
DeCosmo noted that Padavan has been re-elected regularly in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. "There is no indication that the candidate he faces this year is more of a serious challenge than he has faced in the past," he said.
The city budget agreed upon by Mayor Giuliani and the City Council last week contains (as usual) good news for Jewish organizations providing social services to the elderly.
Funding has been allocated to provide weekend meals at senior centers, previously unavailable, and to provide free repairs and security-device installation for shut-in elderly tenants. The city will also fund a $2.4 million senior wing at a new Jewish community center site on Staten Island.
"The Jewish community is disproportionately elderly," said William Rapfogel of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. "These programs become increasingly important."
The state budget passed last month also contained good news for Jewish communal agencies and other state-contracted, nonprofit employees: their first cost-of-living increase in five years.
The United States should suspend any effort to improve relations with Iran until the fate of 13 Jews on trial for espionage is determined, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens) wrote in a June 9 letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The letter was signed by 35 other members of Congress, including New York Democrats Gary Ackerman and Joseph Crowley of Queens; Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan; Eliot Engel of the Bronx; Nita Lowey of Westchester; Nydia Velazquez and Major Owens of Brooklyn; and Mike Forbes and Carolyn McCarthy on Long Island.
"We believe the outcome of this trial should determine the course of any future U.S. relations with Iran," wrote the representatives.