Lazio Sees Opportunity In Riverdale


Republican Senate candidate Rick Lazio will seek to exploit the aftermath of a bitter Bronx primary battle when he campaigns in heavily Jewish Riverdale after the Sept. 12 election, The Jewish Week has learned.

The visit is intended to take advantage of what one Lazio campaign insider called “resentment” against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has declined to take sides in the race pitting three-term incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, who is Jewish, against African American challenger Larry Seabrook, a state senator.

“We see Riverdale as very much in play,” said the Lazio insider. “Although it is in a Democratic neighborhood there is clearly a lot of resentment toward Hillary Clinton over her failure to support Eliot Engel.”

The Lazio source recalled that it was Engel who spared Clinton from embarrassment in January by alerting her to a black preacher’s intolerant remark about Jews during the first lady’s visit to Rev. Al Sharpton’s headquarters. That heads-up gave Clinton the opportunity to condemn the remark before it was picked up by the media

.“This is how she repays her friends,” quipped the Lazio partisan. The Suffolk congressman has taken no position on the race.

A Riverdale resident and Clinton supporter, chemicals magnate Jack Bendheim, said he saw no backlash against Clinton. “I doubt very much there will be any resentment because she doesn’t want to get involved in a primary,” said Bendheim.

But Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale disagreed. “I’m upset with her for not being sufficiently involved,” he said.

Lazio will meet with board members of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism within the next week and is scheduled to appear at a Jewish Week community forum on Sept. 19. He also spoke at a rally on behalf of Iranian Jews on Tuesday.

# Jewish elected officials are divided over another hot congressional primary, this one in the Crown Heights and Flatbush sections of Brooklyn. On Tuesday Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind and City Comptroller Alan Hevesi threw their support behind Rep. Major Owens, who faces Councilwoman Una Clarke.

On the same day, elected officials gathered in the home of Howard Teich, a Democratic activist and former president of the American Jewish Congress’ Metropolitan Region, for a Clarke fund-raiser. On the guest list were Public Advocate Mark Green and veteran Brooklyn Councilman Ken Fisher, as well as Bronx Borough President and mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer.

Clarke has also picked up an unlikely supporter in Giuliani administration official and Republican activist Lenny Guttman. “On issues such as Israel, race relations and immigration, she is totally in sync with our community,” said Guttman, a rabbi who coordinated Jewish outreach for Arizona Sen. John McCain during last spring’s presidential primary.

Owens tried unsuccessfully last week to persuade the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council’s political action committee to reconsider its endorsement of Clarke.

“For 18 years he took the vote in the Jewish community for granted because he had no opponent,” said committee chairman Hanina Sperlin, who said Clarke had paid more attention to his community, although only a small slice of it is in her Council district.

But Owens said he had a long history of protecting grants and contracts awarded to the Council. “Throughout my tenure people were trying to take things away from the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve said they were doing a good job, let them continue.”

# In other Crown Heights news, Police Officer James Davis is raising the specter of the 1991 riots in the neighborhood in his bid to unseat powerful Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr. — the Brooklyn Democratic chairman.

“You cannot hold David Dinkins responsible for not putting out the fire and then let Clarence Norman Jr. off the hook,” says Davis. “He is responsible because he didn’t start a dialogue between the communities. He allowed tensions to develop between blacks and Jews.”

The tactic mirrors his 1998 campaign, in which he won a large share of the Jewish vote after warning the community in a letter that Norman wanted to “defecate” on Jews by courting their vote with promises later forgotten.

This time around, though, Norman has the support of the Jewish Community Council’s PAC. Norman accuses Davis of playing the other side of the street by distributing a flier that accuses him of giving Jews “special treatment over blacks.”

“He’s seen that he has no support in the Orthodox community and so he’s trying to turn the African American community against Clarence Norman,” says Norman.

Davis says that flier was not printed by his campaign.

# Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only public figure to contact federal prison officials on behalf of Jonathan Pollard last week. Others who reached out to prevent the Israel spy from being transferred to a more dangerous wing of the correctional facility in Butner, N.C., included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Nassau), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) and Brooklyn City Councilman Noach Dear (D-Borough Park), The Jewish Week has learned.

“None of those people issued press releases because they did not want to hurt Jonathan,” said one pro-Pollard source, who speculates that the decision to keep Pollard in his old cell may have been made before Clinton got involved. The story that Clinton had intervened on Pollard’s behalf was leaked to the New York Post Friday.

Hikind, the Borough Park assemblyman, met with Clinton shortly before the story broke and says he called Clinton, in response to a fax from Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel immediately afterward. Clinton then called the federal officials, he said.

“When we were contacted about this we acted, and we hope that it helped,” said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson.

The intervention allowed Clinton to make a gesture on Pollard without taking a position on whether his life sentence for espionage should be commuted, leading some to question the timing.

“I find it hard to believe at a time of huge sensitivity to Pollard that those in charge [in the prison] would want to cause an uproar by making the situation more miserable than it is,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. “People have told me this may have been put forward to help Clinton’s position with the Jewish vote.”

Callers to Hikind’s radio show Saturday night expressed similar sentiments.

But Rabbi Lerner said he had been alerted to the situation personally by Pollard two weeks earlier. “This has been coming down the pike for a long time already;” he said.

On Tuesday, Lazio, without taking a position on Pollard himself, called on President Clinton to announce his intentions on the spy’s clemency. In a New York Post interview, Lazio speculated that the president might seek an “October Surprise” by releasing Pollard close to the election to help his wife’s campaign.

Line Items:

# A Democratic vacancy committee has nominated Steven Cymbrowitz of Manhattan Beach to take the place on the primary ballot of his wife, Lena, a Brooklyn Assembly member who died this month at 43. Cymbrowitz, who faces Michael Hizme in the primary, is no stranger to Albany. He is currently director of intergovernmental relations for the city’s Housing Authority.

# Faculty and administrators of a Far Rockaway yeshiva have contributed more than $14,500 to the campaign of a Jewish Georgia Democrat trying to unseat Republican Rep. Bob Barr, the Atlanta Jewish Times reported this week. The yeshiva’s principal, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, told the paper that Meyer Berman, a wealthy Florida benefactor of the school, urged staff members to contribute to Roger Kahn’s effort because of Barr’s positions on Israel and other Jewish issues. But the paper disclosed that Barr is married to a Jew and sends his children to a Conservative day school.

# Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes will host a memorial service for the late publisher of the Jewish Press, Rabbi Sholom Klass, on Sept. 13. “The DA and Rabbi Klass had a long-time friendship, although they didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” said Henna White, Hynes’ Jewish liaison.