During their first campaign appearance together Friday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton had all the subtlety of a soft-money campaign commercial.
In Coney Island, Brooklyn, last week the two praised each other’s records, shared grade school memories and (despite the fact that they were traveling in the same vehicle) publicly hugged and kissed hello and goodbye in front of the cameras.
After kibitzing about his boyhood aspirations to be a major league ballplayer Lieberman put the full weight of his credibility in that community behind Clinton.
Unsolicited (only the assembled sixth graders were allowed questions, and they were more concerned about favorite teachers) Lieberman declared that a Sen. Clinton would be "a strong, strong supporter of the state of Israel" and is "a woman without a bias in her being."
The only apparent subtlety of the event was its venue. Instead of noshing knishes at a kosher deli or working the senior lunch at a Y, the two chose to visit the Mark Twain Intermediate School in largely non-Jewish Coney Island. "Education is an issue that nationwide people are really seeing the differences on," said Clinton spokeswoman Cathie Levine. "Jewish voters, like all voters care about the issue of education."
Lieberman’s comments about Clinton were obvious rejoinders to the baggage she’s acquired by embracing Palestinian statehood and hugging the Israel-maligning wife of Yasir Arafat, as well as the dubious claim in a schlocky book that she called an associate a "f—g Jew bastard."
That Lieberman seemed to be defying conventional political strategy by bringing up the enemy’s criticism on his own pointed up the extent to which both political aspirants viewed the need for damage control: despite recent poll results that give Clinton the two-thirds share of the Jewish vote she needs to win.
"There is a good reason why Lieberman went to Brooklyn and independently spoke about Hillary Clinton’s ‘great love for Israel,’" says Bruce Teitelbaum, former campaign manager to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and an informal advisor to Republican Senate candidate Rick Lazio. "The thinking is probably that he can kosherize her."
But Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf believes most voters won’t analyze the appearance so deeply, and predicts a strong Lieberman boost for the first lady. "She is benefiting now from the national ticket," says Sheinkopf. "The Jewish community is absolutely pumped. Lieberman helps her turn a significant number of Jews back to the Democratic line who have a history of being switch voters."
One sign, however, of incomplete confidence in the event’s ability to boost Clinton was the careful scripting. As the two visited a firehouse across from the school, a Secret Service agent was overheard saying that the campaign wanted the press kept at a respectable distance out of fear that questions would be shouted at the pair.
One of the inquiries Clinton might have fielded was what she, as a staunch loyalist to the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, made of Lieberman’s frequent religious pronouncements while on the campaign stump, which have aroused the ire of the Anti-Defamation League. As it was, it was left to campaign manager Bill de Blasio, to avoid the question.
"Let’s not make more of it than it is," said de Blasio. "She believes he is a rare person in national life, with deeply held moral beliefs and that’s why he’s such a leader on the national ticket and so respected."
Lieberman opened a religious can of worms during an appearance on the "Imus in the Morning" radio program last week. According to the Web site Jewishworldreview.com, Lieberman, in response to a question, said there was "no ban whatsoever" on intermarriage in Judaism, chalking up communal opposition to "a natural tendency among a lot of Jews, as there is a lot of Christians, and a lot of ethnic groups to marry within, keep the faith going."
The spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, Avi Shafran, strongly disagreed, telling the Web zine there is a "clear and irrevocable Torah prohibition" against marrying gentiles.
Lieberman spokeswoman Jodi Sakol did not provide a comment at press time.
The National Jewish Democratic Council’s Young Professionals division sold some 300 tickets to last week’s fund-raising concert at Radio City Music Hall, a feat the organization is attributing to enthusiasm over Lieberman’s candidacy.
"It’s a big trigger," said Jason Haberman, state chairman of the committee, at a pre-concert cocktail party at the China Lounge in Midtown Manhattan. "It adds to the level of enthusiasm among people who would not normally be committed. There are people here who were not interested in supporting the Gore candidacy, but now, with Lieberman, it’s a different story."
The NJDC’s counterpart, the Republican Jewish Coalition, also has a fledgling young leadership group that met during the GOP convention in Philadelphia last month, and is planning upcoming events in major cities. "Young people tend to be much more open-minded and sympathetic to the Republican message, and we will target that audience in the coming year," said RJC director Matt Brooks.
Another group, the Young Republican Leadership PAC, has about 300 members in New York and 1,200 nationally in eight states, says its president, David Javdan. "Interest has been growing fiercely," he says.
Councilman Noach Dear of Borough Park says there is a "strong possibility" he will continue his campaign for Congress on the Republican and Conservative lines, after being trounced by Rep. Anthony Weiner in last week’s Democratic primary.
"I am examining all the options," said Dear, adding that he is also considering whether to "endorse or not endorse" someone else in the race. Dear said he was "proud of our campaign and the issues we raised." Weiner, meanwhile, picked up Lieberman’s endorsement at LaGuardia Airport as the senator was leaving New York Friday.
Sen. Charles Schumer doesnít face re-election for another four years. But he’s been soaking up news coverage like a candidate, holding press conferences every Sunday (the week’s slowest news day) on the high price of gasoline, heating oil and electricity.
Last week was a particularly busy one for Schumer and his press mill. Over the span of a few days, the soon-to-be senior senator:
Called on the State and Justice Department to crack down on charity organizations with terrorist ties;
Announced a new initiative to crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants;
Called on the president to address recent remarks by Arafat on Jewish claims to Jerusalem and n Renewed his push to pass a bill eliminating all assistance to the Palestinian Authority if statehood is declared unilaterally at any time.
Imagine what 2004 will be like.
After backing two losing challengers in this month’s Democratic primaries, Public Advocate Mark Green is facing the wrath of two angry incumbent senior members of Congress as he gears up for next year’s mayoral run.
"I’m an independent Democrat who is not obligated to automatically go along with incumbents or the dictates of political clubs," said Green, who backed Councilwoman Una Clarke against Rep. Major Owens and Barry Ford against Rep. Edolphus Towns. Both races were in Brooklyn. Since both the challengers and incumbents in those congressional races were black, Green need not fear a racial backlash over his picks. And Brooklyn insiders point out that Green already does not have the support of Brooklyn’s Democratic organization, which backed Owens and Towns and is likely to back Comptroller Alan Hevesi for mayor. Green seems to be counting on the grassroots organizations that backed Ford and Clarke to come through for him in 2001. The power of county organizations to endorse candidates is in serious doubt lately, as evidenced by the failure of all but one of the Bronx machine’s primary candidates on Sept. 12.
Green points out that six other candidates he backed in congressional and legislative primaries won.