Mark Green mentioned that his grandfather, Nathan, escaped Czarist Russia in a wheelbarrow. Alan Hevesi noted that had his father remained in Hungary, he would have been born in a Budapest ghetto where “a substantial number of my family was killed” in the Holocaust.
Fernando Ferrer spoke about bringing the Bronx back from the brink, while Peter Vallone boasted that “nothing happens in the City of New York unless I’m involved in it.”
In their first joint appearance before a Jewish forum on Sunday, five candidates in the Democratic primary for mayor revealed markedly different campaign styles, as well as early indications of how they’ll appeal for Jewish votes.
Green, the city’s public advocate and the frontrunner in every poll, seemed most eager to connect on a Jewish level (some might say pander), speaking about his son’s bar mitzvah in Israel and throwing around Yiddishisms such as “nosh” and “shanda.”
He reminded the audience at Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side that as consumer affairs commissioner he fought to keep Passover food prices down and in his current job had convinced the Mets and Yankees to sell kosher hot dogs.
Responding to a question about his faith, Green later said he had grown up in a house where tzedaka and tikkun olam [charity and repairing the world] were predominant” and that “Jewishness is part of my life, enriches my life and my family’s lives and has made me a better … public official.”
Presenting himself, as he often does, as the antithesis of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Green said he would make an effort to work with all segments of the population. “The time when a mayor won’t sit down with the religious leaders of half the city is about to be over,” said Green. “I’m looking to be in coalition with you.”
Hevesi, the city comptroller, who is also Jewish, explained his role in using the city’s pension funds as leverage to secure reparations for Holocaust victims from Switzerland and to fight oppression in the Sudan. He detailed bills he had sponsored during his 22 years in the Assembly and said he’d fight for better teacher salaries and a “longer school day, week and year.” Hevesi, who has been accused by some Democrats of being chummy with the Republican Giuliani, said he had had “14 fights” with the mayor and accused him of not lobbying hard enough to protect the city’s interests.
“If someone else had been mayor, [the state Legislature] might not have repealed the commuter tax, which cost the city $500 million a year,” said Hevesi. He cited his presidency of the Bnai Zion fraternal organization and his membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, adding “my involvement in the community and public life is a function of that position.”
But the audience seemed to be more impressed with issues related to minorities and the underprivileged.
Ferrer, borough president of the Bronx, drew applause from the moderate-sized crowd by calling for increased accessibility to affordable housing and improving the relationships between police and communities, boasting that he had revitalized a borough that “most people left for dead.” Rejecting Giuliani’s management style, he said New York was a large city, “but not too big to reach out to everyone.”
Ferrer reiterated his opposition to school vouchers or privatization of public schools and said he supports a moratorium on the death penalty pending a study of the ability of defendants to get a fair trial.
The most favorable response of the morning went to George Spitz, a self-described longshot in the primary who appeared in his first community forum. Interrupted by applause on several occasions, Spitz pledged to restore free tuition at city colleges and wage war on city contracts with private companies which, in his view, lead to corruption. After distributing a list of 50 issues on which he has taken a stand, Spitz said he would abolish the city’s workfare program. “There will be no brutalizing of the poor when George Spitz is mayor,” he said, to an ovation.
Although Israel was barely mentioned in the addresses, it became a source of controversy for Vallone, speaker of the City Council, in two audience questions, to which he offered not-so-subtle dodges.
Asked why had recently used taxpayer funds to mail a letter detailing his recent trip to Israel, Vallone said he had spent no taxpayer funds on the trip itself. Asked by Village Voice reporter Alissa Solomon why he had “supported West Bank settlements” by donating a bulletproof vest for medics who aid terror victims, Vallone detailed his involvement in Jewish causes and said his support of Israel was “nothing new,” declining to defend his support for the life-saving equipment.
Who made the best impression?
“Ferrer spoke with a certain moral resonance,” said Shlomo Mantz, 32, a paralegal from Brooklyn as he left the forum. “He was the only guy who didn’t trot out a laundry list of policies he wants or a mechanical resume of things he’s done. You could sense the depth and feeling behind his ideas.”
Expect to see much more of Sen. Chuck Schumer appearing with Israeli officials at press conferences.
Israel’s consulate here has hired Schumer’s political consultant, Hank Morris, to help the Jewish state improve its image in the media, as well as provide information to key policy makers.
The contract allows Morris to serve two clients at once: the Israelis, by helping them win favorable press coverage, and Schumer, by helping him maintain his image as a leading pro-Israel voice. The senator recently appeared with Consul General Allon Pinkus at a press conference denouncing Palestinian terror attacks.
The Israel account is being managed by Schumer’s former chief of staff, Josh Isay, who recently left the dotcom DoubleClick to work with Morris’ agency, Morris Carrick and Guma.
“We are working to help supplement the ongoing and very capable public information efforts of the Foreign Ministry by providing higher-level strategic advice,” says Isay, who said he’d be working in tandem with the public relations firm Rubenstein Associates.
Isay said Schumer had “absolutely nothing to do with” persuading the Israelis to hire the busy Morris, who is also working on Hevesi’s campaign, Thomas DiNapoli’s bid for Nassau County executive, and races in Los Angeles and Boston.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is praising an initiative by Gov. George Pataki to help some illegal immigrants change their status before an April 30 federal deadline. “This is a wonderful opportunity,” says Rachel Zelon, a HIAS vice president. “People are very afraid to seek information because they are afraid the INS will deport them. What the governor is saying is, you don’t have to be afraid.”
Congress voted in December to enable those living here illegally as of Dec. 20 who may be eligible for family or employment visas to file applications without penalty until the deadline. On Saturday, Pataki called on local bar associations to organize volunteers to help immigrants change their status.
Rikli Dear, the wife of Brooklyn Councilman Noach Dear, has decided not to run for his Borough Park/Midwood seat, the term-limited councilman said this week. He said he had not yet decided whom to support in the race. “I’m looking at the different candidates,” said Dear.
Simcha Felder, chief of staff to Assemblyman Dov Hikind, is seen as the leading contender in the race, heavily backed by his boss.
If you have time to listen to no less than nine politicians explain why they should be the next borough president of Queens, check out the forum sponsored by the Northeast Queens Jewish Community Council on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck. They include five City Council members, two state Assembly members, a former Board of Education president and one political newcomer.