After failing to elect a Russian-speaking candidate to the City Council last year, activists in the city’s best-known immigrant neighborhood are now backing a non-emigre in a heated Assembly contest.
Susan Lasher, whose husband, Howard, represented Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Coney Island in both the City Council and state Assembly, is taking on incumbent Adele Cohen in the Democratic primary Sept. 10.
Lasher faced off against two emigres in last year’s primary for her husbandís Council seat. This year she is heavily favored by influential members of the Russian-speaking community.
Lasher, whose mother emigrated from Belarus, has launched a Russian-language Web site. The Russian press has praised her and pilloried Cohen in recent weeks.
"I don’t know anything that [Cohen] has ever done," said Dr. Oleg Gutnik, who as a Republican narrowly lost a bid for the area’s City Council seat to Democrat Dominic Recchia.
Gutnik, a prominent obstetrician/gynecologist with strong political ties, was supported by Lasher in that race, and this year is returning the favor by backing her Assembly bid.
But even as Lasher hones in on the Russian vote, Cohen has her sights set on another ethnic community. In this year’s redistricting process, her 46th District picked up a larger share of Bay Ridge, a heavily Italian-American neighborhood. Cohen is counting on her endorsement of Tobias Russo for the open position of male Democratic district leader to help in that community.
"She has a proven record," Russo says he has been telling his neighbors.
But the outspoken Cohen, who won a special election in 1998 to succeed Jules Polonetsky when he became consumer affairs commissioner, has made some enemies in her district’s Jewish community.
In a Jewish Week interview shortly after taking office, Cohen blasted Polonetsky’s stand against a Nation of Islam security patrol that was awarded a state contract in a public housing complex. She is said to have denounced the design of the Holocaust Memorial at Sheepshead Bay, calling it a "cemetery." And she was absent from a massive solidarity rally for Israel last spring in Coney Island that was heavily attended by politicos.
Lasher said in an interview that Cohen had "disenfranchised a significant populace in the community" and "has an agenda that does not include my Russian-speaking neighbors."
Cohen replies: "I serve every part of my district, which is extremely diverse." She noted that the single largest recipient of her discretionary funding goes to the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, which provides numerous nonsectarian social service programs for immigrants and the elderly.
A third candidate, Eddie Brumfield, an African American, also has filed petitions to enter the primary. The GOP is not expected to run a candidate for the seat.
Entering the home stretch of his primary campaign for governor, Andrew Cuomo’s Zionism is almost off the charts.
He just completed his second trip to Israel in three months. He’s called for Yasir Arafat to be declared a terrorist by the State Department. He’s even called for an investigation into anti-Israel bias in the media. (Cuomo is short on details about who would investigate and what consequence would befall the culprits).
Is all this fervor from the kishkes or the result of political calculations, like the fact that Jewish Sen. Chuck Schumer is backing Cuomoís Democratic rival, H. Carl McCall? Or perhaps a fear that the warm photo of Cuomo and Arafat taken when he was U.S. housing secretary will appear in campaign commercials?
"His pollsters may be telling him that Carl McCall’s coalition is made up of African Americans and Jews, so he’s trying to out-Jew the Jews," says Democratic consultant Norman Adler. "Schumer is wildly popular among Jews, and that has got to help legitimate Jews voting for McCall."
Cuomo campaign manager Josh Isay insists his candidate "has always been consistent in his strongly pro-Israel views, unlike Carl McCall, who stood silent [as a deputy ambassador] in the UN when anti-Israel votes were cast, and more recently drew a moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government."
Isay was referring to an Aug. 8 press conference in which McCall, in response to a question on the Middle East, said "there’s been violence and victims on both sides" and "I don’t think it’s useful to blame anybody."
Most New York politicians have laid the blame for the current crisis squarely on Arafat and the Palestinians. (McCall did say at the same appearance that Arafat should be treated as a terrorist, while adding "that doesn’t mean that every Palestinian is a terrorist.")
McCall spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein cited a comment from former UN Ambassador and U.S. Sen. Pat Moynihan that McCall was a "forceful and often lonely voice" against anti-Zionism at the world body.
"Furthermore," she added, "he isn’t the one who held hands with Yasir Arafat. Andrew Cuomo is."
No major event escapes politics in an election year. Not even Kosherfest, the annual exhibition of kosher products in New Jersey for the past 12 years.
This week Gov. George Pataki claimed credit for moving the event across the Hudson for the 2003 show, bringing some 500 exhibitors to the Jacob Javits Center. A statement said Patakiís office played "a major role in facilitating meetings between Javits Center officials and Trade Show representatives."
The statement quoted Menachem Lubinsky, whose Integrated Marketing firm sponsors the show, saying Pataki "deserves the highest praise for creating the economic and business climate that has allowed Kosherfest to return to New York."
Lubinsky in an interview said the Javits Center had a crowded trade show schedule and he had been unable to get a suitable date since 1987. Patakiís newly hired director of community affairs, ex-Councilman Herb Berman, intervened and arranged for Oct. 28 and 29 in 2003. This year’s show will be held at the Meadowlands Exposition Center.
Lubinsky said he was "not exactly sure" how the governor’s office arranged the date.
They may be former Borough Park rivals, but Assemblyman Dov Hikind and former Councilman Noach Dear are like peas in a pod these days. Hikind has endorsed Dear’s bid for a newly created state Senate seat, saying he’s the best man for the job. It also won’t hurt Hikind if Dear is in Albany next year and not thinking about a campaign for his old Council seat: now occupied by Hikind protege Simcha Felder.
Rochester millionaire Tom Golisano is continuing to rap Pataki for his association with Independence Party gadfly Lenora Fulani. This week Golisano took out ads in several publications, including The Jewish Week, asking why the governor won’t renounce Fulani’s controversial statements.
The dozen City Council members who visited Israel this week are bound to make good use of anecdotes from the trip as they begin their campaigns for re-election next year. Even before she came home, Melinda Katz of Queens scheduled a town hall meeting Sunday to report to her constituents at the Forest Hills Jewish Center.