Democrats’ Orthodox Push


When the National Jewish Democratic Council convenes in Washington for its annual conference next week, organizers will be hoping for a larger share of kipot in the audience.

In an unprecedented effort, Jewish Democrats are taking aim at the perception that Orthodox Jews generally vote Republican, and have been working hard in recent months to make their party more enticing to the frum. “For too long the GOP has been portraying Orthodox Jews as being pro-Republican,” wrote Rep. Jerrold Nadler in a March 21 letter to House colleagues who have large Jewish populations in their districts. “It’s time for the Democratic Party to step forward and enlist the support and active involvement of this important constituency.”

Although figures are elusive, it is believed that a majority of Orthodox are among the 22 percent of Jews who voted for President George W. Bush over Sen. John Kerry in the last election, and some Jewish Democrats are blaming themselves.

“In the 2004 campaign the Republicans were very well organized in the Orthodox Jewish community, especially in New York and Florida,” says Jeff Wice, an NJDC board member who is spearheading the current push. “The Democrats had a lot of homework to do and did not have the campaign in key places that we should have.”

Wice, who lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights chasidic community and is an aide to state Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, says he is trying to set up a network of Orthodox pro-Democrat activists across the country well in advance of next year’s general election, with the goal of not only promoting the presidential nominee but also boosting congressional campaigns to maintain and strengthen Democratic control of both houses. New York, he says, is a natural springboard. “Once the network is in place we can plug people into the [local] campaigns next year. We also want to find a home for the Orthodox community to share ideas.”

Wice declined to say whether the struggling war in Iraq and Bush’s basement approval rating might boost his efforts. “The Bush and Cheney ticket can’t run again, so the field is wide open and there is every opportunity for Democrats to win,” he said. “We want to organize early.”

But Suri Kasirer, a Democratic political consultant supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton, said “the fact that Bush’s popularity has gone down and many people are disappointed by his policies, hopefully [means] the pendulum will swing the other way. It’s a good opportunity for the Democratic party to be reaching out more broadly.”

There is word of a forthcoming fundraiser for Clinton at which tens of thousands will be raised from Orthodox circles, such as members of Agudath Israel of America — a sign of how far Clinton has come since the days she had to make up for kissing Suha Arafat. “She’s been very good on defense-related issues,” said consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Performance outweighs whatever else people think.”

The fact that Clinton will remain a New York senator if she loses her presidential bid only boosts her local fundraising potential.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani last week made his first appearance under the auspices of a Jewish organization since launching his White House bid. But it wasn’t exactly a policy address.

Giuliani gave a keynote speech Thursday at a lawyers’ group fundraiser for the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, which bestowed its Judge Simon Rifkin Award on Giuliani’s former chief of staff, Randy Mastro.

Before presenting the award to Mastro, Giuliani spoke about his and Mastro’s success in their days at the Justice Department in ridding the carting industry and Fulton Fish Market of organized crime. He also offered some insights about running for president. “The best argument I have to be president is that if I can reduce expenses in New York City, Washington will be a breeze,” he said.

Giuliani then took a gratuitous swipe at former Democratic public advocate Mark Green, saying he never left town for more than a week because that would have made Green the acting mayor. The snarky comment, which drew a few laughs, was reminiscent of the pre-9/11, combative Giuliani who may yet reappear as his candidacy progresses.

(One might wonder what beef America’s Mayor still has with Green five years after they both left office. Green did, after all, as a 2001 mayoral candidate agree to Giuliani’s unprecedented and ultimately failed bid to extend his term for three months after 9/11.)

Giuliani did not take questions before or after the event.At the time, he was going through a rough spell in the press after misstating the price of a gallon of milk and asserting that Iran may have been linked to 9/11 because that country and al-Qaeda” have a similar objective.

Giuliani had also said, in a New Hampshire speech, that it was unclear whether Iran or North Korea are closer to developing nuclear arms, although the latter country has already tested a nuclear device.

Giuliani was to hold a forum on Tuesday night with a Jewish community council in Washington but postponed it because of the Virginia Tech shootings. He “felt it was inappropriate during this time of national mourning to hold a public forum,” the council said in a statement.

A Brooklyn community board has come up with a novel way of stripping the honor of a Brooklyn street name from an anti-Semite without causing havoc for map-makers and emergency responders.

Corbin Place in Manhattan Beach may soon pay tribute to Margaret Corbin, a Revolutionary War hero, and not Austin Corbin, the industrialist who built railroads and hotels and ranted against the Jews at the beginning of the 20th century.

Margaret Corbin was severely wounded defending northern Manhattan from a Hessian invasion in November, 1776, and took over her husband’s cannon after he was killed. She was later buried at West Point. Community Board 15 recently approved the change, which brings the matter to the City Council.

“This will satisfy the many residents who see the name Austin Corbin as an assault while at the same time, allow us to honor our long, rich Revolutionary War history,” said state Sen. Carl Kruger, who had advocated a name change, in a statement.