Brooklyn Senate Contenders Push Tuition Breaks


One candidate is a Brooklyn-born liberal Democrat with a decade of experience in the City Council. The other is a conservative Republican and political novice born in Belarus and sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.

But one thing Lewis Fidler, 55, and David Storobin, 33 have in common is a focus on helping Orthodox Jews and others who send their kids to private school get a break.

Each brought up the topic in separate interviews about the campaign to succeed disgraced Sen. Carl Kruger in Brooklyn’s 27th district, though their approaches are markedly different: Storobin backs tuition vouchers, while Fidler favors a tuition tax credit.

Storobin is unfazed by the general lack of support in the legislature for vouchers, their tendency to get bogged down in court challenges and the fact that such a program would require substantial changes to current state law.

“How many laws were passed that nobody ever thought would be passed? Giuliani’s reforms, nobody thought they were going to pass either,” he said referring to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s changes in city welfare policy and other measures.

Storobin noted that same-sex marriage — which he opposes — was also viewed as impossible until it became a reality last year.

“Realistically speaking, people are overwhelmingly in favor of school vouchers,” said Storobin. (A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll last August, however, found that 65 percent of Americans oppose children being educated in private schools at public expense.)

Storobin believes vouchers could be a “revenue neutral program” because the state and local governments would save money as kids leave public schools.

Fidler said pushing for vouchers is “pandering and demagoguery.”

Even if there was a serious movement for vouchers, he said, “in your wildest dreams, for an amendment to the state Constitution it would take a minimum of three or four years [to draft], and who’s to say it would even pass?”

Fidler’s idea is to propose a tax credit of up to $5,000 per qualifying family, though it might take time to get to that sum. “I would have to open the door to push my way in,” he said. Fidler said the state could compensate for the lost revenue by taking over management of smaller, inefficiently run local governments, saving “billions.”

“There are critical government restructuring reforms to be made in Albany,” said Fidler.

Fidler and Storobin got into a nasty spat out of the gate when entering the special election, called for March 20, for the vacancy created when Kruger resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges.

Fidler rapped the conservative views published on a blog Storobin founded that were linked without his knowledge by hate groups’ websites. Meanwhile, Storobin has attacked Fidler for serving as counsel to Lawcash, an agency that often finances lawsuits against the city — which Storobin said is a conflict of interest. (Fidler says he plays no role in the lawsuits but only represents the firm for billing, contract reviews or internal legal matters.)

Fidler represents a Council district that includes Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Georgetown, Starrett City, Marine Park, Mill Basin and other areas.

Storobin runs a small law practice that he started himself “by running up my credit cards. It blossomed out of nothing.” He said that his background makes him more sympathetic to small business owners who need a break in a tough economy. “I know what it means to create jobs.”

Fidler said his top concern would be restoring integrity to the office after the debacles of Kruger, who accepted bribes, and Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal. He also wants reform of bureaucracy.

“The dysfunctionality in Albany particularly in the state Senate, where they spent years arguing over who would give out the pencils, is very frustrating,” he said.

The Senate district contains part of the congressional district won last year by Republican Bob Turner after being vacated by Weiner. The area shows signs of turning more politically conservative. Orthodox rabbis in the area urged their followers to vote against the Democrat in that race, Assemblyman David
Weprin, because of his vote in favor of the marriage equality bill.

Political consultant Michael Tobman, who mostly works for Democrats but is not involved in this race, said Fidler’s “deep roots in the community” as a Councilman and district leader would give him an advantage in the race.

While Storobin will appeal to Russian-speaking voters, “the numbers haven’t reached the tipping point” to elect him. Voters in a nearby Assembly district in Brighton Beach and Coney Island elected Democrat Alec Brook-Krasny, who is Russian-American, in 2006, but the Senate district is much larger, Tobman notes.

But Seymour Lachman, a former state senator from Brooklyn who is now dean of Wagner College on Staten Island, said no outcome should be taken for granted. “In a special election, anything can happen,” he said.

With the Park Slope Food Co-op set to take a step toward this month toward deciding whether to boycott Israeli goods, Councilman Brad Lander is weighing in against the measure.

Members, of which Lander is not one, volunteer their time at the market in exchange for greatly discounted food items. The socially conscious collective shuns products that are bad for the environment or produced through unfair labor practices, and some members, in a long-simmering controversy, want to align with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. A counter group has formed against the idea.

Both sides will have their say on March 27 at Brooklyn Technical High School, when members will vote on whether to bring a referendum before the entire membership of about 15,000.

“I hope they vote overwhelmingly no,” Lander, who represents Park Slope, told The Jewish Week Tuesday.

In a statement to the co-op, Lander denounced the grocery boycott idea as “a one-sided and unfair effort, which is not only deeply mistaken as foreign policy, but also threatens to divide and harm the Food Co-op, a longstanding and important community institution.”

Lander added that while he is a progressive Jew who wants peace between Israel and her neighbors, “this can only be accomplished through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at the bargaining table — something made even more difficult by misguided proposals like this.”

Lander said Tuesday he is confident the measure will be rejected.

A lawsuit to overturn one such BDS measure at an Olympia, Wash., food co-op was dismissed this week by a state Superior Court judge there (see News Briefs, page 27).