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Controversy Flares over Anti-poverty Elections Scheduled for the Sabbath

January 21, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A controversy has developed over an option permitting community anti-poverty corporations in the city to hold local elections in April on either a Tuesday or a Saturday. There is concern that Sabbath observing Jews living in those of the 26 poverty areas whose corporations choose the Saturday date will not have the opportunity to vote. It is also feared that holding Saturday elections would establish a bad precedent for the future.

The Council Against Poverty, the central governing body of the local corporations, offered the choice of dates for the elections, which will fill expired seats on the community corporations’ boards of directors. The last local corporation elections were held in Sept., 1970. Although the four areas with the heaviest concentration of Orthodox Jews–Williamsburg, Crown Heights, the Lower East Side and Bronx River–scheduled their elections for a Tuesday, the other 22 areas had a Saturday voting date.


City Councilman Theodore Silverman (D., Brooklyn) today charged three city officials with anti-Semitism because, he asserted, they permitted the community corporations to have their elections on Saturday this year. He stated that Human Resources Administrator Jule Sugarman, Council Against Poverty Chairman David Billings III, and Community Development Agency Commissioner Major Owens did not try to prevent the Sabbath elections recently authorized by the Council.

He said this will result in “the flagrant disenfranchising of many thousands of Jewish voters and potential candidates for the boards of directors of community anti-poverty corporations.” Silverman also said that 21 of the 26 local groups now have no Jewish board members and he called this pattern “carefully planned…not an accident.”

A spokesman for the Human Resources Administration, which is the umbrella agency for the CDA, the coordinator of the city’s anti-poverty programs, called the charges of anti-Semitism levelled against the three officials “absurd” and “slanderous.” He emphasized that the 51-member Council Against Poverty is a “wholly autonomous body” and that Sugarman, Billings and Owens were only three individual members. The spokesman said that there are about 10 prominent Jews on the council, including Sugarman, City Comptroller Abraham Beame and Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams.

The spokesman pointed out in recognition of the problems involved in the election arrangements a meeting was held three days ago which led to a top level meeting for today to discuss the whole issue. At today’s meeting, held in the office of Deputy Mayor Edward K. Hamilton and attended by Sugarman, Billings, Owens and other city officials including Human Rights Commission Chairman Eleanor Holmes Norton, it was agreed to look into the situation and come up with a satisfactory solution. A city official who was at the meeting said afterwards he is “confident now that something will be worked out.”

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