The hottest races in Brooklyn this year concern a variety of different offices and a multitude of issues. But almost all of them have one thing in common: The Jewish names on the ballots.
In races from Congress to Assembly to Civil Court judge, the bumper crop of Jewish candidates for election and re-election reflects the boroughís bustling Jewish population and its growing political influence.
"This is a borough where the Jewish community has self-actualized years ago," says Jeff Feldman, executive director of the Democratic party in Kings County. "The Jewish community is taking its role in American society to heart, having suffered from years of persecution and removal from the government in all the lands we previously lived in. It makes a whole lot of sense that Jews more than other people have become fully participatory in Democratic process."
The primary will be held on Tuesday, Sept.15, and in almost all cases, winning the primary is tantamount to winning the election in heavily Democratic Brooklyn.
The highest profile primary is between four Jewish candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Rep. Charles Schumer’s seat. Councilman Noach Dear, one of the city’s best-known Jewish politicians, is the only conservative in the race. But there is little difference between the other three on the issues, which means many voters will make their decisions based on endorsements.
Assemblywoman Melinda Katz, the only candidate from the Queens half of the district, is heavily supported by the Queens Democratic organization headed by Rep. Tom Manton, and by City Comptroller Alan M. Hevesi, whom she succeeded in the Assembly. Dear of Borough Park, is supported by Council members Walter McCaffrey and Alfonse Stabile; and by Assemblyman Bryan McLaughlin, who also heads the Central Labor Council; as well as by numerous Orthodox rabbis.
Councilman Anthony Weiner of Midwood and Sheepshead Bay has the backing of Councilman Stephen DiBrienza and former Councilman Sam Horowitz. Assemblyman Dan Feldman of Midwood, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay has the support of the county Democratic organization, as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler and former Mayor Ed Koch.
All the candidates have staunch, pro-Israel records and a history of activism on Jewish issues.
Although Dear leads his opponents in fund raising, he was, at press time, mired in court, defending a challenge by Feldman to the 4,000 signatures filed by Dear to get on the ballot. Such a challenge could deplete his war chest as attorney fees pile up.
Another heated, all-Jewish contest is taking place in Feldmanís 45th Assembly District, one of few seats in the Assembly up for grabs. (Feldman must vacate the seat in order to run for Congress.) The four Jews in that race are Alan Sclar, Lena Cymbrowitz, Joel Garson and Arnie Wolsky.Jeff Reznik recently withdrew from the race and is a consultant working for Garson, who also has the backing of the Kings Highway Democratic Club and the area’s district leaders.
A member of School Board 22, Community Board 15, the Jewish War Veterans and of the Young Israel of Bedford Bay Garson, an accountant, says he will push for tax credits for families paying parochial school tuition and for relaxed zoning laws to allow for home expansion. He promises to also push for smaller class sizes and modernization of school facilities.
Sclar, an attorney, is a former clerk for Criminal Court Judge Leon Ruchelsman and is emphasizing more severe sentencing. He wants to see a tougher law than the one recently passed by the Assembly eliminating parole for violent felons. Cymbrowitz is a board member of the Shorefront Jewish Community Council and the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island and has a history of volunteer work for UJA-Federation and the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. An emigre from Egypt, she is concerned about health care and prescription costs for the elderly, increased funding for home care programs, screening and licensing geriatric health care professionals, and day care services for working women.
Wolsky, a lawyer and teacher, vows to seek legislation protecting the elderly, strengthen regulations over HMOs and protect rent control and stabilization laws.
In the neighboring 46th Assembly District, freshman Adele Cohen faces a challenge from Michael Levine, head of the local community board. Cohen was elected this year to fill the vacant seat of Jules Polonetsky, who became the city’s consumer affairs commissioner. While she is backed by the county party, she is on hostile terms with members of the local Democratic club, which made no endorsement in her last race.
The power struggle between the Kings County Democratic party chaired by Assemblyman Clarence Norman of Crown Heights and Canarsie Assemblyman Anthony Genovesi (who has unsuccessfully attempted to wrest control of the party) plays a role in many races taking place in Brooklyn.
One of them is the all-Jewish race for district leader in the 41st Assembly District in Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend and Flatbush. Democrats in each district elect a male and female member of the state committee. A rift between male leader Lew Fidler and his female counterpart, Renee Hauser, a 16-year veteran, has led them to seek new running mates and run against each other. Challenging Fidler, who is president of the Brooklyn College Hillel Foundation, is Alan Rocoff, who is counsel to the county Democratic organization. Fidler has drafted Tara Heino Ebbin to run against Hauser. Rocoff is a former member of the Jewish Defense League who has served in the Israel army.
Fidler’s alignment with Genovesi, and Hauser’s with Norman, has affected their ability to work together and maintain services in the community, insiders say. Each blames the other for the rift.
Genovesi and Norman are also backing opposing candidates for Civil Court. Norman backs Alan Drezin, while Genovesi supports Lauren Schiffman.
In other races affecting Jewish communities, 20-year veteran Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs of the 42nd district in central Flatbush, faces a challenge from Samuel Nicholas, a cousin of alleged police brutality victim Abner Louima, and another member of the area’s growing Carribean-American community, Rock Hackshaw.
In the 10th Congressional district, which includes Williamsburg, Rep. Edolphus Towns faces a challenge by Barry Ford. Towns, too, has been feuding with Norman, who himself is challenged by James Davis, a police officer, in Crown Heights.