New Yorkers will make an unusual trip to the polls on a Thursday for this week’s primary because the original Tuesday date coincided with the anniversary of 9/11, on which politics is customarily eschewed.
As usual, there’s lots of action in Brooklyn as the fight heats up for the newly created “super-Jewish” state Senate district encompassing most of Flatbush and Borough Park.
Simcha Felder, a former councilman and current deputy New York City comptroller faces off for the Democrat nomination against Abraham Tischler, 21, a recent Touro College graduate and political novice.
Tischler’s younger brother, Moshe, 20, is also running for office as part of an apparent bid to build a new political dynasty. Moshe is challenging three-decade incumbent Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Although the two are long shots, their ability to collect signatures to get on the ballot — and willingness to take on local icons — suggests that a new generation of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn is eager to make its mark.
In 2010, Councilman David Greenfield, then 31, was elected to succeed Felder in the Council, beating Joseph Lazar, Hikind’s handpicked choice.
“People are tired, and they are sick of the same game of politics,” Abraham Tischler said Tuesday in a phone interview. “They are not being helped and they are being told by the same people they will accomplish the world for them, and nothing gets done. I want to send a message to the politicians.”
Tischler faulted Felder for his support of repealing term limits for 2009 incumbents, despite prior public referenda in favor of the limits.
Felder spokesman O’Brien Murray said Felder “has delivered for this district and provided parks and worked to provide jobs in the community and economic development. We’re very proud of his record and the community is well.”
Whoever wins the 17th “super district” primary battle will face Republican David Storobin, who was elected in a tight race earlier this year to succeed Democrat Sen. Carl Kruger, who went to jail for corruption.
Storobin is the second New York State legislator who was born in the former Soviet Union (after Assemblyman Alec Brook Krasny) and won with heavy support from Russian-speaking voters. The district that elected Storobin, however, is a far cry from the one on the newly redrawn Senate map.
“The lines are not favorable at all for Storobin,” says Republican political consultant Jonathan Greenspun. “They do not have the same high concentration of Russians — not even close. And while he has some limited support in the Orthodox Jewish community, it’s probably not enough to overcome a well-known entity like Simcha Felder.”
To hedge his bets, Felder is looking to the Conservative Party for a boost with right-leaning voters, who are abundant in the heavily Orthodox district. He’s asking party members to write in his name in Thursday’s primary. Storobin has been endorsed by that party’s Brooklyn wing.
“It’s a smart move,” said Greenspun. “Much like boxing, you don’t want to give your opponent any opportunity to breathe. Simcha is sending the message that he will try to be as aggressive as possible against Storobin.”
In another Brooklyn primary to watch, Democrat Ben Akselrod wants to become the third Russian-speaking member of the Legislature by unseating five-term incumbent Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz. Akselrod, 39, served as an aide to former Brooklyn State Sen. Seymour Lachman and is currently a manager at a Long Island nursing home.
He has attacked Cymbrowitz as not conservative enough for the district, which includes parts of Brighton Beach and Midwood, and all of Manhattan Beach and Gerritsen Beach.
“The demographics in the district have changed,” said Akselrod in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a coalition of various religious groups and immigrant groups that we are building, and it’s no longer politics as usual. [Cymbrowitz’s] mailings rehash the same things the Assembly is doing and he picks and chooses certain things he thinks will resonate.”
Cymbrowitz voted against last year’s same-sex marriage bill, saying he was obliged to follow the will of the majority of his constituents. He did not respond to a call for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
There’s also a heated race for Brooklyn’s 5th Municipal Civil Court District in Brooklyn with one candidate, Steve Mostofsky backed by Greenfield and another, Charles Finkelstein, backed by Hikind. Hikind and Greenfield have publicly mended fences since their 2010 battle, but this race could be a good indication of who has more pull in the area.
The third candidate in that race is Theresa Ciccotto.
Greenfield is backing Felder for the Senate seat and Hikind for re-election to the Assembly.
The sex-harassment scandal in the state Assembly isn’t going away any time soon, but even with two investigations probing the actions of Speaker Sheldon Silver, no one seems ready to write his political obituary.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, acting as special prosecutor in the case, has been ordered by a judge to expand his probe beyond Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s behavior toward female staff to include Silver’s actions in brokering a confidential settlement involving taxpayer cash.
At the same time, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is expanding its own investigation of the matter to include the actions of Silver, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in authorizing the settlement without informing the public.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to convene his own inquiry if the panel didn’t investigate to his satisfaction. But on Monday, Cuomo seemed to defend Silver on an Albany radio program hosted by Fred Dicker, insisting the agreement was not a secret payoff.
“[It was] not a deal done outside the checks and balances of government,” said Cuomo, as reported by the Capital New York website.
As Republicans call for Silver’s resignation, Cuomo appears eager to ensure he is not perceived as taking the matter lightly, while doing nothing overtly to weaken Silver, who was a close ally of his father, Mario, during his tenure as governor.
But it’s not just loyalty at play: Observers note that, with no clear successor, Silver’s downfall would ignite a leadership battle that Cuomo can’t afford as he pushes his agenda. Silver has proven capable of delivering the votes of his Democrat majority even on unpopular measures, such as a pension reform bill in March.
Silver has said that he welcomes the investigations, reasoning that being investigated and found to have committed no wrongdoing is better than having the matter fade and leaving a dark cloud.
“The speaker has the support of his conference, and as long as he does, everything will be fine,” said Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “[Cuomo] doesn’t want to lose a guy with two decades of protecting social services, who is highly effective. You can’t afford to start training [a successor.]”
Former Mayor Ed Koch, a fan of Silver, said he believed the speaker can stay in power, but that depends on what comes out of the investigations.
“If this is the first time he did this it will be OK, but not if it’s the 10th,” said Koch of the $103,000 settlement. “In politics there is rarely a first time for anything. I hope that’s what it was here.” Koch said that Silver is well liked by the Assembly members who believe he supports their interests.