A Jewish political group in Crown Heights has endorsed third-party candidate Letitia James over a member of their own chasidic community, Abraham Wasserman, in what could be the cityís most dramatic City Council race next week.
The nod from the Crown Heights Jewish Political Action Committee helps solidify a broad coalition backing James, an African American who has been endorsed by a wide range of politicians from Brooklyn Rep. Major Owens, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall to McCallís successor, Alan Hevesi, Queens Councilwoman Melinda Katz and former Mayor Ed Koch.
James, running on the Working Families ballot, faces Wasserman on the Conservative line, Republican Anthony Herbert and Democrat Geoffrey Davis. Davis is seeking to fill the seat held by his brother, James, who was murdered by a rival on July 23.
The Crown Heights PAC endorsed Wasserman in the 2001 race won by James Davis. This time around, the group says it is impressed with James’ work with different segments of a diverse community that picked up a reputation (undeserved, to most residents) for racial strife in the early 1990s.
“[James] has helped our community on a lot of different issues” as an aide to Assemblyman Roger Green and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said Hanina Sperlin, chairman of the Crown Heights PAC.
Jews are believed to cast about 10 percent of the vote in the district.
Sperlin said the 15 members of his committee met with Geoffrey Davis but decided that, despite their close bond with the slain councilman, “He cannot feel that this seat belongs to him because it belonged to his brother.”
Davis has made statements that he wants to continue his brother’s warm relationship with the districtís Jewish community and pro-Israel activism, but Sperlin said “he doesn’t come across as someone you can trust.”
The initial widespread support for Davis began to dissipate late this summer as reports emerged about his criminal record. Many Council members have stood by him, however, out of apparent respect for their slain colleague. The four-way race is widely seen as a contest between Davis and James, who came within about 900 votes of winning the seat in 2001. Wasserman drew 1,754 votes out of more than 14,000 in 2001.
On Tuesday Wasserman declined to address the PAC’s endorsement of his opponent, but said he still believed he had “a large base of support, not only in Crown Heights but in other areas of the 35th District.”
In one of the more pointed attacks this campaign season, Republican candidate Michael Cohen is blasting his opponent, East Side Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, for chronic absence.
“She just doesn’t show up,” said Cohen, a lawyer and taxi fleet owner. “She’s missed 20 percent of the meetings and that’s way too much.”
Moskowitz gave birth to a son earlier this year, but says that while she missed some sessions, she appeared at City Hall for crucial meetings and votes, and has kept up her constituent duties.
“I didn’t stop doing city work during that time,” said Moskowitz. “I worked from home.”
Cohen says Moskowitz should make time for the meetings.
“They only meet one afternoon every second week,” he said. “She’s also the chair of the education committee, and that’s important.”
Moskowitz, who notes that she has sponsored seven bills that became law during her tenure, including a family leave act for city workers, says it’s “disappointing” that Cohen “doesn’t seem to support maternity leave for women. I wonder if he allows it for his own employees.”
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Jewish Republican politicians in New York have historically been about as rare as Jewish NBA stars. But there’s a bumper crop this year running in several City Council and judicial races.
“I think we’re seeing a tremendous drift in New York City and around the country,” said Joshua Yablon, a GOP Council candidate on the Upper West Side. “Jews from birth are hard-wired to register Democrat, but as they grow [many] choose views that are more in line with Republicans.”
Yablon, 29, a talent agent who is challenging Democrat Gale Brewer, says heís been a Republican since 1994 and chose the party for ideological reasons, not simply to avoid a Democratic primary, as in the case of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Jay Golub, who is challenging the Lower East Side’s councilwoman, Margarita Lopez, is a vice president of Manhattan’s Republican organization who ran unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2001. This time around, the Jewish areas have been shifted to another district. Aware of the long odds (there are 9,000 Republicans and 63,000 Democrats in the district) Golub, a dentist, says he’s running to send a message about cutting taxes and reducing city spending.
He says his party needs to change its image if it hopes to attract more Jews.
“If Jewish voters are still voting Democrat, it’s our fault because we’re not getting our message out,” said Golub. “The image is pro-life and anti-gay, and that’s not really true in local races.”
There has not been a Jewish Republican in the City Council since Stanley Isaacs last served in 1961.
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If this year’s results aren’t dramatic enough, political junkies on election night can tune into the Sundance Channel on Time Warner cable to relive the tumultuous 2001 mayoral contest.
At 11 p.m. Tuesday, the channel will air the documentary “Off The Record,” Jonah Green’s inside look at the campaign of his father, Democratic nominee Mark Green.
Highlights of the raw footage include a phone conversation in which the notoriously self-confident Mark Green boasts of his New York Times endorsement until someone in his car hands him a note that says “Say something modest”; daughter Jenya Green telling her father it’s time to “open a can of whoop-ass” as he shifts from the primary to the runoff with Ferrer; numerous scenes of the Greens watching TV coverage of the race; and the family consoling themselves with chocolate chip cookies baked by Green’s wife, Denni Frand, after he narrowly lost the general election to the Republican billionaire Bloomberg.
“Off The Record” covers all the bases in the eventful campaign, especially the 9-11 terror attack that changes everything. But the film does a better job of highlighting the closeness of the Green family than it does chronicling the historic race and its implications.
Check cable listings for additional airdates.