Councilman Noach Dear, an ardent backer of President Bill Clinton in New York, will not back Clinton’s wife for Senate here, The Jewish Week has learned.
Dear is planning to support Mayor Rudolph Giuliani should he enter the race to succeed Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2000, according to sources close to Dear.
Dear has raised millions of dollars in the Orthodox community for the two Clinton campaigns and is likely to do the same for Vice President Al Gore in 2000. He traditionally backs Democratic candidates, but supported Giuliani’s re-election in 1997.
Dear, who represents Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn, said he had yet to make an official announcement of his endorsement. The councilman, who hopes to launch a second bid for the House of Representatives at the same time the Senate race is being waged, may be hoping for a return endorsement from Giuliani, who won Dear’s district overwhelmingly in all three of his bids for City Hall. Backing the first lady, who is unpopular among many Orthodox Jews, might also harm Dear’s prospects.
The director of Giuiani’s Senate exploratory committee, Bruce Teitelbaum, said "We’ve enjoyed a close working relationship with the councilman, and should the mayor decide to run we would welcome his support, like we would welcome the support of any elected official."
Dear’s reputed endorsement is only the latest sign that should the first lady run here, as is increasingly likely, she would face concerted opposition in some segments of the Jewish community. This week, right-wing supporters of Israel were up in arms that Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, is honoring Clinton (who has called for Palestinian statehood) with its Henrietta Szold Award (see Capital column, page 30). And another Borough Park pol, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, has been blasting Clinton as pro-Palestinian.
"A lot of people will be concerned about her statement about a Palestinian state," said Abraham Biederman, a former city commissioner and well-connected Orthodox activist. "It definitely indicated a mindset that people find troubling. A New York senator should be at the forefront of the pro-Israel community."
The impact of this opposition is unclear. "I don’t think she’s writing off the Orthodox community," said Ester Fuchs of the Center for Urban Policy at Columbia University. "The question is whether Orthodox leaders give her an opportunity to present her agenda and her stands on the issues, or fall lockstep behind Rudy Giuliani, if he runs."
Sheldon Silver, the Orthodox speaker of the state Assembly, said Clinton was likely to find plenty of Orthodox support. "The polls say that this is a horse race," said Silver, of the Lower East Side. "Her [Palestinian] statement dealt with something she perceived she had heard from Yitzchak Rabin. She has to explain to the public what her position is."
While Giuliani is sure to have ardent Jewish backing (as evidenced by hundreds of yarmulkes and kosher meals at his recent fund-raiser) polls show his overall popularity among the city’s Jews on the wane.
During the recent Amadou Diallo police shooting controversy, Jewish approval of Giuliani’s job performance fell to 64 percent from 76 percent in 1997, according to a Marist College poll. A Quinnipiac poll last month found only 58 percent approval among Jews.
Last year, there were so many Democrats running for statewide office that it was hard for reporters to keep track of them all, with four contenders for governor, four more for attorney general, three for lieutenant governor, and three for Senate.
But when it comes to next year’s Senate race, there is a massive deviation from politics as usual. The withdrawal of Rep. Nita Lowey last week paves the way for Clinton, the Illinois-born Arkansan, to sweep up the nomination primary-free. Critics say this not only deprives the party’s members of their right to choose their nominee, but it also deprives the public of a spirited debate on issues that can inform the general election.
At last week’s legislative breakfast of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty, some of the city’s most prominent Democrats scrambled to defend this turn of events.
"Democrats have had a lot of primaries over the years," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan. "The Republicans have had fewer. It will be an interesting change to see it the other way around this year. Sometimes a primary really hurts a party by diverting a lot of money and embittering things."
Nadler, who began his career in the state Assembly and flirted with his own Senate bid, said Clinton’s dedication was more important than her resume. "The question is not whether you work your way up … but, Can you persuade people that you’re the best person to do the job and care about their problems?"
Public Advocate Mark Green, a candidate in last year’s Senate race, said "what the party might lose in a primary debate we would gain in having a unified voice in debating this fall."
Manhattan Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a prominent Hillary booster who benefited from the first lady’s presence at her fund-raiser last week, said that although Clinton had no elective track record, she was a behind-the-scenes fighter for New York’s interests. "Those of us in the Women’s Caucus have a saying that if all else fails, call Hillary," said Maloney. "Then things that have been taken out of the budget reappear, legislation that has been stalled gains momentum."
Arguably placed in an awkward position as a Hillary defender is Sen. Charles Schumer, who last year ran heavily on his proven record of delivering for New York constituents as a state Assemblyman and congressman. In campaigning for Clinton, he would be arguing that someone never elected to office, who is heavily insulated from ordinary citizens, is equally qualified to join him in the Senate.
"She has lots of experience in many different ways," said Schumer on Sunday as he dashed from the breakfast to an appearance on ABC’s "This Week" to bolster the Clinton candidacy.