The strong Jewish showing for Republican candidates in recent elections is no cause for concern, says the new chair of the state Democratic Party.
“I’m not accepting that they’re gone,” said Herman D. Farrell, who succeeded Judith Hope on Monday at a time of introspection for the party. “You stick with someone because when you get down to basic issues, you believe in what you see. A large percentage of our issues are those the Jewish community views as important.”
A majority of Jews, who once viewed voting Democrat as an 11th commandment, have voted for the Republican in each of the past four mayoral elections and have crossed party lines heavily in statewide elections, notably last year’s Senate race. Hillary Rodham Clinton won only a small majority of the vote in that contest even though the vast majority of Jews in the state voted Democrat for president.
In an interview, Farrell said Jews would return to the Democratic fold because of their interest in issues such as education and civil liberties.
Asked what the party and its standard bearers could do to stem widespread Jewish defection, Farrell said: “I don’t accept that premise.”
The Manhattan assemblyman’s comments contrast with those of his predecessor after the 1997 mayoral election, in which Democrat Ruth Messinger won only 25 percent of the Jewish vote.
“If we have to fight harder for the Jewish vote, we are prepared to do so,” Hope told The Jewish Week at that time. “I do think that in some Jewish communities a perception has been created that the Democratic Party has strayed too far to the liberal wing. I am very mindful of that concern.”
Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf is among those who believe the party has a problem retaining the traditional Jewish loyalty to the party.
“We have to find a reason to get Jews to stay in the Democratic column,” he said. “Jews are becoming more conservative in their voting patterns, and Democrats have to figure out how to get them back.”
Farrell, a close ally of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, takes the helm at a time when segments of the party are fractured by a divisive mayoral primary. But in his inaugural speech, the new chair said ethnic divisions that arguably cost the Democrats their shot at City Hall reflected the diversity of the party, which he called its greatest asset.
“The Republicans don’t have [divisions] because they can’t find an ethnic to fight with,” he said.
Farrell attributes the loss of Democrat Mark Green, whom he supported in the primary, to “Giuliani Democrats.” He said a TV spot in which the mayor spoke wholeheartedly about his endorsement of Mike Bloomberg was a prime factor in the outcome.
“That commercial was deadly,” he told reporters following his election Monday at the Sheraton in Midtown.
Although many Democrats have criticized Bronx Democratic chairman Roberto Ramirez and the Rev. Al Sharpton for failing to support Green, Farrell points out that a large majority of blacks and a slim majority of Latinos voted Democrat.
“A majority of voters that didn’t vote for Mark were white,” he said.
Some speculate that the appointment of Farrell as the first African-American chair was meant to address the divisions in the party, drawing minority voters turned off by the bitter primary back to the fold.
“It’s a brilliant appointment,” said Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel. “It frankly prevents the party from being divided by the likes of the Al Sharptons and the Roberto Ramirezes … We cannot allow people who divided the party to move into the power vacuum and pick up the pieces. The fact that [Farrell] is African American shows that the party is reaching out and being all inclusive.”
But Farrell said he hadn’t considered those factors.
“I’ve got 40 million other things to think about,” he said as he headed upstate for a fund-raiser.
Mayor-elect Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki are scheduled to leave Saturday morning for a whirlwind, one-day solidarity trip to Jerusalem.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was also considering a visit, prompted by last week’s Palestinian terror spree.
“Once again terrorists have struck, and since people around the world came to New York and expressed their outrage and their sympathy with us, I think it’s appropriate that we go and do exactly the same thing in Israel,” said Bloomberg, who was to make the trip in his private jet.
The itinerary calls for only about 12 hours on the ground, with visits to government officials and wreath-laying at the bombing sites.
# “They all have a lot to do [at home], but they recognize the importance of this kind of expression of solidarity,” said Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “A 24-hour visit makes it possible.”r
State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been trying for two years to halt the New York fund raising of a Texas-based charity allegedly tied to Hamas, whose U.S. assets were frozen by the president Tuesday.
Spitzer ordered his charities bureau to investigate the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in 1999 following reports that the group provided funds to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, like the ones that killed 25 Israelis in Jerusalem and Haifa last weekend.
“There was a sufficient volume of information to warrant an investigation,” Spitzer said Tuesday. “Thereafter, we had to litigate” to obtain documents from the foundation.
In July 1999, Spitzer’s office wrote the Internal Revenue Service, calling on the government to use its investigative powers to probe the group’s Hamas ties. He never received a reply.
Officials said President George W. Bush accelerated efforts to crack down on the Holy Land group and two others, which had been under way for months, after last weekend’s bloodshed.
The group took in $13 million in the U.S. last year, according to Spitzer’s office, but did not file documents listing how the money would be spent.
Holy Land officials could not be reached for comment, but investigative journalist Steve Emerson, who specializes in terrorist issues, said there was “not a shred of doubt that the Hamas leadership and the Holy Land Foundation are the same, and money was sent to the West Bank and Gaza and used for terrorism.”
“The question is,” Emerson said, “why didn’t the previous administration carry this out?”r
As if launching a second bid for lieutenant governor wasn’t stressful enough, Sandra Frankel has an additional source of worries: Her daughter, Dr. Janice Block, will be making aliyah with her family in March.
Frankel, supervisor of the upstate town of Brighton, in Monroe County, said that while this week’s round of terrorism had increased her anxiety, she had not tried to dissuade her daughter, a pediatrician.
“I’m proud of her and respect her commitment,” she said at Monday’s fall business meeting of the state Democratic Committee in Midtown, essentially a kickoff for the 2002 statewide primary contests.
As for her stress level, Frankel said she had already run successfully for re-election as supervisor, in a tight race, with the knowledge that her daughter, son-in-law David and three grandchildren were bound for the troubled Middle East.
“My doctor tells me that my blood pressure is just fine,” she said.