Brooklyn voters were treated to an unusual spectacle last year when Assemblyman Dov Hikind went all out to help former Councilman Noach Dear win a newly created state Senate seat.
"I did everything possible to help him win," Hikind recalls.
The turn of events seemed to be a turning point in the relationship between the city’s best-known Orthodox politicians, both Borough Park Democrats, who rarely seemed to have anything in common other than their shared constituency and are often considered rivals.
Dear, who was forced out of the City Council by term limits, later finished third in the Senate primary won by Kevin Parker.
Now Dear is seeking to get back his old job by challenging Hikind protege Simcha Felder, who won the Borough Park Council seat in 2001.
And a furious Hikind is calling Dear "delusional" while questioning whether he is being truthful to the public.
"He’s running today, but I don’t know if he’ll be running two weeks from now," said Hikind, citing a recent revision to the city’s term limits law that restricts former officials from running for their old jobs. "It’s important for people who are contributing [to Dear] to be aware that it is far from certain that he is going to be able to run."
City Council elections usually are every four years, but this year they will be held after two years because of redistricting. A revision by the City Council of the term limits law voters approved by referendum allows five members who have served less than two four-year terms to seek re-election this year.
But the same revision says officials kicked out by term limits must wait four years to run again. Dear has hired election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder to defend him against any attempt to keep him off the ballot.
Goldfeder, a law professor at Fordham University, believes Dear will be able to run because only the section pertaining to incumbents who have served less than eight years was addressed in a court battle over the revision, which was upheld on appeal after it was struck down by a lower court.
"The law as it was written does not apply to people in Mr. Dear’s situation," insists Goldfeder.
In an interview Dear, currently a member of the Taxi and Limousine Commission and a legal consultant, declined to directly critique Felder’s performance, but said: "People still come to me over the last two years as if I were still the elected official. They know the work I have done, that I respond to communities and I am available 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, and that I will stand up and fight hard for the community."
Dear said he would not have supported the recent property tax increase and smoking ban, as Felder did.
Felder said Dear "served the community during the time he was in office. However, the people voted for term limits for a reason and the courts upheld the law. Everyone has to abide by it."
Hikind was less restrained, noting that other former Council members who have eyed a comeback seem to accept that they are excluded this year.
"If he feels a little delusional, he has a right to feel that way," said Hikind. "I know that Noach needs a job, but is this the only thing he can do?"
Dear declined to respond to those statements. Dear if elected would have to move because his home was pushed outside the district in the last map change.
"I will have a legal residence in the district," he said.
As widely predicted, the stateís new kosher consumer protection measure passed by the Assembly Tuesday is largely based on the New Jersey version, which takes state authorities out of the enforcement business.
New York’s law was killed in February when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of lower court rulings that the law is constitutionally unkosher.
Under the latest Assembly bill, drafted in consultation with a panel of legal and rabbinic experts convened by Speaker Sheldon Silver and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, merchants would have to post a disclosure listing their kosher supervisor, whose credentials would be registered with the state.
"This bill shifts the burden to anyone who is holding out a product as kosher to explain what is kosher about it," said Assemblyman Ryan Karben of Rockland County, one of the bill sponsors.
The previous bill allowed state inspectors to issue fines to businesses that did not adhere to Orthodox standards. As of Tuesday, with only two days left of the legislative session, there was no Senate version of the bill. But it could still become law if the Senate adopts the Assembly version.
The state’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office, a division of the Banking Department, has recovered a fourth painting stolen by the Nazis from Dr. Ismar Littman, who committed suicide under Nazi persecution in Breslau, Silesia (now Poland) in 1934. Some 1,000 pieces in his collection were either confiscated by the Nazis for display as "degenerate art" or sold at what was known as a "Jew auction" in Berlin. Littman’s daughter, Ruth Haller of Israel, filed a claim with the state Banking Department in 1998.
The painting returned Tuesday was "La Procession" by French artist Lucien Adrion. Banks Superintendent Diana Taylor praised the Ernest Strassman Foundation in Germany, which had acquired the painting, for withdrawing it from a planned sale "as soon as they learned of its provenance."
Gov. George Pataki called the recovery "a small but important step in seeking justice for Dr. Littman and his family" and other Holocaust victims.
Jewish readers of "Living History," the memoir by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that has earned a mention or two in the press, may find a few references of particular interest.
In one chapter, the former first lady writes that the famous handshake between Yitzchak Rabin and Yasir Arafat was anything but spontaneous. Discussing President Bill Clintonís efforts to persuade Rabin, Clinton wrote that the Israeli "agreed, as long as there would be no kissing, a common Arab custom … Before the ceremony, Bill and Yitzhak engaged in a hilarious rehearsal of the handshake, with Bill pretending to be Arafat as they practiced a complicated maneuver that would prevent the Palestinian leader from drawing too close."
Clinton also recalls her early attempts to bond with Suha Arafat, who would later nearly derail her Senate bid with inflammatory remarks about Israel while Clinton listened in Gaza. During an earlier, uncomfortable meeting the two had little to talk about other than their daughters. As for the infamous 1999 kiss, Clinton wrote that Suha’s nastiness was lost in the translation from Arabic.
"Had I been aware of her hateful words, I would have denounced them on the spot," she wrote. (At least one reporter who was present has said the remarks were clear.)
In another chapter, she recalled at age 10 seeing numbers tattooed on a former POW’s arm and learning that the Nazis did the same to European Jews at concentration camps.
"I knew that my grandmother Della’s [second] husband, Max Rosenberg, was Jewish and I was horrified that someone like him could have been murdered because of his religion," she wrote.
Discussing the Senate campaign, Clinton wrote that "knowledgeable New Yorkers" advised her that she could not win in the state because she wasn’t Irish, Italian, Catholic or Jewish, and "an ethnic identity was imperative in such a diverse state."
Could the Festival of Lights soon be joined by the Festival of Ultra Lights?
A group of disgruntled smokers, feeling increasingly threatened in the Bloomberg era, is seeking recognition as a religious group to win protection for their habit.
"ìIf the notion of smoking tobacco as a religious sacrament sounds odd to you, consider that many Native Americans belong to religions that have rituals involving smoking," said "Reverend" Robert Porter, founder of People United for Freedom, in a statement recently distributed in front of City Hall.
PUFF is seeking lawyers (pro bono) to insure that "those who wish to participate in the Holy Sacrament of smoking do not have their constitutional rights taken away."
Although unlikely to gain widespread adherence (or homage via alternate-side parking suspensions), PUFF might have a good argument for religious piety. After all, its members often congregate in large groups, give up a large share of their income and are likely to meet their Creator sooner than the rest of us.