David Greenfield’s victory Tuesday by a wide margin in a special election for a heavily Jewish Brooklyn City Council district could be a sign of generational shift in local ethnic politics, observers say.
Greenfield, 31, defeated Joseph Lazar, 61, by more than 2,000 votes out of about 12,000 cast in a race many expected to be tight. The two men, both Orthodox Jews, had heavy backing from local political figures in the community and the wider region.
“David put forth an argument that resonated with many young, first-time voters and appealed to their independent way of thinking, and that carried the day for him overwhelmingly,” said Borough Park-based political consultant Ezra Friedlander, who did not support a candidate in the race to succeed Simcha Felder.
Friedlander said he believed Lazar “wasn’t as creative in his presentation as David was. Joe was talking about [his] past experience, and people didn’t connect that experience with the future. People want to hear bold ideas and new ideas, even if they are unattainable. They want to know that you feel empathy, and David was able to transmit those feelings.”
Elected in 2001, Felder resigned just weeks into his third term when he was appointed a deputy to city Comptroller John Liu.
Voters in the district, which includes most of Borough Park and parts of Midwood and Bensonhurst chose Greenfield by a margin of 58 to 40 percent. The remainder of the vote went to a third candidate, Kenneth Rice, the only Republican on the ballot. The district includes heavily Catholic and Chinese communities as well as a substantial Orthodox presence. Greenfield will be the third consecutive Orthodox Jewish male to represent the district in City Hall.
“I’m humbled to have won every neighborhood in the district,” Greenfield told The Jewish Week on Wednesday.
He will resign as executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, a job that gave him a prominent lobbying platform in favor of tax breaks and other relief for parents who pay private school tuition, a key issue among Orthodox and Catholic voters. The federation was a key component of TeachNYS, a partnership of advocaJewish, Catholic and private school advocates.
“What really helped me in terms of TeachNYS is the coalition we put together of different communities to focus on an issue that affects everyone from disparate Jewish communities as well as the Catholic, black and Hispanic communities,” said Greenfield.
Lazar, a former official with the city’s Department of Buildings and state Office of Mental Health and currently a consultant, was ardently backed by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a powerful figure in Borough Park for nearly 30 years, as well as by Liu, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and many local legislators.
Greenfield was backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, Vito Lopez. He also got the endorsement of Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, for whom Greenfield was deputy director of finance when Lieberman ran for president in 2004.
Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who was not involved in the Council race, said the results suggested a “generation shift,” in that a young upstart was able to overcome the opposition of a powerbroker like Hikind, other local elected officials and community leaders and the Jewish Press newspaper, which endorsed Lazar.
“There may very well be a generational shift of power going on in Borough Park as with other ethnic groups such as blacks, Latinos, in which the old leaders may not be as powerful,” said Sheinkopf. “It may also in fact herald the arrival of the Sephardic community as not just a fundraising bloc but as a power bloc.”
Hikind had featured Lazar twice on his weekly radio program and in some interviews dismissed the record of Greenfield, who had briefly been his chief of staff in 2001. Greenfield told The New York Times he was in the process of quitting that job when Hikind fired him.
The councilman-elect on Wednesday morning said he had received a congratulatory call from Lazar and from many other elected officials, including Bloomberg, but had not heard from Hikind.
But he said he expected any bad feelings between them to dissipate as he assumed office.
“Campaigns by their very nature unfortunately get a little bit messy, and from my perspective as a candidate there was quite a bit of negativity out there,” said Greenfield. “But as an elected official I don’t take any of this personally. It’s our job to put these things aside. … I’m looking forward to our working together to improve the community.”
Lazar did not respond to several messages seeking comment on Wednesday. In a brief e-mailed statement, Hikind said "I wish Councilman-elect David Greenfield luck in his new capacity as the City Council representative for our community." A spokeswoman said he would have no further comment.
Sheinkopf said that Hikind will remain “a very powerful figure” in the district.
“This is not the best day for him, but never count this guy out. That would be a mistake.”
When asked if he expected a serious challenge in November’s election from the same forces that opposed him this time, Greenfield said, “What I’m focused on is doing a good job over the next year. I’m confident that people will be satisfied with the job I am doing.”