Turn on the TV in Brooklyn or Long Island and you’ll see former mayor Ed Koch praising Sen. Al D’Amato as “a real mensch.” Or you may see Holocaust survivor Estelle Sapir ask God to bless the Republican for helping her retrieve her father’s plundered fortune from Swiss bankers.
But in Buffalo, Albany or Binghamton, a less-congenial message is working for D’Amato: A trio of computer-generated sharks swims upstate as a voice warns that “Sheldon Silver and the New York City Democrats just picked a New York City liberal for every statewide office.” At one point in the commercial a shark is seen gobbling a dollar sign as the narrator warns of “higher taxes for us, more spending for them.”
Silver, speaker of the state Assembly, is an Orthodox Jew from Manhattan who has been frequently targeted by the Republicans in ad campaigns as the liberal standard-bearer of the state Democratic party. “Sheldon Silver is arguably the most powerful Democrat in the state,” says Terry O’Brien, a spokesman for the Republican State Committee, which paid for the ads. “He epitomizes the liberal Democratic philosophy.”
But a veteran Democratic media consultant, who asked not to be identified, noted that Sheldon Silver is “a very Jewish-sounding name.”
He added: “Why is Estelle Sapir only running in New York City? Isn’t D’Amato proud of his role [against the Swiss banks] upstate too?” As for the Koch ad, the consultant asked: “If Koch had been the nominee for governor, would D’Amato be attacking him upstate as a liberal, too?”
The spot was denounced as “hate-mongering” by Judith Hope, chair of the Democratic State Committee. “They are obviously trying to turn [Silver] into a sinister force, even though he is not on the statewide ticket,” said Hope. “They are pandering to the Jewish vote downstate while upstate inflaming public sentiment against the very people whose votes they seek.”
A Republican consultant, however, called Silver’s Jewishness “coincidental.”
“They would have done the spot even if his name was O’Silver,” said Jay Severin, who was not involved in the campaign. “It plays off the upstate-downstate rivalry.” But Severin conceded that “it’s a dirty little secret that ethnicity has always been a dimension in that rivalry.”
Silver did not return calls seeking comment. Earlier this year, when Republican state chair William Powers mailed out a fund-raising letter with Silver’s picture, warning of the prospect of a “Gov. Shelly Silver … unless we do something about it,” Silver said the letter was “part of a pattern” that suggested anti-Semitism. At the time, the Anti-Defamation League said Silver was “too sensitive.”
ADL reaction to the latest ad could not be obtained because of Rosh HaShanah. The media consultant retained by both D’Amato and Gov. George Pataki is Arthur J. Finkelstein, of Irvington, N.Y.In 1978, Finkelstein composed a controversial poll on behalf of South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Carroll Campbell in which voters were asked if they were concerned that Jewish opponent Max Heller rejected Jesus Christ as his savior. Finkelstein did not return calls.
Three Jewish women in Brooklyn handed out some major bruises to male opponents in last week’s Assembly primaries. Incumbent Democrats Rhoda Jacobs of Flatbush and Adele Cohen of Brighton Beach held onto their seats despite strong, organized opposition, while newcomer Lena Cymbrowitz took on the Brooklyn Democratic machine, whose candidate came in third in the race to succeed congressional candidate Dan Feldman.
Jacobs, who was concerned about two Caribbean-American challengers, won her 10th term by more than 1,600 votes, while Cohen, actively opposed by members of her own local Democratic club, won her first full term by a tight margin of 360 votes against challenger Martin Levine. Cohen was elected earlier this year to complete the term of Jules Polonetsky, who became consumer affairs commissioner. But she received a cold welcome from those loyal to Councilman Howard Lasher, whom Cohen unsuccessfully challenged in 1997.
Cymbrowitz defeated three male candidates, including Joel Garson, the choice of the Brooklyn Democratic organization; attorney Alan Sclar; and Arnold Wolsky. Cymbrowitz received 41 percent of the vote, beating Sclar by more than 500 votes in the low-turnout primary. (The Democratic nomination is tantamount to victory in these heavily Democratic districts.)
The triumph of Egyptian-born Cymbrowitz was hailed by the Sephardic Voters League in Brooklyn, which endorsed her. “The balance of power in the southern end of Brooklyn does not lie with the political clubs, but with the Sephardim and Orthodox Ashkenazim,” said Gerry Wygoda, chairman of the League. “We endorsed 12 candidates, of which 10 won.”
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Eric Schneiderman handily dispatched Daniel O’Donnell for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring state Sen. Franz Leichter. Schneiderman received 67 percent of the vote.nFollowing a campaign to prevent hate groups from renting space at City University of New York facilities, state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-Brooklyn) is praising acting CUNY Chancellor Christoph Kimmich for initiating a review of related policy.
The action follows a conference in May at Brooklyn College, in which an Arab group made “virulently anti-Semitic comments,” according to Lachman. In a letter to Lachman, Kimmich said he was directing the Council of Presidents’ Committee on External Relations to “review existing policies and make recommendations.”
“The chancellor’s decision is a good first step,” said Lachman, a former CUNY dean. “I am hopeful that the colleges will now devise a policy to scrutinize these groups.”