Democratic State Assemblyman Dov Hikind says he wants to be a congressman. A Republican congressman. Hikind, a lifelong Democrat with a penchant for endorsing Republican candidates, said this week he is seriously considering throwing his hat into the ring on the Republican line for the Ninth Congressional District seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer, who represents parts of southern Brooklyn and Queens.
I’m excited about it,” Hikind said. “I will definitely make a decision by next week.”
Schumer is running for the U.S. Senate, and is engaged in a tight three-way Democratic primary fight for the right to run against Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.
That leaves Schumer’s seat wide open, and four Democratic politicians — all Jews — are vying for the party’s nomination: Assemblywoman Melinda Katz of Queens, and three from Brooklyn, Assemblyman Dan Feldman, Councilman Anthony Weiner, and Councilman Noach Dear, a longtime Hikind nemesis.
Into this fray could come Hikind, the Borough Park-based legislator who was recently acquitted on federal fraud and corruption charges in the COJO of Boro Park scandal. (One COJO official pleaded guilty and a second was found guilty in the case.)
Hikind told The Jewish Week that state Republican Party officials are very interested in him running for Congress under their banner in November.
For Republicans, the Hikind scenario would mean a recognizable name on their ticket who could pull supporters into the election booths and gain votes for D’Amato and Gov. George Pataki.
For Hikind, the Republican strategy means relatively easy access to a shot at Congress. Oddly, it would also allow Hikind to become the Democratic district leader — meaning he would get to choose future Democratic candidates. Hikind would have to give up his position as state assemblyman to run for Congress, but he would be able to choose his successor. He did not rule out selecting his wife Shoshana.
“I could choose the person to replace me,” he explained. “Maybe my wife, maybe Simcha Felder,” Hikind’s chief of staff.
Several things would have to take place before Hikind could run for Congress on the Republican line.
First, he would have to agree. He says he will make the final decision next week.But even if he approves, there is a potent obstacle: a Brooklyn lawyer named Leslie Jenkins has already been given the Republican line.
According to a state GOP spokesman, the only way to remove her from the ballot is death, or if she were nominated to a judgeship.
That would open up the slot for Hikind.
And because judicial nominations could be made as late as Sept. 22, that would technically give Hikind the luxury of waiting to see who wins the Democratic primary before deciding to jump in.
Political observers say the likeliest scenario would be Hikind going forward if his longtime rival Dear wins the primary — pitting two Orthodox Jewish candidates against each another.
For his part, Hikind sees no contradiction in being a GOP congressman and a Democratic boss.“I would remain a Democrat. I have no intention of changing parties,” he explained. “From the point of view of the Republican side, I would be a loyal person when it comes to stuff they need me for. I would be someone they could count on.”
Hikind even praised Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a favorite Democratic Party whipping boy and New York City basher.
“I happen to like Newt Gingrich. I don’t think Israel has a better friend in Congress.”
However, the irony of his situation does not escape Hikind, who has abandoned party loyalties several times to support Republicans such as D’Amato, Pataki and even former ally Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now considered a foe because of his alleged involvement in Hikind’s indictment last year.
Asked how either side could trust him, Hikind said, “People who know who I am and what I am all about, they will understand I will do things in a way that my conscience will allow.”
But some political experts see less conscience and more opportunism in Hikind’s potential move.
“He’s always treated political parties as instruments for his own career,” said Mitchell Moss, a New York University political professor.
Moss also said it shows the weakness of New York’s Democratic Party in disciplining its members. “[Hikind] has been able to maneuver between parties without penalty. He’s never been held accountable.”