Assemblyman Dov Hikind, on trial for corruption, has told intimates that he is considering running his wife, Shoshana, in his place this fall if he is forced to withdraw from his re-election campaign, Borough Park and Democratic Party sources have told The Jewish Week.
But according to one widely respected local leader, if Hikind is convicted on any of the federal felony charges, “The community would be less supportive [of such a move] than he might imagine.”
“I can tell you there have been discussions among community leaders who have voiced concern that he might [designate his wife],” said this prominent Borough Park resident, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. “And they have informally resolved that should he do this, the community leadership would try to field a candidate not affiliated with Hikind.”
Attempts to reach Hikind for comment were unsuccessful. But the Borough Park leader’s account of Hikind’s intentions were echoed by high-level sources in the Democratic and Republican parties. Like many others interviewed, they would speak only on condition they not be identified.
Hikind, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on conspiracy, fraud and embezzlement charges, began circulating petitions last week to ensure his spot on September’s Democratic primary ballot for the Assembly seat covering Borough Park and part of Flatbush. He has represented the heavily Orthodox neighborhoods since 1982.
Hikind is unopposed and is expected to easily obtain the required 1,000 signatures of registered Democrats.
But for the first time, Hikind is also gathering signatures to place him on the ballot for Democratic Party leader in his district. And he has recruited a slate of loyalists on the same petition for each of the two committees that, depending on circumstances, would choose his successor should a prison sentence force him to withdraw.
One of these, the seven-member committee on vacancies, would choose a replacement for Hikind if he were to withdraw within three business days of the July 16 filing deadline. Hikind could conceivably do this if the jury, which is expected to have received the case well before then, was to return a guilty verdict by this date.
Under state election law, however, Hikind would not be automatically barred from his Assembly seat unless the judge imposed a sentence of at least one year and a day. Even if Hikind is found guilty, no sentencing decision is expected before the July filing period.
So as a sentence hovered over him, Hikind could decide to keep his name on the ballot regardless of the verdict. If a sentence were later to disqualify him, his name would still be there — and many believe the popular lawmaker, who currently faces no serious opposition from any other party, would still win.
In such an event, the governor would be obliged to call a special election to replace him. The Democractic nomination would then be decided by members of the Kings County Democratic Party Committee from Hikind’s district. This is the other committee that has been hand-picked by Hikind through the petitions he is circulating.
“I feel he’s going to be vindicated,” said Kings County Democratic Party chairman Clarence Norman. But if it turns out he isn’t, “There will be a committee on vacancies selected by Mr. Hikind. I’m sure there’d be communication with that committee, and they would take the appropriate action, consistent with Mr. Hikind’s wishes,” said Norman.
But as reports of Hikind’s fallback option involving his wife have spread, so has concern in some quarters of the community he represents.
“If he is exonerated, he will win re-election,” said the Borough Park source who said there had been leadership meetings on the issue. “But if he were convicted, the community would not want him to run, or to control who his successor is. Other candidates would emerge who would seek to distinguish themselves from him.
“It would be time for the community to step away from the perception its elected officials are not complying with the law.”
In fact, the Brooklyn branches of the Conservative and Republican Party are said to have selected a serious candidate to oppose Hikind if he is convicted. According to the candidate, who spoke on condition he not be identified before then, they are prepared to circulate petitions on his behalf immediately to meet the July 16 filing deadline in the event of such a verdict.
A veteran Brooklyn Democratic Party official said he was not surprised to hear about meetings in Borough Park reflecting such sentiments. Even a slate of committee members selected by Hikind would be influenced heavily by communal opinion in Borough Park, he said.
“While loyalty may be their motive in being on this petition,” he said, “I don’t think they have committed themselves to distancing themselves from the community in which they live to support the Hikind family at all costs.
“If the community leaders say there must be a clean break, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them follow. To assume otherwise is to assume they’re like a Mafia.”
None of this contradicts Hikind’s ongoing ability to marshal substantial political support in the community and among key Democratic Party figures.
At a fund-raising breakfast in Bay Ridge last month, Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-Manhattan), Assemblyman Dan Feldman (D-Brooklyn), state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-Brooklyn) and Norman, the Kings County party chairman, were among those to show up and voice solidarity with Hikind.
“Dov Hikind in a federal penitentiary would beat a Republican, or anyone else on the ballot,” one unnamed Democrat said in a published report.
Substantial numbers of community supporters have also answered Hikind’s call to come to the Brooklyn federal courtroom where he is on trial, and thereby show their support.
The trial observers speak fervently of Hikind’s long record on behalf of community residents in need and his leadership on causes they have held dear, such as Soviet Jewry.
“When someone [like Hikind] is in trouble, everyone rallies, because he’s been there for them,” said one veteran political observer from the community. “You’ve got to help; you feel bad for the person.”
Regular attendees have included Lena Cymbrowitz, a candidate for the Assembly seat being vacated by Feldman; Myrna Zisman, Gov. George Pataki’s chief of protocol; and Hikind’s brother, Pinchas Hikind, a frequent all-day trial observer who is also a senior official in the office of city Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
(David Neustadt, a spokesman for Hevesi, said, “Pinchas says he is not getting paid for any time he is at the trial. We don’t have clocks here. But our instructions to him were to do this accurately, and he says he has been.”)
Hikind himself projects an aura of unflappable confidence, telling friends that he will emerge more influential than ever after he is found innocent.
Still, it is clear the scandal has eroded support in some important quarters of Hikind’s once-powerful network of connections. At his trial this week, Terra Snowe, who managed Pataki’s gubernatorial campaign office in Brooklyn in 1994, testified that the campaign was directed by Hikind, with help from his codefendant, Rabbi Elimelech Naiman. Naiman’s charity, the Council of Jewish Organizations of Boro Park, provided some direct financial and in-kind support, she said.
But asked at the recent Republican State Committee convention in Manhattan if Hikind would play a role in his re-election effort this year, Pataki replied, “I don’t anticipate that.”
Staff writer Adam Dickter contributed to this report.