With the mayoral race in its infancy, the two leading candidates are making early pitches for support among chasidic voters.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid a visit last week to the grave of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, while a likely challenger, Democrat Fernando Ferrer, prominently featured a photo of himself with Williamsburg chasidim on his campaign Web site.
In Ferrer’s case, the move backfired when two men in the picture objected, saying the photo implied an endorsement, highly premature at this stage.
Mayoral contenders often court chasidic voters because they tend to turn out as a large bloc for candidates who win the backing of their leaders.
Ferrer narrowly lost the 2001 runoff to then public advocate Mark Green, and this year could be in a primary with several candidates,
including Jewish Queens congressman Anthony Weiner.
Ferrer, who has emerged as the frontrunner in recent polls, has named Kalman Yeger, an Orthodox former aide at the borough president’s office, as executive director of his campaign committee.
A montage greeting visitors to the Ferrer 2005 Web site last week included an image of Ferrer speaking with several Williamsburg chasidim, believed to have been taken several years ago.
Sources said one of the men, Israel Fromowitz, a member of the Wein sect in Williamsburg, asked that the photo be removed. Fromowitz, a nursing home administrator, declined to comment when contacted by phone.
A Ferrer spokesperson, Jen Bluestein, said the pictures would be changed.
“It was always our intention to rotate them frequently and we will begin doing that immediately,” said Bluestein. “We never intended them to be seen as individual endorsements of Freddy’s candidacy, but rather a representation of the diversity of the city which Freddy loves.”
Rabbi Joseph Webber of the Pupa sect, who also appears in the photo, told The Jewish Week the photo was “unauthorized” and that he would like to see it removed.
Visits to chasidic leaders are standard itinerary fare in New York campaigns, but Bloomberg may well be the first incumbent to pay a call on a deceased rebbe.
The mayor stopped by Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens on Nov. 11 after addressing a homeowners association in the surrounding community of Cambria Heights. He recited a prayer in Hebrew and left a note for the rebbe.
Jonathan Greenspun, the mayor’s commissioner of the Community Assistance Unit, said the mayor did not disclose the contents of the note, only that it was “a personal request on behalf of the 8 million people of New York City.”
Chanina Sperlin, a political activist in the Crown Heights Lubavitch community, said the mayor had expressed interest in attending a mass commemoration of the Rebbe’s 10th yahrzeit at the cemetery last summer but was told that a later, personal pilgrimage might be better. Greenspun said the visit to Cambria Heights presented an opportunity to accept the invitation. At the cemetery the mayor also visited the graves of other Lubavitch figures and Ari Halberstam, the teenager shot to death in the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge terrorist attack.
Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano was in a bind this week over a Palestinian group’s rental of a county-owned conference center in White Plains for an art auction Saturday night.
The event, featuring work by Palestinian artists, is intended to raise money to import a controversial exhibit that appeared in Houston to a New York museum, as yet unnamed.
The Houston exhibit, “Made in Palestine,” reportedly featured anti-Israel images, including an Arab headscarf encased in a star of David made of barbed wire, and unflattering caricatures of Ariel Sharon.
Acting on the belief that those works would be in the Westchester display, Assemblyman Ryan Karben of nearby Rockland County called for the event to be cancelled because it “promotes terrorism and violence,” he said in a statement. Assemblywoman Sue Paulin of Scarsdale also called for a cancellation.
Spano initially said he would review the exhibit, but later said interfering would violate the First Amendment. In a letter to Joel Levy, regional director of the Ant-Defamation League, Spano’s chief advisor, Susan Tolchin said the executive would condemn any portion of the exhibit that is “anti-Israel or pro-violence” but “concern over the exhibit has to be balanced against free speech and expression.”
Levy told The Jewish Week he agreed that the show could not be canceled.
Nada Khader of Westchester People’s Action Coalition, a cosponsor of the event, said she had rounded up several area rabbis to defend the group’s right to hold the exhibit.
“It saddens me that there are public officials who pretend to be the voice of all Jews, trying to suppress the First Amendment rights of another ethnic group,” said Khader, who said members of her group have a variety of views on the Middle East peace process.
Karben isn’t backing down, noting that images from the controversial exhibit — which reportedly was rejected by several major museums — will be on electronic display at the Westchester auction.
“The county should never have signed an agreement with this group,” said Karben, who viewed the anti-Israel images on the Internet.
Eliot Spitzer used to quip that the AG (for attorney general) can also stand for aspiring governor. He can aspire more freely now that Sen. Charles Schumer has ruled out an Albany bid in 2006, in what The New York Post called an early Chanukah present for Spitzer.
Although political reporters may have dreamed of a bruiser of a primary between the two heavyweights, the development is pure joy to the state’s Democratic party, already enthused about gains in the legislature and the solid blue presidential returns.
Spitzer may still face a primary with Westchester’s Spano, who hopes to appeal to suburbanites, but Spitzer’s national profile has made him increasingly formidable.
“Spitzer is going to be our next governor,” said Jerry Goldfeder, a Democratic activist who was a Manhattan district leader for 15 years. “He is the overwhelming choice of all stripes of Democrats, and his very solid record will undoubtedly appeal across the political spectrum in the General Election.”
But Ezra Friedlander, a PR and political consultant, points out that early optimism has led to recent disappointment.
“When a frontrunner emerges two years before an election, he is by no means assured that he’ll win,” said Freidlander. “Look at Howard Dean.”
Still to be seen is whether Republican Gov. George Pataki will seek a fourth term. He said this week he had made no decisions.
# Line Items:Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will lead a delegation of elected officials from across the country to Israel in mid-December, organized by the America-Israel Friendship League.
# State Comptroller Alan Hevesi will soon announce an investment of $50 million in State of Israel bonds.
# Williamsburg activist Isaac Abraham is gearing up for a bid to become the first chasidic City Council member if incumbent David Yassky runs for Brooklyn district attorney, as expected.