Expect few surprises as New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in an unusual primary held only two years after the last citywide election.
The races for City Council were prompted by district changes based on the decennial census. Candidates for Civil Court also will be chosen.
Most Council members who face primary challenges are likely to cruise to re-election, observers say.
"Many of these are non-races," said Henry Stern, a former councilman and parks commissioner who now heads New York Civic, a good government group. "If the incumbent is strong enough to get elected in 2001 when he was a nobody, now that he’s been in office two years he is even stronger."
There are a few exceptions to the easy-win prediction in these Democratic primaries, such as Council member Alan Jennings of Queens, who has run afoul of the borough’s party machine and was nearly thrown off the ballot. He’s back after a court fight, and faces Inderjit Singh and Yvonne Reddick.
"Jennings could lose this one," said Democratic political consultant Norman Adler, who is not involved in any Council races. The district includes Jamaica, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. Jennings won the ’01 primary by more than 1,000 votes.
Another race to watch in Queens is in the district that includes Kew Gardens Hills and Fresh Meadows. Councilman James Gennaro faces challengers David Reich and Florence Fisher. Although Reich is a member of the area’s Orthodox community, Gennaro has assembled a coterie of dozens of Jewish elected officials, rabbis and lay leaders.
"A lot of people on that list tell me they are voting for me but were pressured to put their names down," said Reich, an aide to Brooklyn State Sen. Seymour Lachman. Reich, who ran for the same seat in 2001, is given an outside chance.
Also in Queens, a race heavy with ethnic overtones pits challenger Isaac Sasson against incumbent John Liu. Sasson, a Syrian immigrant, would be the first Sephardic Jew on the Council, while Liu is the first and only Asian elected official.
In June, Sasson was attacked by Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Liu supporter, for a mailing on Sassonís behalf that asked voters to support candidates who will represent "our values and our way of life." Sasson told Newsday last week that a Chinese-language newspaper had recently referred to him as "Jewish candidate Sasson."
Also worth watching is the spirited race in the Washington Heights/Inwood district of Manhattan held by Miguel Martinez, who faces Ydanis Rodriguez and Roberto Lizardo. On the East Side, Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, a two-term veteran and chair of the Council’s Education Committee, faces Jacob Karabo.
In Brooklyn, Williamsburg Councilwoman Diana Reyna faces a serious challenge from Juan D. Martinez.
"This could be the tightest race in the city," said Adler, noting that Reyna won the Democratic primary in 2001 against Martinez by barely more than 500 votes.
Reyna is supported by the area’s powerful assemblyman, Vito Lopez, while Martinez has the backing of Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Ed Towns. After January, the reapportioned district will include the Ridgewood area of Queens.
In the Midwood and East Flatbush sections of Brooklyn, incumbent Kendall Stewart faces Omar Boucher, Erlene King and Samuel Taitt. Councilman Lew Fidler of Marine Park and Canarsie, who faces no primary himself, has been working to gather Jewish support for Stewart, and endorsements are expected this week from area rabbis.
In East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant, incumbent Charles Barron, who has livened up Council debates on Israel with his support for Palestinians, faces a challenge from Derek Booker. Barron’s district has been changed to include a sizable Jewish population in Starrett City, formerly part of Fidler’s district.
Court rulings have prevented a confrontation in two of Brooklyn’s most heavily Jewish areas. In Borough Park, former Councilman Noach Dear was knocked off the ballot by his successor, Simcha Felder, ending Dearís quixotic bid to redefine the city’s term limits law.
The state’s Court of Appeals removed Tony Eisenberg from the ballot in Brighton Beach in a dispute over his residence. Lower courts rejected a prior bid to oust him over a name change. Incumbent Dominic Recchia still faces a Republican challenger in November, while Felder is effectively re-elected.
In February, Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan caused a stir when he told a radio interviewer that passing a resolution against the war in Iraq was difficult in New York because "it will not be in the best interests of the State of Israel."
Jackson insisted the remark was taken out of context, and Jewish colleagues were quick to defend him from suggestions that he was anti-Semitic.
Last month, Jackson was one of two Council members to visit Israel as a guest of the Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation. The mission also included several members of Congress and ethnic community leaders. The other Council member was Gale Brewer of the Upper West Side.
The group met for 90 minutes with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and had a firsthand view of terrorism when a bus exploded while they were in Jerusalem. Mission participants later visited victims at Hadassah Hospital and took a look at the security fence Israel is building on the West Bank border.
"It was going very well until the bombing occurred," said Jackson of his first visit to the Jewish state. "For a country only 50 years old, the development was fantastic overall."
Jackson said he told Sharon that "no one can blame you or the people of Israel for defending yourself" from terrorists. A meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was canceled, he said, because of concerns that Israel would strike back at the Palestinian Authority during their visit.
Jackson, whose district includes Washington Heights, Inwood and West Harlem, said the Iraq controversy last winter "may be part of the reason" he was invited on the mission by Michael Miller, the JCRC’s executive vice chairman and delegation guide. But Jackson added, "The comments I made said nothing about Israel not having a right to defend itself, or about the people of Israel."
The councilman, who faces Victor Armando Arnace in Tuesday’s primary, said he was glad to have made the trip because "there is a different perspective when someone visits a location themselves and gets a feel and a sense from actually seeing things and talking to people who are there."
For the same reasons, he said, he has told friends that he would accept an invitation for a similar mission sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, if one was extended.