He’s got experience. He’s got money. But for a Brooklyn guy and Harvard graduate who is known to journalists as a media hound, Charles Schumer is working feverishly to raise his name recognition across New York State among loyal Democratic voters.
The nine-term congressman, you see, wants to be the Democratic candidate to run against Sen. Alfonse D’Amato next November.
To do that, Schumer must get more votes in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary than rivals Mark Green, New York City’s popular public advocate; and Geraldine Ferraro, most recently a political commentator for CNN and a former congresswoman perhaps best known as the vice presidential candidate in Walter Mondale’s failed presidential bid in 1982.
Ferraro has consistently shown higher name recognition, but in recent days, Schumer appears to be closing the gap with massive spending on television commercials.
In the most recent campaign disclosure, Schumer had $7 million in his war chest compared to $1.1 million each for Ferraro and Green.
Schumer’s opponents argue that it would be odd if he didn’t get a bump in the polls from the huge spending on television advertising. But in an interview with The Jewish Week Monday, Schumer contended that it is not just major money, but his message of legislative accomplishments that will carry the day in the primary, and against D’Amato in November. Following are excerpts from the one-hour interview.
The Jewish Week: What does having all this money mean?
Shumer: I have just been talking, in my commercials, in my speeches, in my campaign stops about Chuck Schumer and his record. So far it has served me remarkably well. From virtually being unknown in large parts of this state and only being well known in one congressional district, this race has become neck-and-neck between Ferraro and myself. That’s been done by sticking to issues and the record. And I would say the same thing in the general [election.] Without money I could not have gotten that record across. But I’ll tell you, the converse is exactly true — that if I had money and no record, the campaign would not have taken off either. At the core of it is the record.
Why would a Jew vote against Al D’Amato? He has done so many good things for the Jewish community?
I think D’Amato has done some good things for the Jewish community. I compare my record to his on Jewish issues every step of the way. I work just as hard and just as long and I think more effectively than he does because when I speak in Washington people believe it is out of conviction, not simply out of political opportunity. I would say to the Jewish community something very simple: we are Jews and we are proud Jews. But we’re also Americans, and as an American, D’Amato should make us ashamed as to who our senator is.
He doesn’t represent us. (Schumer notes D’Amato’s record on gun control and a woman’s right to have an abortion, versus his own staunch support of both.) His voting record on so many issues is anti-New York and extreme.
Might it not be better to have a non-Jewish elected official advocating Jewish causes, like D’Amato?
Let me tell you a story. I was on the Senate floor one day and D’Amato was waving his arms and talking about Israel. And two senior Republicans were chuckling. And I went over to them and asked why. They laughed and said if there were a million Arabs in New York State D’Amato would be doing the same thing. I think people know when I speak for Israel it is out of conviction. I’m not so sure they think that’s true in Washington about D’Amato.
Has the Clinton administration been putting too much pressure on Israel to make progress in the stalled peace process?
I think that the administration in recent months is putting more pressure on Israel than on Arafat. Let’s go forward with the peace process, it’s so important to bring peace to Israel. But we should be careful. Yasir Arafat’s feet have to be held to the fire. I’m disturbed by pressure on Israel, but it’s worse when the world seems to look away when Arafat does his transgressions. I think it’s in the United States’ interest to have a strong Israel. I think that they first ought to not twist Israel’s arm so Israel does something that they think will injure her security.
What about our policy toward Iraq and Iran?I think we have not been strong enough with Iraq and Iran and with North Korea either, who often supplies these [terrorist] countries, and China as well. God forbid that a Saddam Hussein or Iranian despot has in his hands atomic weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, missiles with the capability of delivering these weapons to Israel. We don’t want to have one mistake. There’s not a second chance here. So you can’t be too strong against them, and I think we’ve tried to play too much of balancing act.
What about recent revelations that the U.S. has been trying quiet diplomacy with these countries?
I think that’s a terrible mistake. I think the administration is listening to me and starting to talk to me on how they can write their policy against these terrible despots.What’s you position on school vouchers?
I’m against vouchers. If we have vouchers, you’re going to get all sorts of groups whose interests is not in educating kids but in proselytizing kids using government money to run schools. I do not want to see three-quarters of the white kids in the South going to Christian Coalition schools. I don’t want to see a high percentage of kids in the inner city going to Nation of Islam schools. But I think if you had vouchers you’d end up with both those situations.
Councilman Noach Dear (one of four Democrats running for Schumer’s congressional seat) was recently quoted as saying his priority as a congressman would be first to do “what’s good for Israel, my constituents and the country, in that order.” What’s your view of that?
I would not agree with that. I think the thinking has to be we are Jews and we are proud of being Jewish. But we are Americans. That’s our nationality, that’s who we are and we have to think of America first. I think you can be strong for America and be a proud American and make all Americans proud and still be true to your Jewish beliefs.
Why are you a better Democratic candidate than Ferraro or Green?
What really wins in Washington is legislative knowledge, skill and acumen. What the Senate respects is a legislative ability to get something done, not celebrity.