If early voter turnout figures are any indication, thousands of Jewish voters not excited about Gov. George Pataki stayed home rather than vote for Democrat H. Carl McCall or Independence Party candidate Thomas Golisano.
Preliminary returns show a steep drop in turnout in heavily Jewish neighborhoods of New York City last week, compared to the last statewide race.
Although votes for governor are still being tallied, some neighborhoods saw half or less than half the number of votes for Assembly candidates as in 1998, when there was a contentious battle for U.S. Senate between Republican Al D’Amato and Democrat Charles Schumer.
For example, while 22,703 people cast their votes for Assembly in 1998 in the 46th District, which includes Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, only 9,216 people did so this year, according to the city’s Board of Elections.
In the 81st AD, which includes the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where 28,607 votes for Assembly were cast four years ago, only 15,631 votes were recorded so far this year.
In Manhattan’s 67th District on the Upper West Side, the figure fell from 43,951 to 30,517 this year. And in the 28th Assembly District, which includes Forest Hills, Queens, 18,557 votes have been recorded, down from 31,343 in 1998.
Paper ballots in each borough have yet to be recorded, but will not have a drastic effect on those numbers.
The apparent lack of interest this year is a likely result of a dull race at the top of the ticket, with the race for governor a foregone conclusion, and the shortage of competitive legislative contests. In the case of Brighton Beach, incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Adele Cohen ran unopposed.
There was also no contention on Jewish issues.
"Issues of primary concern to the Jewish community weren’t high on the agenda, compared to four years ago," says sociologist John Mollenkopf of the City University’s graduate center. In 1998, Israel and the Holocaust took center stage as D’Amato attacked Schumer’s standing as a champion of Jewish issues.
The turnout drop in some areas was sharper than the overall 10 percent drop in New York City, from 45 to 35 percent. Statewide turnout this year was about 36 percent, about the same as 1998.
Among those who did vote in Jewish neighborhoods, the tide was overwhelmingly for Pataki. Although he lost New York City to McCall, the governor won his strongest support in the five boroughs from areas with heavy Jewish populations such as southern Brooklyn, Staten Island, Northern Queens and Riverdale. In the 45th AD in southern Brooklyn (where the local High-Way Democratic club crossed party lines to back the Republican governor) voters picked Pataki 7-to-1, says District Leader Michael Geller.
"Jewish areas of the city, in large part, voted up to 70 percent for the governor," said Greg Menken, Pataki’s Jewish affairs coordinator. "We did tremendously well in Rockland County, the Five Towns and won about 50 percent of the [statewide] Jewish vote, which has to be a record for a statewide Republican."
Mollenkopf believes Jews supported Pataki in slightly greater numbers than other white groups, except for Italian Americans.
"If you look at the whole spectrum of whites, from conservative ethnic Catholics to Park Slope liberals, Jews seem to be a little more supportive of Pataki than average," said the researcher. Pataki also got a huge boost from Latino voters, 38 percent of whom backed the governor, up from 25 percent in 1998.
Devorah Halberstam, who became an anti-terrorism crusader after her son was murdered on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, has joined the fight to oust an Arab-American lawyer from the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Omar Mohammedi, an immigration lawyer, also does legal work for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been linked to anti-Israel rhetoric and accused of supporting terrorism.
Halberstam has been sending information about CAIR to members of the City Council, and his expressed her opposition to officials of the Bloomberg administration.
"I will not stop about this issue," says Halberstam, who says she has a "personal stake" in the matter. CAIR cosponsored an event at Brooklyn College last year with the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque she says was attended by Rashid Baz, the Lebanese gunman who killed her son and wounded three other chasidic youths.
The controversy puts Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a difficult spot, caught between Jewish critics of his appointment and Arab Americans who would surely be outraged if he dumped Mohammedi.
A spokeswoman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Monica Tarazi, said Mohammedi was "well known within the civil rights community, particularly in the post-Sept. 11 period." Noting Mohammedi’s work in defending Muslims questioned by federal authorities investigating terrorism, Tarazi said the lawyer was a necessary addition to the commission. "We need to have advocates with experience in these types of civil rights abuses," she said.
At last week’s City Council meeting, five members spoke out against the appointment, even raising the specter of defunding the Human Rights Commission.
"They did not properly vet the background and affiliation of this appointee," said Lewis Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat, in an interview. "They couldn’t appoint him to a body more inappropriate. This is supposed to be the agency most sensitive to civilized behavior in this city."
Chris Policano, the spokesman for Council Speaker Gifford Miller, said talk of withholding funds was "premature," but added that Miller favored a future role by the Council in approving appointments to the HRC, which are now handled by a mayoral committee.
Mohammedi has not spoken to the media about the matter.
City Hall is full of Mideast related news these days. In other developments:
City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Bronx Councilman Hiram Monserrate are off to Israel this Saturday night on a five-day mission sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation.
Miller and other City Council members will gather on Nov. 19 to rename the corner of East 69th and Madison Avenue Janice Coulter Place, in honor of the former New Yorker killed in the Hebrew University bombing last summer.
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee recently honored five sponsors of a failed Council resolution calling for a safe and secure Israel alongside a Palestinian state, and supporting an "evenhanded approach" to the Mideast conflict. The members were Charles Barron, Al Vann and Yvette Clark of Brooklyn; Phil Reed of Manhattan; and Larry Seabrook and Helen Foster of the Bronx.
By a unanimous vote, the Council last week overturned Bloomberg’s veto of a bill that adds Purim, Ash Wednesday and the Lunar New Year to the growing list of religious observances on which alternate-side parking rules are suspended.
That makes Bloomberg 0-2 in using his veto stamp; earlier this year the Council passed, over the mayor’s objection, a measure that would postpone the mandatory departure of some members (including Speaker Miller) under term limits.
Although Purim is months away, Councilman Simcha Felder presented Miller with an oversized hamantashen to thank him for supporting the bill.
Bloomberg believes the measure will cost the cash-strapped city almost $1 million per year in fines that would have been collected on those three days.