She could have been a contender. And as a Jewish woman from upstate, she might have made history running with a downstate African-American man.
But at last week’s Democratic state convention, Sandra Frankel yielded to pressure from the gubernatorial campaign of H. Carl McCall and bowed out of the race for lieutenant governor.
Her withdrawal paved the way for Westchester millionaire Dennis Mehiel to overwhelmingly win the party’s designation, later to join forces with McCall as his running mate.
"My candidacy for lieutenant governor would have provided an important balance to the ticket," said a clearly dejected Frankel, supervisor of the town of Brighton in Monroe County. "But the McCall campaign made a decision about how they were going to best be able to go forward and win."
Frankel’s dropout came as a surprise given her strong support from one of the state’s top Democrats, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. After Assembly members in western New York brought her to Silver’s attention, the speaker took an interest in advancing her statewide prospects, helping Frankel secure the 1998 nomination for lieutenant governor. She won with more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way contest.
"Shelley was very concerned she was not being afforded the proper seriousness for the ticket," said one convention insider.
After gubernatorial rival Andrew Cuomo skipped the heavily pro-McCall convention, portraying himself as an outsider who would go to the people via petitions to get on the ballot, Democrats were looking to come out of the conference with as much unity as possible. They wanted to avoid a contentious lieutenant’s race.
But no one denies that the McCall camp and other top Democrats are banking on the ability of Mehiel, a paper-cup manufacturer who has never held public office, to empty his deep pockets into the Democratic campaign coffers. The Republicans are expected to spend as much as $30 million on the governor’s race.
"I think it’s a benefit for him to put money into the campaign," said state Democratic chair Denny Farrell of Mehiel (Pronounced MEAL.)
Added Frankel: "Prior to the convention, Dennis had talked in candidate forums about providing financial resources for the campaign coming out of the primary."
Frankel said she was first approached about dropping out by Bill Lynch, a McCall adviser and former deputy mayor under David Dinkins. The next day, she said, McCall himself offered her the title of co-chair of his campaign.
Farrell said it was clear to him that Frankel did not have the 25 percent of delegates’ votes required to earn a place on the ballot. "I visited 62 counties in the past four months and I saw that Dennis Mehiel had most of the support," said Farrell.
But Silver disagrees. "I would have gotten her the 25 percent," he said. "But in the end it’s up to the candidate to pick his running mate."
Party officials also leveraged two other candidates to drop out of the race, while one holdout, Steve Burke, won less than 8 percent of delegates’ votes. Another candidate for lieutenant governor, Charlie King, bolted the convention to join forces with Cuomo in organizing petitions to get on the ballot.
Frankel put her best face on the turn of events.
"I believe I will be able to make a significant contribution" as McCall’s campaign co-chair, she said. But it’s unlikely she will achieve the kind of statewide prominence in that role that she would as McCall’s running mate or as lieutenant governor if he wins the Democratic primary and general election. No Jewish woman has ever held statewide office in New York.
Frankel had become both the only Jew and only woman in the lieutenant governor’s race after Jane Hoffman dropped out of the contest for health reasons. Many observers felt Hoffman, as a woman who brought considerable financial resources to her campaign, might have been a shoo-in for the nomination.
Silver pointed out that there are still two Jews on the Democratic primary ticket: Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is running unopposed, and comptroller candidate Alan Hevesi, who faces Bill Mulrow in September.
As for the Republicans, who held their own, less eventful convention Tuesday and Wednesday, Silver noted: "They’ve got two women, two upstaters and no Jews."
Former Clinton strategist James Carville, who ran Ehud Barak’s successful election in 1999, says he still has one foot in the Israeli political arena. "I still have an office there," the famously boisterous consultant and CNN commentator told The Jewish Week after his keynote address at the Democratic convention at the Sheraton Towers.
The office is run by Carville’s partner, Tal Silverstein. But Carville expressed some trepidation about another Knesset battle. "I’ve never seen any place where things can change as fast as they do in Israel," said the putative Ragin’ Cajun. "In addition to fighting the intifada, they’ve also got a horrible economic problem.î"
Carville, who had ducked an onslaught of reporters’ questions about Cuomo’s boycott of the convention, added: "The two most complicated places for politics in the world are New York state and Israel."
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee says he’s "not worried at all" that staunch Republican support for Israel may cause an exodus of Jews from their traditional Democratic home.
"It’s not gonna happen," said Terry McAuliffe, outside the convention ballroom. "Seventy-five percent of the Jewish community has a long history of voting for Democrats because they agree with us on kitchen table issues, and we do it for the right reasons, not for political gain.
"I’m not worried at all. It’s typical of Republicans to say weíre picking up Jewish voters or Hispanic voters. But it’s all talk. There’s never any substance."
Hevesi is raising some eyebrows for seeking the nomination of the Independence Party, which he has blasted in the past. The former city comptroller won 25 percent of the vote at the May 18 Independence convention, where Republican John Faso won the partyís designation for state comptroller. (The designee is selected by convention delegates, while the nominee is decided by voters on primary day.)
While running for mayor in 2001, Hevesi called on his opponents to steer clear of the party because of the influence of Lenora Fulani, the activist who has verbally attacked Jews.
Hevesi says he has joined forces with Independence gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano for a "hostile takeover" of the party.
"This is an effort to undermine and eliminate the Fulani faction from leadership," he said, noting that Fulani booed and heckled him at the convention and has tried to keep him off the ballot.
How do you get liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to agree on a bill requiring insurance payments for fertility treatments? Get the taxpayer to pick up the tab for the most controversial (and expensive) procedure.
The Republican-led Senate had long blocked a measure that would mandate coverage of in vitro fertilization because the Catholic Church opposes the procedure. Insurance companies also balk at the cost: upwards of $10,000 per attempt.
The GOP wanted a "conscience clause" allowing insurers to reject coverage if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. But the fertility bill passed by both houses on May 15 doesn’t include test tube babies, while requiring self-insured private group health plans to cover a variety of other diagnostic and surgical procedures for individuals between ages 21 and 44. A $10 million state grant to the state Department of Health will help couples access in vitro and other uncovered procedures.
After years of fervently pushing for a bill that would help those who want to be fruitful and multiply, Agudath Israel of America hailed the bill as a "landmark development."
Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudah’s lobbyist for the bill, said he hoped "the labor pains of the many women who will be helped by this legislation will be considerably less severe than those we experienced in giving birth to this legislation."