UPDATED FROM PRINT EDITION 11/3
Taking a tough posture against Iran after officials said they foiled one of its terror plots here, the Assembly wants to use access to business in the Empire State as leverage to keep companies from doing business with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Tehran.
Last Week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced a bill that would prevent not only Albany but also municipal governments here from entering any contracts with companies that have ties to Tehran. He cited the recent suspected attempt by the Iranian government to hatch a terror plot that, the FBI said, may have involved an attack on the Israeli and Saudi embassies here.
“The government of Iran is a tyrannical regime and a sponsor of international terrorism, and it is determined to acquire nuclear weapons,” Silver said in a statement. “By divesting the state from any business with companies whose actions further Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms, we are doing our part to make the world a safer place.”
It’s already illegal under federal law for American companies to do business with Iran, but the legislation would apply both to foreign companies that trade with the state and U.S. companies whose offshore subsidiaries have Iran ties.
How much state money is actually involved? No one knows at this point, but the legislation would require the state’s Office of General Services to crunch the numbers.
California, which enacted a similar measure, compiled a list of 50 companies that would be affected by the bill because of their Iran ties, though not all those companies do business with Sacramento.
The list includes Hyundai Motor Company, Lukoil, Oil India, China National Petroleum and DK Tech Corporation.
Florida also passed a bill.
The New York bill’s threshold for defining corporate ties to Iran’s energy industry is $20 million in business.
The Iran Divestment Act of 2012 (it won’t face a vote until the next session, which begins in January) was crafted with input from Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which has been mobilizing anti-Iran efforts here.
The bill’s chances of success are unclear: Calls to the other two men in the room, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and GOP Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos seeking comment were not returned Tuesday and neither has commented publicly about it.
The state and city comptrollers have both taken steps to prevent municipal pension funds here from being invested with companies with ties to Iran, and Congress is considering the Iran Transparency an Accountability Act, sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), which would require U.S. companies to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission any sanctionable investments in Iran.
Passage of the New York bill will hinge on how Cuomo and Skelos, each of whom has the power to kill or bury it, balance the political gain with their responsibility to ensure that the state can get the lowest bids for the goods and services it buys.
“It conflicts with existing state law that you have to procure the lowest bid,” said political science professor Gerald Benjamin of the State University of New York at New Paltz. He said while concern about maintaining the slim Republican majority in the Senate by holding onto seats in heavily Jewish areas would figure into the equation, “from a public policy standpoint it’s problematic.”
Nathan Carleton, a spokesman for United Against a Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan foreign policy group, said that California’s law was a model to other states because the Legislature has already listed companies that are no longer eligible for contracts.
“California and Florida have made a statement that they are not willing to give support to Iran and that’s more important than sheer dollars, because what these companies do is so irresponsible,” said Carleton. “We expect that this will pass overwhelmingly in both houses.”
Despite their high numbers in many Long Island communities, Jews there haven’t become as well established in politics as they have in New York City.
One person trying to buck that trend this year is Owen Rumelt, who wants to be the second Democrat on the Republican-dominated board of the Town of Hempstead.
One of the biggest towns in America, Hempstead includes 22 villages in the southwest part of Nassau County and is home to an estimated 850,000 people. The 3rd District Rumelt wants to represent includes portions of Elmont, Franklin Square, Hewlett, Lynbrook, North Valley Stream, Valley Stream, West Hempstead and Woodmere; and all of Atlantic Beach, Cedarhurst, East Atlantic Beach, Inwood, Lawrence, Malverne, North Woodmere.
Next Tuesday Rumelt, a West Hempstead resident who is a trustee of the public library there, faces 11-year Republican incumbent James Darcy, a former mayor of Valley Stream and former state assemblyman.
“I’m facing 110 years of one-party rule,” says Rumelt. The Council has five Republicans (excluding the 1st District’s Dorothy Goosby) and a Republican supervisor, clerk and tax receiver.
Rumelt is backed by the town’s Democratic club but hasn’t had much help from the Nassau Democrats, who are more worried about recapturing the Republican-ruled County legislature. “I understand the reasoning,” he says.
Rumelt, a member of the Young Israel of West Hempstead, hasn’t made a pitch on any Jewish issues (the town Council steers clear of Middle East politics) but wants the Council to have more visibility so constituents know who represents them — his informal poll at public events shows most don’t.
He says the town’s boast that it has frozen taxes is undermined by a rise in fees for permits, which he considers de facto taxes.
Rumelt says that while the town is in good fiscal health with a triple-A bond rating, that could be endangered by dipping into its surplus and through wasteful spending, like a $7 million animal shelter and extensive mailings for elected officials. If elected, Rumelt said he’d use mostly e-mail, while saving postal mail for seniors and others who don’t use computers.
He said that in the scheme of elected offices, the town council member should be “at the lowest level of contact. You are closest to the people, so when they have issues that need to be dealt with you should be the person they turn to.”
Darcy told The Jewish Week Wednesday that people not knowing who represents them reflects more on their busy lives than on the quality of the representation. "If you ask ask the average Joe on the street who their elected officials are, studies have shown that a great number of the public are not aware … But if you ask people when you have a problem where do you go they can tell you and one of the primary people they go to is myself. I have a proven track record of being there for people to direct them to the appropriate government level.”
He added “‘I bet if you asked the people in West Hempstead who their library trustee is ,they wouldn’t identify Mr. Rumelt. That’s not a comment on him, just that people are not paying a whole lot of attention."
An example of his activism, Darcy said, was his recent role in organizing town hall meetings that encouraged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reexamine flood maps that caused mortgage banks to force thousands of homeowners in the district to buy flood insurance.
He said he was also studying a developer's proposal to create an entertainment hub at the Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont to see if it will benefit the area. “It’s intriguing,” said Darcy. “The location already has a large amount of the transportation infrastructure, access to major highways and public transportation and a railroad line.”