Four Orthodox candidates for City Council in Brooklyn will have to defend their signature petitions in court next week as a fifth Orthodox contestant tries to knock them off the ballot.
The candidates claim Irma Kramer is seeking to avoid a split in the Orthodox vote in the Feb. 16 special election to succeed Anthony Weiner, who was elected to Congress last year. "It is shameful and pathetic that Irma is trying to exclude other Orthodox Jews," says Yehuda Levin, one of the candidates. "She did not challenge the liberal, secular Jews."
All seven candidates on the ballot are Jewish. Each candidate was required to gather a minimum of 1,474 signatures of registered voters who live in the heavily Jewish Midwood-Sheepshead Bay district.
Kramer’s campaign attorney, Aaron Maslow, said challenges were filed against each of the candidates’ petitions. But in the case of Alan Sclar and Michael Nelson, who are not Orthodox, only general objections were filed, he admitted. General objections reserve the right for future challenges, but do not require the challenged candidate to take any action. However, Levin, together with Roslyn Sokol, Joseph Dweck and Philip Kamaras must appear before the city’s Board of Elections on Feb. 2 and in state Supreme Court on Feb. 3 to defend their petitions.
"Nobody is targeting Orthodox candidates," said Maslow, who insisted the challenges were based on deficiencies in the petitions. "These candidates did not get the valid number of signatures, and some of [the signers] live way out of the district."
The Board of Elections will examine those claims on Tuesday. But if they are dismissed, Kramer has reserved the court date the following day as an apparent back-up.
Kramer is a former aide in the congressional office of Charles Schumer, now a U.S. senator. Schumer and his protege, Weiner, are expected to endorse Kramer, which could make her a favorite in a race likely to bring out only a few thousand voters.
"It is an outrage for somebody so politically connected to try to invalidate petitions," said Sokol, a Midwood public school teacher.
The non-Orthodox candidates are remaining above the fray. "People are fed up with warring and political infighting," said Nelson, a former chief of staff to state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Sheepshead Bay). "People who get on the ballot, unless there is an obvious plan [to deceive] should be left alone."
Added Sclar: "With three weeks left until the election, it makes no sense to focus on knocking people off the ballot."
Levin, a controversial right-wing rabbi and activist who backed Republican Pat Buchanan for president in 1996 (and is running under his English name, Lew) is perhaps the best-known candidate. He has made prior runs for mayor, Congress and for the same Council seat in 1991. Levin is an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay rights, but is downplaying those views in this race, focusing instead on a plan to create private school tuition vouchers.
If knocked off the ballot, he vows to undertake a write-in campaign or to challenge the winner in a primary for the seat in September.
Two of the most formidable Jewish candidates for mayor in 2001 are going to battle long before the Democratic primary begins.
City Comptroller Alan Hevesi is known to be seeking a change in the city’s charter to bump Public Advocate Mark Green from the line of mayoral succession.
"It’s very likely that weíll have some sort of succession reform that provides for a fair election," says Hevesi’s campaign consultant, Hank Morris. The City Charter names the public advocate next in line if the mayor resigns, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is likely to run for Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Senate in 2000: a year before the end of his term. Hevesi and Council Speaker Peter Vallone want a special election rather than automatic succession.
But Green says he’s unfazed. "It’s legally and politically untenable to change the goalpost during the game," he said. "This office has been next in line for succession for 167 years.
"If they’re so concerned about succession they should join me in making sure a good Democrat wins the Moynihan seat, which would moot any need for succession."
Morris counters: "It’s unfortunate that Mark Green, who claims to be a reformer, is trying to deny New Yorkers the right to elect their mayor."
Just-released campaign records show that Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer leads the other Democrats in the field for mayor, with $1.1 million on hand. Hevesi is in second place with $1 million. Ferrer, however, is steering clear of charter reform efforts.
Sen. Schumer is still getting to know the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In 1997, asked if he would support Sharpton as the Democrats’ nominee for mayor, Schumer said he would have to meet with the reverend to discuss his positions.
When asked at a Jewish Week breakfast Monday if he could support Sharpton for Moynihan’s seat, Schumer (who has had several recent meetings with Sharpton) said, "I have not met with him in the sense of being a Senate candidate. … I would want to sit down and go over with him his views on a whole series of issues."
Comptroller Hevesi said in 1997 he could not support Sharpton because of his record on black-Jewish issues.
Politics seems to be in the blood of the Weprin family of Queens. Mark Weprin, 37, youngest son of the late Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, is a Queens assemblyman who hopes to run for Rep. Nita Lowey’s House seat if she runs for Senate. His older brother, Barry, 45, is a town councilman in Mamaroneck. Now middle son David, 42, is planning a run for term-limited Councilman Sheldon Lefflerís Queens Council seat in 2001. David is currently a managing director at Advest, an investment firm.
"Our father taught us that public service is a great honor, if you do it right," said Mark Weprin. Another member of the family, cousin Julie Weprin, is an independent political consultant and pollster.