A City Council campaign in one of the city’s fastest-growing Jewish neighborhoods has led to charges of anti-Semitism as long-shot Republican Gene Berardelli has attacked incumbent Brooklyn Democrat Lewis Fidler for “advocating one group over another.”
Blasting Fidler for taking contributions from the Marine Park Jewish Political Acton Committee, Berardelli and his supporters, on a nasty Web site, accuse his opponent of taking sides in a debate over zoning changes that would allow some residents to expand their homes.
“By accepting money from a special interest group, [Fidler] is sending a message that he is taking a position regarding that special interest group,” Berardelli said in an interview.
But Jeff Leb, a co-founder of the Marine Park Jewish Community Council, said there has been no formal request for the community board to change the zoning law.
“[The zoning change] was not pursued in a serious fashion,” says Leb. “There were conversations, theoretical conversations, about possibly trying to figure out the best way to expand these houses without destroying the character of the community. We want to be good neighbors.”
A middle-class neighborhood that abuts Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park has attracted a large number of Orthodox Jews in the past decade because of its affordable homes and proximity to shuls and yeshivas. With that influx has come kosher restaurants and markets, and the largest synagogue in the area, the Orthodox Marine Park Jewish Center, has been revitalized.
Roughly half of the neighborhood is zoned to allow large-scale renovations. Some newcomers would like to see the same zoning laws throughout, to accommodate larger families. Opponents say large homes would hurt the quiet character of a neighborhood whose pastoral charm derives from the sprawling city parkland at its heart.
Leb said the PAC, which is affiliated with the nonprofit JCC, did not donate money to Fidler but that individual members held a fundraiser for him.
Berardelli’s official campaign Web site focuses on his positions and notes his endorsement from Mayor Mike Bloomberg and talk radio host Curtis Sliwa.
But Leb said a second site attacking Fidler, who is Jewish, “reeks of anti-Semitism.” According to the site, supporters of Berardelli created it.
Playing off Fidler’s name, the site features two dancing characters in silhouette reminiscent of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“This isn’t about ethnicity or religion,” the site stresses. “We also know that changing communities mean that people have to become more tolerant of new neighbors, and I think we’re all for promoting community harmony.”
But there is little harmony on the site, which features a “Whack A Lew” game, complete with the theme from the horror film “Psycho,” which allows users to virtually punch, slap or kick the councilman, hit him with a bat or zap him with a Taser.
“It’s crass, low-brow humor and it’s satirical,” says Berardelli. “There’s a disclaimer on it that we in no way advocate any violence whatsoever.”
The Web site cites a story on Yeshiva World, an Orthodox blog, noting that “Councilman Fidler promised to continue to do everything he could to ensure the growth of the community and spoke of his efforts fifteen years ago to keep shuls in Marine Park from closing.” The anti-Fidler site then adds, “So apparently, community harmony comes with a price. And Lew has apparently chosen his side.”
Fidler says Berardelli’s rhetoric is not indicative of community sentiment. “There is no divide,” he said in an interview.
“I’m on record saying I’m not in favor of changing the zoning law. [The site] is clearly designed to either create controversy that didn’t exist or prey on feelings of anti-Semitism in Marine Park.”
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