The acquittal of Dov Hikind on fraud and corruption charges this week all but guarantees that he will remain a fixture in the Assembly for as long as he chooses. But the true test of his political future will come in the next few months as local and statewide races heat up.
Throngs of raucous supporters gathered around Hikind during a triumphant press conference Tuesday, the day after a jury cleared him of any wrongdoing, as the veteran Brooklyn lawmaker announced that he is running unopposed for re-election.
“I am going to speak out louder and more vociferously than ever,” Hikind, an assemblyman for 16 years, promised the cheering crowd. “If anyone thinks I’m going to change in any way, they’re wrong.”
During the 1994 election season, his endorsement was sought by candidates for governor, comptroller, attorney general and other offices. Only time will tell if candidates will seek his blessing this year.
Though Hikind continues to control thousands of Orthodox votes in Borough Park and Flatbush, he may be tainted by the indictment and conviction of two officials of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Boro Park for offering him payoffs. And he is bound to be a key figure in the upcoming COJO-related trial of Rabbi Eliot Amsel for allegedly misappropriating government funds granted to the Syrit vocational school in Borough Park.But there were signs that the stigma of Hikind’s legal troubles was fading, as numerous officials phoned to offer support. The callers included Gov. George Pataki, who has not appeared publicly with Hikind since his indictment but is said to have remained supportive behind the scenes.
Several political observers and insiders predicted that Hikind would regain his powerbroker status.
“Ordinarily, someone in Dov’s position would have a couple of strikes against him,” said Michael Geller, a district leader from an area adjoining Hikind’s base. “But over the course of Dov’s life, he’s been able to bounce back from whatever situations arose. I think [his allies] will stay with him.”
Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, saw the acquittal as a boost for Hikind’s ambitions. “It’s like the opposite of what happened to Al Sharpton in Poughkeepsie,” said Beveridge, referring to a jury’s decision, on the same day as the Hikind verdict, to hold the black political activist liable for slandering Steven Pagones during the Tawana Brawley case. “Sharpton will now only have his base after what happened in Poughkeepsie, despite his trying to get to the mainstream. But [the Hikind case] failed to push him to the margins.”
An early gauge of Hikind’s political mettle following his acquittal might be the hotly contested race for Rep. Charles Schumer’s seat, according to political analyst Fred Siegel.
“This is the first test of his resurgent ability,” said Siegel, a history professor at Cooper Union college. “If he cashes in on what’s left of his political capital, he can play a significant role in this race.”
Hikind said he was considering a run for the Schumer seat but later acknowledged there was no time to petition for that race. In a swipe at Councilman Noach Dear, long seen as a Hikind rival for Borough Park power, Hikind — asked if he would support Dear — said mockingly “Noach who?” And during an interview on the cable station New York 1, he praised Assemblyman Dan Feldman of Sheepshead Bay, one of three Dear rivals, as “the best candidate.” Hikind’s resurgence as a powerbroker would likely lead to a prolonged feud with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom Hikind ardently backed until a feud with a key Jewish aide to the mayor wrecked their relationship. Hikind and his supporters have implicated Giuliani in a conspiracy against him. On Tuesday Hikind called for an investigation into whether the city’s Department of Investigation “picks and chooses” its targets for political reasons.
Giuliani later said that any theory of his involvement in the COJO investigation was “purely delusional.” The mayor said he would not call Hikind because the convictions of co-defendants Paul Chernick and Rabbi Elimelech Naiman raised questions about Hikind’s innocence.
Hikind supporters at the press conference clearly believed Hikind’s story of a political setup. A flier urged supporters to mail their “condolinces [sic] to Deputy Mayor Bruce Teitelbaum.” Teitelbaum, actually Giuliani’s chief of staff, is the Jewish aide with whom Hikind has a history of feuding.
Some Jewish officials are concerned that a Hikind-Giuliani power play could harm the provision of social services for the needy in Borough Park. Suggesting that the disadvantaged had been “left walking the streets with nowhere to turn” since the COJO of Boro Park was closed, Hikind vowed to re-establish those services that had been discontinued.
“There is an enormous need in the community for services, but right now things are very much vengeance-driven,” said a Jewish official familiar with the situation. “If Dov Hikind creates something with funding from Pataki and [Sen. Alfonse] D’Amato, Giuliani will not do any business with them. He will find something else, [possibly] creating two combative organizations.”
The Giuliani-Hikind battle is expected to become a fact of New York politics, but one pro-Giuliani source downplayed its effect on the mayor’s ambitions.
“In 1993 Giuliani received 67 percent of the Jewish vote with enthusiastic support from Hikind,” said the Giuliani partisan. “In 1997 it was 76 percent without Hikind.”
Eric Schneiderman, a Democratic candidate for state Senate on the Upper West Side, says he is returning a $5,000 donation he received in 1995 from a corporation owned by Prince Bandar Bin Fahad Khalid of Saudi Arabia.
According to a court affidavit obtained by The Jewish Week, the prince said he founded the corporation in order to conceal his ownership of a Manhattan building from New York’s Jewish community.
The donation was made to Schneiderman’s political fund following a case in which he successfully represented Portofino Properties Corp. in a civil suit against an employee accused of stealing from the company. According to documents obtained by The Jewish Week, Portofino was established in the Dutch Antilles in 1978 by Prince Bandar, ostensibly in order to purchase property in New York.
State and federal election laws prohibit acceptance of funds from foreign-owned companies unless they generate income in the United States. Information about Portofino could not be obtained because the company seems to have ceased operations.
After a Jewish Week inquiry Schneiderman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed the retiring Franz Leichter, said he was returning the donation “to avoid any appearance of impropriety.” He said the donation was made when he was running for a Manhattan district leadership.In an affidavit from a case unrelated to the one in which Schneiderman represented Portofino, Prince Bandar reportedly said that he established the company after a confidant advised him that “because of New York’s large Jewish population, it would not be prudent for a Saudi Arabian individual to be listed … as an owner of real property.” That confidant later became the defendant in a fraud suit filed by Portofino.