In the midst of pushing a plan that could boost the significance of ethnic affiliations over party labels, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning his first official visit to Israel.
Bloomberg, a Jewish Republican sinking ever deeper in the polls, plans to visit the Jewish state this fall, around the same time a Charter Review Commission will decide whether to hold a referendum to eliminate party affiliations in city elections.
If approved, the referendum would be a boost to the mayor (who narrowly won in 2001) in a town that is 5-to-1 Democratic. And, some say, without party affiliations to guide them, voters are more likely to pick candidates that share their background.
In a nonpartisan election, "ethnicity and religion become much more important [to voters] as a handle on the political process," according to political consultant Norman Adler.
At the same time, Adler said, a history of high turnout may make the Jewish vote a more important constituency under nonpartisan elections.
"One of the things we know from other cities is that participation goes down in nonpartisan elections," Adler said. "That means the importance of the Jewish vote goes up because Jews always vote."
That may be one of the reasons Bloomberg, who won just over half the Jewish vote in his upset victory over Democrat Mark Green, is headed to Israel for the third time in two years. On the last trip, in late 2001, he was joined by his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, and Gov. George Pataki.
This time around, Bloomberg will be joined by his 94-year-old mother, Charlotte.
"The mayor has never visited Israel with his mother, and he very much wants to take her with him," said Bloomberg press secretary Ed Skyler.
With a cease-fire in effect between Israelis and Palestinians, the mayor’s visit could serve to boost tourism. And the trip is far enough away from his re-election bid so as not to seem overtly political, while supplying Bloomberg with anecdotes for the eventual campaign trail. The photos of him arm-in-arm with his mom in Jerusalem are also bound to be a hit with the senior set.
"Older people vote more than younger people," Adler noted. "And a large share of the city’s elderly is Jewish. That combination makes them an important constituency, especially in low-turnout elections."
Bloomberg has visited Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico since taking office. He is planning a return trip to the latter two destinations in the fall.
A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge decided last week to stay out of the nasty battle between Assemblyman Dov Hikind and former Councilman Noach Dear, at least for now. Judge Joseph Levine ruled that Hikind’s bid to have Dear declared ineligible for his old seat in Borough Park was "premature."
The seat is now held by Hikind’s former chief of staff, Simcha Felder. The term limits law says former members must wait four years to run again, and Dear left office less than two years ago.
Dear’s lawyer, Jerry Goldfeder, argued that preventing Dear from circulating petitions was unconstitutional.
"If someone wants to challenge a candidateís eligibility, election law provides how they can do it through the normal course," said Goldfeder.
That means arguing before the Board of Elections after petitions are in. Hikind lawyer Aaron Maslow said he will bring the case before the board on July 28 and, if necessary, bring it back to court on Aug. 4.
"[The judge] said our arguments are compelling and invited us back after petitions are filed," said Maslow.
Candidates for City Council must collect 900 signatures from residents of the district in which they are running. Maslow told the judge he was concerned that those who sign Dearís petition will be ineligible to sign for another candidate if he is later thrown off the ballot.
Some 40 elected officials mustered by Hikind have signed a letter calling on Bloomberg to re-examine the case of Gideon Busch, the man shot dead in Borough Park almost four years ago by cops responding to a noise complaint. The letter comes as the city is preparing its defense against a civil suit brought by Buschís family. Witnesses have told investigators that Busch was not threatening the six officers at the time they opened fire, despite the Police Department’s insistence that he was trying to hit the cops with a hammer.
Those who signed the letter contrasted Bloomberg’s conciliatory response to two recent fatal police incidents, including the mistaken raid that resulted in the death of Alberta Spruill in Harlem, with Giuliani’s immediate declaration that the Busch shooting was justified.
"Your commitment to justice for the families, and the City of New York, sets you apart from the circle-the-wagons mentality that plagued the Giuliani administration," said the officials, all Democrats.
Skyler, the mayor’s spokesman, said the city would not comment on the letter because of the pending litigation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes part of Borough Park, was not asked to sign the letter but has raised questions about the investigation of the incident by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
"I never thought the DA did anything but a slapdash job on this," Nadler said last week.