In the opening salvo of what is expected to be a spirited war for New York’s Jewish vote, Democratic presidential contender Bill Bradley comes to town Monday night for an address to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
It will be the first appearance before a Jewish audience by a declared candidate in the 2000 presidential race. And with New York expected to be a key battleground in the war for the Democratic nomination, which Bradley is trying to wrest from Vice President Al Gore, the address will offer the Jewish community its first up-close glimpse of Bradley’s tactics.
“Bradley appears to be going to the left of Gore on some issues, and that doesn’t appear to be the position of the OU,” said Ira Forman, director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “It will be an interesting evening that will tell us much about Bill Bradley and how he will run a campaign in New York.”
Observers and campaign insiders, given the nature of recent political appeals to Jewish sensibilities, expect that the media will pay close attention to Bradley’s speech. It was to the Orthodox Union that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a likely U.S. Senate candidate in New York, recently wrote a letter outlining a position on Jerusalem that was widely denounced as pandering.
In seeking the support of the politically conservative OU, the umbrella for 750 synagogues across North America, Bradley might waver on his opposition to vouchers for private tuition or issue a declaration in support of jailed Israel spy Jonathan Pollard. (At a 1998 dinner, OU president Mandell Ganchrow surprised Gore, the guest of honor, with a plea for Pollard’s release.)
But a source closely involved in Bradley’s presidential run told The Jewish Week that the former senator and New York Knick will go out of his way to avoid any appearance of pandering at the dinner.
While the script for the keynote address has yet to be written, the campaign source expects Bradley will touch upon issues not necessarily in favor with the powerful Orthodox synagogue movement.
“He will talk about what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The dinner comes at a time when the Bradley campaign appears to be picking up momentum. In New York, he has garnered the endorsements of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), while polls show him tied with Gore here and in New Hampshire, the first primary state. Bradley’s war chest is bulging, while Gore’s campaign relocation to Nashville, Tenn., has given pundits the impression that the vice president is running scared.
The dinner Monday night at the Hyatt in Midtown is a tribute to Moynihan. The veteran senior senator will be retiring at the end of his term in 2000.
Bradley is seen as likely to discuss some of the issues on which he and Moynihan worked closely during Bradley’s Senate tenure from 1978 to 1994. A prime example is their opposition to a 1986 tax reform bill that would have reclassified scholarships and grants as taxable — including funds from kollels, Orthodox institutions that pay their students to learn.
Bradley may recall, too, that he supported Moynihan’s experimental initiatives on tuition tax credits, which would allow deductions for funds paid for parochial education. (He supported the experiments because “fixing our schools is a top priority and it was worthy of an experiment,” said Bradley campaign manager Doug Berman, who says Bradley believes vouchers “are not the solution to the problems that ail our public school system.”)
Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf says Bradley would be best served by staying in explored territory rather than making a major declaration.“Pandering to religious movements in New York is not a good idea,” said Sheinkopf, who is not involved in the presidential race. “In order for him to make sense to that community, he has to say Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and pledge continued support by the U.S., and for a peace treaty that protects settlements where religious people live.”
Sheinkopf added that Bradley “should also touch on hate crimes and increased federal enforcement against groups like the KKK.”
But a declaration on Jonathan Pollard, a subject Bradley has yet to broach as a candidate, would be a disaster, he warns.
“He can’t win on that one. The intelligence community, which he knows a good deal about, is strongly opposed [to his release],” Sheinkopf said. “If he says that as president he would take the matter under consideration, that is more honorable.”
Aligning himself with Moynihan, who has been comfortably re-elected for more than two decades with heavy Jewish support, may prove to be a successful tactic for Bradley, particularly since Moynihan has often called the shots as he sees them on such issues as Jerusalem sovereignty and clemency for Pollard, notwithstanding pressure from hawkish groups for a different position.
But winning a pressure-cooker race for president, particularly at this juncture of the peace process, may involve closer scrutiny in a community that is fractured on a host of issues.
“Going after the Jewish vote in New York used to be one strategy,” said one Jewish Democratic activist. “Now you need an outer borough strategy, a Manhattan and a suburban strategy.”
Berman said the candidate was well prepared for such nuances. “The Jewish community is not monolithic. There are multiple issues in front of our community at any one time, and overall he’s a great friend,” he said.
The OU dinner is an unusual kickoff for Bradley’s Jewish campaign, given his leftward leanings. Aside from his hesitancy on the voucher issue — fundamental to a community that overwhelmingly pays yeshiva tuition — Bradley supports open gay participation in the military and legal protection for domestic partnerships. The OU uniformly opposes gay rights.
“With his record on campaign finance, health care and gun control, you might have expected that Hadassah or ADL would be the first place he’d do a major speech in the Jewish community,” said one Jewish leader. Staff writer Stewart Ain and editor Gary Rosenblatt contributed to this report.