Back when men wore fedoras to ballgames, a balanced ticket in New York Cityís ethnic politics was simply a Jew, an Italian and an Irishman. Not only has that gone the way of wicker seats on the subway, but that a Jew is running for Congress in Brooklyn is something youíd never know from reading The New York Times.
David Yassky, a veteran of the City Council, is running to represent Brooklynís 11th Congressional District. The last reference in the Times that we could find to his religion was his wedding notice in 1990, a wedding officiated by a Roman Catholic priest while a cantor sang.One of his opponents, Chris Owens, is a child of an intermarriage, the son of incumbent Major Owens, a black Christian, and a Jewish mother. Owens is now a Quaker.
Owens is running as a black candidate whose Judaism is nothing but a genetic curiosity while Yassky might as well be wearing a string-on chasidic beard and payes, as if in some Woody Allen movie, considering how bloggers have branded him the Jewish candidate and how he himself is campaigning. He has distributed flyers that feature a kiddush cup and a round matzah, and he promises ìto put a nurse in every yeshiva.
îOwens is one of three black candidates running in a district gerrymandered to guarantee, as it were, a black seat, according to ìtemporaryî provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The district, 58 percent black, has been represented by only two people, both black, Shirley Chisholm and Major Owens, since 1968. Yassky, according to the blacks in the race as well as Rev. Al Sharpton, has no business running. His opponents only speak of Yassky as white.Did we say Rev. Sharpton? Part of Crown Heights is in this congressional district, site of one of Rev. Sharptonís anti-Semitic rabble rousing 15 years ago this summer. Newspapers usually love anniversary stories and here is Sharpton back in Crown Heights, where he once spoke of ìdiamond merchantsî and where he now is calling Yassky ìgreedy.î An editorial in The Wall Street Journal (June 20) heard ìgreedyî as part of Rev. Sharptonís ìold fashioned race baiting,î a slur against a candidate ìwho is Jewish.î The Times didnít hear that at all.Unlike the Times, bloggers have been all over Yasskyís Judaism. The New York CaribNews believes ìit would be nothing short of a major calamityî if a black wasnít elected but there are ìa couple thousand white and Jewish residents in Crown Heights and the affluent Park Slope community, who presumably would solidly back Yassky.î
Another blog, The Daily Gotham, asked, ìDo you have to be Jewish to love Yassky?îA blog called MyDD (Direct Democracy) headlined a posting: ìanother Crown Heights riot?î After all, whatís ìthe object of all this wailing?î Yassky, ìa JewÖ He has muchos dÛlares, it seems.îYet another blogger wrote about ìYasskyís brownstone Jew voteÖ This is shaping up as a contest reflecting the polarization of the district, blacks vs. Jews. It is not going to be pretty.îThe New York Observer reported on Yasskyís flyer with the matzah and kiddush cup, a flyer ìthat was found in mailboxes in parts of the Crown Heights zip code where Easter bonnets were much more prevalent than peyes.îBut the Times refused to mention anything about the Jewish fever in the campaign. Said the Times (June 13), Yasskyís bid ìhas brought to the forefront latent racial tensions in a historically black district, anchored by Crown Heights and Flatbush, that also includes some wealthy white areas of Brooklyn like Park Slope,î as if these Jewish neighborhoods had no characteristics other than whiteness and wealth.
In a long piece on the district, the Times (June 25) finally said that the area was ìstill scarred by the Crown Heights violence that pitted blacks against Hasidic Jews,î but nothing about what this had to with Yassky. The Times cited critics who said Yassky is ìout of touch with the black populationî but nothing about black candidates being out of touch with chasidim.
Calls to the Times about its policy on candidatesí religion were not returned.According to one former Times reporter, and a perusal of old headlines, the Times originally saw the 1991 Crown Heights riot as nothing but a racial clash, another ìlong, hot summerî riot like in the 1960s. The riot, though, was later understood as an anti-Semitic assault, according to a government commission, with some politicians calling it a pogrom, not a racial clash, and even then-Mayor David Dinkins calling the killing of Yankel Rosenbaum ìa lynching,î one-sided, not a ìclash.î In fact, the riot could have been defined, at least in part, as left versus right, with some rioters, according to the Times (Aug. 22, 1991) shouting, ìThis is not Palestine,î nothing to do with American race at all. And now, Yasskyís campaign is only racial, though no one but the Times seems to think so.Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, told us, ìWhen the press has the choice between using an old narrative and just updating the facts, or breaking in a new narrative, itíll almost always choose the old.î n