Some residents of Brighton Beach are angry over a new redistricting plan that would remove the heavily immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood from its current City Council district, possibly diluting its political power.
But others in the area are welcoming the change because it could amount to increased clout for Russian-speaking immigrants, who would be a concentrated presence in two districts rather than one.
"There is no consensus on this issue in the community," said Alec Brook-Krasny, executive director of the Council of Jewish Emigre Community Organizations, based in Brighton. "Because of this we have not become involved."
A group of protesters converged Friday on City Hall to protest the change, which was proposed by a panel appointed by the mayor, Council speaker and the Councilís Republican minority leader.
The City Council has until Jan. 8 to review the plans. After that, there will be public hearings before a final plan is submitted to the Department of Justice in March.
The protesters insist the change would violate the City Charter’s mandate to keep immigrant and ethnic communities intact, and would harm the chances of electing a Russian-American Council member.
The change would remove about 5,000 Russian Jews in several housing complexes from the 47th District and replace them with mostly Italian Americans in nearby Bensonhurst. The protesters argue that change would protect the incumbent councilman, Dominic Recchia, who was elected after two Russian-American candidates split their community’s vote in last year’s Democratic primary.
Recchia has not taken a public position on the change.
The protesters say they will submit their own redistricting plan to the Charter Commission. But the lack of a united front would seem to increase the chances of the current plan being approved.
A Jewish communal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Brighton Beach "has always been in danger of being split because some people want very desperately to undermine the strength of the Russian vote," one of the fastest growing segments of the electorate. But the official said it was not clear that would happen under this plan.
Councilman Michael Nelson, who would gain part of the Russian-speaking community under the plan, said he had heard most often from its opponents.
"They feel the redistricting commission wasnít helping them by taking too many Russians out of the present configuration," said Nelson, whose district now includes most of Midwood and Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.
In an editorial Tuesday, the Russian-language newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo implied a double standard when it comes to empowering minority communities.
"Why are the Asian, Latino and black communities being given a chance to win Council seats in their districts, while the Russian-American community is being divided and thereby prevented from electing its own Council member?" asked the paper.
Dr. Oleg Gutnik, a prominent activist in Russian-American politics who ran against Recchia as a Republican, said the community overwhelmingly opposed the plan and said he did not understand why Brook-Krasny has not joined the protest.
Gutnik said the 47th District has far more Russian Jews who are registered to vote than Nelson’s district, the adjoining 48th.
"This will drastically reduce the power of the Jewish vote in the 47th while not changing much in the 48th," he said.
Forgive Attorney General Eliot Spitzer if he hits federal officials with an "I told you so" following the arrest of four brothers in Texas accused of helping Hamas terrorists.
Back in 1999, Spitzer called on the IRS to pursue a vigorous investigation of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. He said there was cause for suspicion the group was channeling money to Hamas that was used to harm Israelis.
One of the suspects arrested this week, Ghassan Elashi, is on the board of the Holy Land Foundation. After 9-11, the feds froze more than $5 million in Holy Land funds after designating it a terror support group.
Spitzer was out of town Monday, but his spokesman, Darren Dopp, said: "We are pleased the administration acted. It’s unfortunate that it took 9-11 to get that response. It was fairly clear in ’99 that something was wrong. Our belief was that a terrorist group was using a charity as a front. We brought that to the attention of federal authorities, but there was no action for an extended period."
On the local political front, what was once seen as a cakewalk for Spitzer to the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006 is looking ever more crowded.
Pundits in Crain’s New York Business and the Forward speculated that Sen. Charles Schumer may throw his hat in the ring. Schumer faces re-election in 2004, and his showing in that race is sure to have an impact on his prospects and decision-making in ’06.
Predictions are that Schumer will tire of being in the Senate minority and of jockeying for position with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Spitzer and Schumer are formidable fund-raisers, but Schumer would not have to surrender his Senate seat to run for governor. That means Spitzer, rather than brave a tough fight, might choose a more certain third term as attorney general.
Other possible Democrats for governor might include 2002 dropout Andrew Cuomo and Alan Hevesi, who takes office next week as state comptroller. A primary pitting Schumer against Hevesi could be a problem for consultant Hank Morris, who has run campaigns for both men.
His approval rating may be sinking fast, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg received a rousing reception Monday morning in Borough Park. The mayor was greeted by hundreds of community leaders and civilians packed into a 16th Avenue catering hall at a breakfast sponsored by Councilman Simcha Felder.
Although his community was upset by the recent 18.5 percent property tax hike, Felder voted in favor of the bill last month, leading Bloomberg to praise his courage. Felder, in turn, said the mayor was taking a bum rap because the city’s post-Sept. 11 finances made the tax hike unavoidable.
"ìPeople should point their finger in the right direction: at Osama bin Laden," said Felder.
Bloomberg praised the Police Department for continuing to reduce crime, citing a projected 12 percent drop in murders this year, and promised that transportation officials were working to address local problems, such as the battle between garbage trucks and school buses for dominance of local streets and menacing, unused trolley tracks peeking out of the asphalt on McDonald Avenue.
The mayor also cited the restoration of 2,500 day care voucher slots needed by the Orthodox community that faced cuts in the last budget adjustment. Councilman Bill de Blasio had lobbied to save those slots, working with Agudath Israel of America.
In a humorous aside, Bloomberg took a swipe at the city’s public advocate, saying he was particularly glad there was no transit strike because he would have had to ride his bicycle to work in the rain last week. He then might have fallen ill, ended up in the hospital, "and you would have had Betsy Gotbaum running the city."
Bloomberg and Gotbaum have had an increasingly icy relationship.