Fate can be fickle when you’re a member of Congress caught up in the decennial redistricting process. A few weeks back, Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel was emerging as one of the big losers in the process. Now he’ singing the praises of the state Legislature committee that drew the new lines.
"I’m absolutely delighted," said Engel, a six-term veteran. "I’m like a kid again!"
Engel’s new district includes 50 percent of his old turf, including his home base of Riverdale, and picks up parts of Westchester as well as three heavily Jewish Rockland towns.
"It came down to two competing plans, and I was happy with whichever one they chose," he gushed.
Infinitely less giddy is veteran Republican Rep. Ben Gilman of Rockland, who not only loses a chunk of his district to Engel but faces a battle for his reconfigured district with fellow Republican Sue Kelly of Westchester.
Gilman was happier with the plan imposed by federal Special Master Frederick Lacey earlier this year, before the state came up with a long-awaited plan that if approved by a federal court will replace Lacey’s plan. Gilman is preparing a motion to block that from happening.
"The Special Masterís plan offers an appropriate, fair, and equitable plan for our Hudson Valley region and our State," said Gilman in a statement. "The politically motivated plan approved … by the State of New York does not appropriately reflect the best interests of the people of New York."
GOP leaders are trying to avoid a primary for Gilman’s seat and are expected to offer the 15-term representative an ambassadorship or another administration position. But Gilman seems intent to hold onto his seat, even mulling a switch across the aisle. That prospect was welcomed by the National Jewish Democratic Council.
"While of course we would very happily welcome Rep. Gilman into the Democratic family with open arms, it is simply a shanda (a disgrace) that Republican leaders in New York and Washington would not be more supportive of one of the only two Jewish House Republicans," said Ira Forman, the NJDC’s director.
The other Jewish Republican is Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Republicans insist there is a trend of Jewish voters abandoning the Democratic Party and flocking to the GOP. "Jews have been, along with African Americans, the most loyal Democratic constituency," wrote cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder in The Wall Street Journal this week. "This pattern, I hope and believe, is about to change."
But there is evidence that at least in New York, Jewish Republican elected officials are an endangered species. Mayor Michael Bloomberg aside, State Sen. Roy Goodman of Manhattan recently stepped down, and his would-be Jewish successor, GOP Assemblyman John Ravitz, failed to win his seat. On Staten Island, Jewish Assemblyman Robert Straniere of Staten Island is fighting for his political life after falling out of favor with his party when he refused to drop out of the race for borough president last year.
Maybe the GOP should be handing out ballot petitions instead of voter registration forms to the Jewish community.
The annual legislative breakfast of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is becoming the venue of choice for politicians to announce Israel trips. Last year it was Gov. George Pataki and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall who announced their intention to show solidarity with the Jewish state.
This year it was City Council Speaker Gifford Miller. "I’m going to be leading a delegation of Council members this summer, after weíre done with the budget," Miller told the power-packed gathering at the Metropolitan Hotel in Midtown. "We’re going to show that we as New Yorkers understand and we want to be supportive in any way we can."
The mission is planned for August and the itinerary is being coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation.
Pataki says he’ll go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to restore the state’s kosher enforcement law.
Last month a federal court upheld a lower courtís ruling that the law mired state authorities in religious doctrine and was therefore unconstitutional. Pataki said he would study the decision, then last week announced that the Department of Agriculture and Markets would seek to present additional arguments in the case, or go to the high court if necessary.
"ìNew York’s kosher laws have protected generations of consumers from fraudulently packaged and misbranded products," said Pataki in a statement.
Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion admits he messed up when planning this year’s Bronx Week festivities. For the first time in the event’s 68-year history, the parade that culminates the weeklong celebration of diversity will be held on a Saturday, precluding the participation of Sabbath observers. The annual Bronx Week banquet will be held on Friday night, the Web site PoliticsNY.com first reported last week.
"I will accept criticism for the scheduling," said Carrion, noting the event was moved up because of Father’s Day. "What I will not accept is criticism about cutting people out. There was no intention to cut people out."
Carrion said disgruntled individuals have been feeding nasty items about him to the incisive and anonymous PoliticsNY.com, which has accused him of keeping Jews off his senior staff.
"My press secretary is Jewish, Fred Winters, my director of legislation and budget is also Jewish, Corey Bearak, and my director of health and human services, Linda Loeb, is Jewish," Carrion said. "There are probably one or two people out there who have a bee on their bonnet for some reason and have decided they want to find and issue."
Carrion said members of his staff served as liaisons to various ethnic communities but no one specifically has such a title. He declined to say who he thought was trying to do him in.
"I’m not playing into that kind of petty ethnic division nonsense," he said.
Rep. Anthony Weiner has become a leading advocate in Congress for missing Israeli soldiers. He recently called on the House to pass the Syrian Accountability Act, which would impose economic and political sanctions until Syria releases Israeli prisoners and stops sponsoring terrorism. He spoke on the House floor June 4, the 25th birthday of Guy Hever, an Israeli soldier believed to have been taken captive by Syria.
"ìIf we allow Syria or other states to remain unaccountable for holding Israeli hostages, we are simply inviting more hostage taking in the Middle East and throughout the world," said Weiner, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
On Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of the capture of four soldiers after a tank battle in Lebanon, Weiner sent a letter signed by 22 colleagues of both parties calling on Secretary of State Colin Powell to push for the soldiers’ release in his meetings with Syrian leaders. One of the soldiers, Zachary Baumel, is a U.S. citizen born in Brooklyn.
The scene was the Manhattan office of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. A small crowd of elected officials and community leaders had gathered at Spitzerís invitation to hear Israeli reserve soldiers discuss their roles in Operation Defensive Shield. As the New Yorkers introduced themselves to the Israelis, several felt compelled to show their connection to Israel.
Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council noted his son recently completed service in an elite IDF unit. Councilman David Weprin of northern Queens noted that his son was studying at a yeshiva in Israel. Then it was Harlem Councilman Bill Perkins’ turn.
"I have a Jewish ex-father-in-law," he announced.