Crown Heights is dead. That’s the consensus among a range of political observers and activists as the first mayoral race in a decade without an issue of pivotal concern in New York’s Jewish community takes shape.
The four days of rioting that shook the biracial neighborhood nearly 10 years ago — leaving two men dead, dozens hurt or victimized and a major metropolitan Jewish community gripped with fear of vulnerability after a chasidic driver accidentally killed a black child — figured prominently in the 1993 and 1997 races.
Jewish concern over the intersection of crime and racial politics contributed to the defeat of Democrats David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger, both at the hands of Republican Rudolph Giuliani, who offered up the riots as the epitome of everything he felt was wrong with the city, winning overwhelming Jewish support.
At the twilight of Giuliani’s tenure, crime is at a record low (although anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise.) The riots have been reduced to a scar salved by a $1.5 million civil settlement with the city and two high-profile civil rights convictions. Thus, no single, foremost issue is likely to define the way in which Jews vote.
“Giuliani has succeeded in making sure that crime is at the top of the agenda, and that Crown Heights won’t happen again,” said William Rapfogel, director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. “There is a wide range of issues and concerns that people in the Jewish community have [this year], including housing programs and immigrant concerns, but nothing as uniform or monolithic.”
So what matters most to the Jewish community this year?
At a forum last week featuring the four leading contenders in the Democratic primary, sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, the hot-button issue was aid to parochial schools. All four oppose publicly financed tuition vouchers. (Public Advocate Mark Green even told the Daily News he’d discontinue a program providing private, corporate funds for vouchers.)
But each candidate agreed to seek other ways to ease the financial burdens on yeshivas, said David Zwiebel of Agudah. Also discussed were concerns that programs such as subsidized housing and child-care vouchers would be geared primarily toward welfare recipients and single-parent families, to the detriment of working poor families in Orthodox communities.
“We suffer to an extent from the fact that we are not a welfare population,” said Zwiebel. “When a child is being raised in poverty or near poverty in a stable, two-parent home, there should not be prejudice against them. This is a real issue that cuts across a lot of different programs.”
In other segments of the Jewish community, relations between the city’s myriad ethnic groups, and between minorities and police, are likely to be crucial voter concerns, said Diane Steinman, director of the American Jewish Committee’s metropolitan region.
“We must ensure that the political and civic leadership of the city is responsive to the needs of all communities,” said Steinman. “The diversity of the city is unprecedented, and the Jewish community does not live in a vacuum. The next mayor will have to create an administration in which all communities have access.”
And although the mayor of New York has no substantive impact on foreign policy, Israel has traditionally played a role in local politics and this year is likely to be no exception. Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind said he is closely researching the Israel positions of all four Democratic candidates.
“New York has the largest Jewish community of any city in the U.S.,” Hikind said. “People expect the mayor to be a great friend of Israel, like Rudy Giuliani, who was incredible … It’s part of the fabric of the city and it’s not going to change now.”
But Rapfogel said the Jewish state’s complicated predicament in the wake of failing negotiations with the Palestinians has made it difficult to find a position with universal appeal, other than deferring to the Israelis’ judgment. “It was easier when Lindsey or Beame were mayor,” said Rapfogel. “The Jewish community is more split. It’s not a slam dunk anymore.”
# Line Items:rSen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has scored points among Israel supporters with her efforts to win entry into the International Red Cross for Magen David Adom. Clinton raised the issue with Secretary of State Colin Powell last week, and Powell agreed to push the issue.
“I think it is an important issue to finally have Israel recognized in the universe of nations,” said Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America. “But a much more important issue that Sen. Clinton should tackle is Yasir Arafat’s creation of a culture of hatred, promoting violence against Jews.”r
# Comptroller Alan Hevesi is using the city pension fund’s ownership of 527,000 shares of American Airlines as leverage to convince the company not to cancel flights to Tel Aviv after a merger with TWA. “This proposal is particularly disturbing because of reports that this route has continued to be profitable,” wrote the comptroller to American’s CEO, Donald Carty.r
# Gov. George Pataki has named Dr. Oleg Gutnik, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, as volunteer coordinator of the newly created Citizenship Unit that will help undocumented aliens apply for green cards before an April 30 deadline. A Brooklyn gynecologist, Gutnik is also a candidate for City Council in Brighton Beach.
A bipartisan group of 14 members of New York’s congressional delegation, led by Peter King (R-Nassau) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Nassau), have introduced legislation to extend the amnesty deadline for another six months.r
# Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) has introduced a House resolution calling on Iran to allow Red Cross officials to visit four Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in October.r
# Calling Syria a terrorist state hostile to Israel, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) is calling on President George W. Bush to oppose its inclusion on the UN Security Council.r
# Brooklyn State Sen. Seymour P. Lachman (D-Bensonhurst) has been elected president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, succeeding Minnesota State Sen. Richard Cohen. The organization has recently grown to more than 200 members in 30 state legislatures.r
# Lachman’s chief of staff, David Reich, will run for the Northern Queens City Council seat to be vacated by Morton Povman, Reich announced this week.