Gov. George Pataki has been taking on a higher profile in Brooklyn’s Jewish community than even some of the borough’s elected officials.
In the past two weeks the Republican, who announces his re-election bid this weekend, dropped in on Sephardic congregants at two Midwood synagogues on a Shabbat morning with Democratic Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz; toured the site of a future Holocaust center at Kingsborough Community College; and addressed a pro-Israel rally for Russian immigrants in Brighton.
Sunday night, he was among the guests at a fund-raiser for Assemblyman Dov Hikind in Flatbush, along with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.
At least one Democratic political club is poised to throw its support behind Pataki.
"He’s been more visible in my part of Brooklyn than any other governor," said Michael Geller, a district leader and head of the High-Way Democrats, who invited Pataki to Kingsborough, where he works. "He has stepped up to the plate in terms of Israel and our community."
Sources say members of Geller’s club were disenchanted by their treatment by the state and national Democratic organizations during last year’s mayoral race. Following allegations that activists in southern Brooklyn loyal to Mark Green plotted to use the Rev. Al Sharpton against Fernando Ferrer, top Democrats denounced members of the club and called for an investigation.
"We were upset about the fact that [County Democratic leader] Clarence Norman never stood up for us," said one source.
Pataki has a committee of Democratic supporters, headed by Ed Koch, and has hired a former Brooklyn Democratic councilman, Herb Berman, as a Jewish liaison. Democratic Sen. Carl Kruger, a Geller ally, already has endorsed Pataki.
Sources said Kruger’s former chief of staff, City Councilman Mike Nelson, would also like to back the governor but does not want to harm his prospects for leadership in the Democrat-run Council in 2004. Hikind is also backing Pataki’s re-election, and his former chief of staff, Councilman Simcha Felder would not rule out a future Pataki endorsement. "He’s been wonderful," said Felder.
But Geller said one factor that could harm Pataki’s Jewish support in Brooklyn was his pursuit of the Independence Party nomination. Democrats and other critics say extremists such as presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and radical activist Lenora Fulani, who has been labeled an anti-Semite, have hijacked the party.
"It troubles me," said Geller. "I plan to have a conversation with the governor about this."
Pataki’s deputy campaign manager, Lisa Stoll, said the governor "has made it clear he doesn’t agree with [Fulani] and has a strong record of speaking out against all forms of hatred." She added: "The Independence Party is not about any one person."
In another Jewish appearance, Pataki was to celebrate the centennial of Yiddish Theater in America Wednesday night by performing a skit in the mama loshen with Koch.
"People have often wondered who is the better Yiddish speaker of the two," kibitzed Pataki adviser Jeff Weisenfeld, noting that the governor is a former state senator from a chasidic upstate district. "The answer may be surprising."
In his strongest comments yet in defense of Jewish settlement on the West Bank, McCall compared the Green Line separating the territories from Israel to the Mason-Dixon line, which separated the Jim Crow South from the North.
McCall, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, raised some eyebrows in March by visiting a settlement and taking target practice at an army base. Speaking at the Young Israel of Avenue K in Brooklyn, McCall said he answers critics of Jewish settlements by noting that "we had a line in America called the Mason-Dixon line, and people in my community lived in a situation where there was no justice, segregation and discrimination."
He said that just as blacks shouldnít have been denied their rights in the South, Jews should be allowed to settle wherever they choose in Israel.
McCall also announced that he was investing an additional $10 million of pension funds in State of Israel Bonds, bringing the total investment to $68 million.
Meanwhile, McCall’s rival, Andrew Cuomo, drew fire from Hikind when he accepted the endorsement of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago. Jackson was among only 21 House members who voted against a resolution in support of Israel.
McCall’s campaign said the nod showed that Cuomo was out of touch with New Yorkers, who support Israel in large numbers. At a press conference, Cuomo said he disagreed with Jackson on the resolution, which he said he would have supported.
In an interview on NY1 cable, Jackson Jr., a liberal Democrat, said he supported the Jewish state but opposed the resolution because President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was not helpful.
In response, Hikind said, "I’m curious to know how often Jesse Jackson Jr. follows the lead of the Republican president."
Viewing Hikind as a proxy for McCall, Cuomo campaign manager Josh Isay called on McCall to "cease and desist from this racially and ethnically divisive campaign. It is clear that he cannot unite the people of this state."
In a separate development, sources say Cuomo is in the process of interviewing candidates for a Jewish affairs coordinator.
Senator Clinton is among those who have picked up the term "homicide bombings" to emphasize the mass murder committed by Palestinian terrorists, generally referred to as suicide bombers. Clinton and Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, use the term in a letter to Dr. Randy Smoak, chairman of the World Medical Association, urging Smoak to reject efforts to expel the Israel Medical Association from its membership.
"Attempts to expel Israel risk undermining the goals and mission of the IMA by inalterably politicizing its membership and agenda," wrote the senators. The French-based organization was to vote on the anti-Israel resolution Wednesday, but tabled it indefinitely under strong international pressure.
Ruth Messinger’s endorsement of Bill Mulrow for state comptroller should come as no surprise to those with long memories. The former Manhattan borough president hasn’t forgotten that Mulrow’s Democratic rival, former city Comptroller Alan Hevesi, did little to help her 1997 mayoral bid, and threw a monkey wrench into the race by denouncing Messinger’s rival, Rev. Sharpton: something Messinger was reluctant to do.
"ìI am no fan of Hevesi," said Messinger, executive director of the American Jewish World Service. "This was an easy decision." But she insists it’s not a case of Anyone but Hevesi.
"Bill is a real mensch," she says of the Westchester Democrat and money manager who is funding much of his own campaign. "This is an affirmative endorsement of Bill Mulrow."
When the Web site PoliticsNY recently reported that the Bronx district of Rep. Eliot Engel was on the reapportionment short list for elimination by the state Legislature, Engel scoffed, calling it "the rumor of the week."
But when the Assembly and Senate released their plans for the new map this week, they had one thing in common: Both had Engel in the crosshairs.
The Republican-led Senate would merge Engel’s district with that of Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who now has chunks of Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Democrat-led Assembly plan could pit Engel against Republican veteran Ben Gilman of Rockland. Either way means an uphill fight for an eighth term for Engel.
Before the plan was released Speaker Silver said Engel, his former Assembly colleague, was "an outspoken advocate for the city and of Israel and is not someone I would be inclined to support the elimination of."
A recent item in this column cited sources who implied that a pro-Israel resolution by Senator Kruger was unlikely to pass. The measure, cosponsored by Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, passed unanimously on April 16.