Blurring the lines of party affiliation, Republican Gov. George Pataki won broad support in his successful re-election bid Tuesday from traditionally Democratic constituencies, including a large share of the Jewish vote.
While the percentage of Jewish voters for Pataki was not known Wednesday because of a glitch that prevented dispatches from the Voter News Service, the latest polls had shown Pataki and Democratic nominee H. Carl McCall neck and neck among Jews — something not seen in recent political history in a New York gubernatorial race. In 1998, Democrat Peter Vallone won about 60 percent of Jewish votes in his loss to Pataki.
The expected numbers for Pataki caused the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council to caution reporters and editors in an e-mail message, followed by phone calls, to scrutinize the numbers for accuracy.
But it was clear that whatever the precise numbers, Pataki had proven immensely popular among Jews, a likely byproduct of his moderate stands on nearly every domestic issue, his strong support of Jewish causes and, not least, a lackluster campaign by McCall (see accompanying story, page 19).
Independence Party candidate Tom Golisano was expected to garner only a small fraction of Jewish votes, despite a last-minute marketing blitz targeting the community.
Overall, Pataki beat McCall, the state comptroller, 50 to 33 percent.
But even as Pataki basks in his impressive victory, which his supporters hope will make him a contender for vice president in 2004 if Dick Cheney does not seek re-election, many Jewish leaders see trouble ahead. They see a third term transformed by a looming fiscal crisis and a changed political landscape wrought by the governor’s improbable political alliances.
In January, just as Pataki is sworn in, fiscal monitors will learn how deep a budget deficit the state is facing. Some estimates run as high as $10 billion, and programs Pataki has supported, endearing him to Jewish voters, are bound to fall under the ax.
“It’s easy to be a good governor when you have a lot of money for capital programs and community groups,” said Michael Nussbaum, co-president of the American Jewish Congress Metropolitan Region. “But next year will be a true test of leadership, and it takes a real diplomat to say sorry, come back next year.”
While Jewish social service groups have faced cuts before because of budget constraints, mainly affecting initiatives disbursed by the Legislature, the pending crisis could bring the most serious reduction in funding since the last recession in the early ’90s, said Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation’s managing director for government relations.
“The human services community, and UJA-Federation itself, recognizes that if the budget deficit is as large as some have projected, then health and human programs are going to be subject to potential reductions,” said Soloway.
Soloway said he was hopeful that the governor would work with the social services community, as he has in the past, to reduce expenses and consolidate resources to avoid cutting programs.
At the same time, Pataki’s standing in the Orthodox community, where he has received consistent loyal support, also may be tested because of alliances forged with the United Federation of Teachers and the Empire State Pride Agenda, the gay lobbying group.
The UFT has been steadfast in its opposition to public funding for private schools, while Orthodox groups have been pushing for the implementation of a tuition voucher program for yeshiva students.
“If we try to persuade the governor to try a voucher plan this year, this might make that more difficult,” said David Zwiebel, vice president for governmental affairs at Agudath Israel of America.
The Pride Agenda endorsement came after Pataki convinced the Republican-led state Senate to allow a vote on the controversial Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, a measure that would provide greater protection to gays, lesbians and transgender New Yorkers.
The measure was opposed by Orthodox and other conservative religious groups.
According to a report in Crain’s New York Business, Pataki even went so far as to threaten Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno with replacement if he did not allow the vote, which was blocked for years by the upper house.
“Pataki has always been a supporter of gay rights, but it appears that the pressure he placed on the majority leader led to that endorsement,” said Zwiebel. “This is an issue on which we will publicly take a position at odds with the governor. There may be some tension ahead.”
Zwiebel said he hoped the governor would be guided by a recent report issued by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who also was re-elected Tuesday, detailing constitutionally feasible ways in which more public funds could be used to help private schools. They include purchasing computers, reimbursing for remedial services and paying for teacher training. The UFT has not taken a position against those measures.
Watching the election returns Tuesday night in a suite on the 43rd floor of the New York Hilton, where Pataki held his victory celebration, Satmar Rabbi Leib Glanz said his group had a deep bond with the governor.
That bond extends back to when Pataki was an assemblyman and later senator representing upstate chasidic enclaves. He was a staunch supporter of the special school district for disabled students in the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel, the rabbi noted.
While McCall is a “nice guy,” Rabbi Glanz said, “Pataki has done everything in his power to assist the yeshivas and institutions, and he is a mensch. Even when he can’t help, he’s always concerned, always listens.”
Rabbi Glanz said he was unconcerned about the gay rights legislation.
“All the politicians do that, they don’t believe in it,” said the rabbi, surrounded by dozens of chasidim enjoying a hot kosher buffet, courtesy of Joseph Menczer and Joseph Goldberger, businessmen who have developed close ties and influence with Pataki.
Also attending the “Jewish party,” as one attendee called it, at the Hilton was Benjamin Landa, a part-owner of several nursing homes that according to The New York Times are housing mentally ill patients that were released by state institutions. Sources quoted in the Times said the patients were locked up and denied certain rights.
Landa, a major contributor to Pataki’s campaign, told The Jewish Week that no one on his behalf had lobbied the governor to create the arrangement in which the state contracts with the nursing homes. That plan has been decried by mental health advocates.
“I had nothing to do with this program,” Landa said. “It didn’t need the approval of the governor.”
Landa said the patients could leave the homes by signing a waiver. Pataki has had little comment on the matter, except to say the arrangement was approved by mental health professionals.
Pataki and Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue will remain the only statewide Republican elected officials.
Democrat Alan Hevesi, the Jewish former city comptroller and failed 2001 mayoral candidate, narrowly won the contest to replace McCall as state comptroller. Hevesi defeated John Faso, with about 50 percent to 45 percent for the Republican.
Spitzer, also Jewish and a Democrat, crushed Republican Dora Irizzary, 66 to 30 percent.
There were few surprises in congressional and legislative races, with incumbents generally prevailing, with the exception of Democratic State Sen. Vincent Gentile, who represents parts of southern Brooklyn. Gentile appeared Wednesday to have lost to Republican Martin Golden.
In Suffolk County, the fate of Republican Rep. Felix Grucci was unknown at press time, with his race against Democrat Tim Bishop too close to call.
New York City voters also handed Mayor Michael Bloomberg a political victory, approving a referendum that requires a special election within 60 days in the event of a mayoral vacancy. Previously, the public advocate held the office for 15 months.
The change is a political blow to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who views the measure as a step toward eliminating her office. Indeed, Bloomberg initially sought to require that the first deputy mayor immediately take his place if he is incapacitated.