The head of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Senate exploratory committee is vehemently denying a published report last week that chasidim are being pressured to cough up campaign contributions, or lose the grants and programs on which many of their communities depend.
Jewish Week columnist Marvin Schick wrote last week of a conversation with an unnamed chasidic leader who complained that the Giuliani administration was "twisting the arm of chasidim, the message being that unless substantial contributions were forthcoming there would be retribution in the form of reduced benefits and support for chasidic projects."
Chasidic communities in such areas as Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn depend heavily on housing aid, child care programs and social service grants to help the poor and needy awarded to non-profit communal agencies. Bruce Teitelbaum, the mayor’s primary Jewish liaison and top campaign aide, blasted the allegations as "patently false and absurd on their face. I challenge Mr. Schick to substantiate these wild allegations."
Schick, an Orthodox consultant on education issues and president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Staten Island, declined to identify the chasidic leader on background, for verification of the conversation. Saying only that it was a well-known leader, Schick said he stood by his column.
Recalling the large chasidic presence at a Giuliani fund-raiser last spring, at which some 600 kosher meals were reportedly ordered, Schick quipped, "I guess [they] were there because they had no other affairs to go to that evening."
Numerous chasidic and other Jewish leaders interviewed for this column said they had no knowledge of any threats from the Giuliani campaign. But one said it would not surprise him.
"Even though they may be running legitimate programs and getting legitimate contracts, [the chasidim] have been given the sense that they are getting something they shouldn’t be," said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "People know how to make them feel guilty, that they are not entitled to it."
Mitchell Moss, of the Taub Center for Urban Policy at New York University, said it would be "shocking to link campaign contributions to public programs." But Moss said such allegations were not unexpected on the eve of what could be the nation’s hottest Senate race if Republican Giuliani faces Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. "This could be a harbinger of the way in which the campaign will evolve," said Moss.
Amid signs that Democratic Vice President Al Gore is facing a tough fight in New York for his 2000 presidential campaign, one Democratic district leader in Manhattan is throwing his support behind former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore’s only Democratic rival. Jerry Goldfeder, leader of the Park River Independent Democrats of the Upper West Side, and president of the Manhattan chapter of the American Jewish Congress, says he supports Bradley because he is "the most electable Democrat" and because of his positions on breast cancer research, campaign finance reform and race relations.
Bradley’s campaign is gaining momentum, having hooked the endorsement this week of Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerry.
Kosher caterer Jay Parker will depart for Austin, Texas this weekend in the service of Gov. George Pataki, settling a losing bet against Gov. George W. Bush over last month’s NBA championship. Had the Knicks prevailed, Pataki would have been owed a pair of Texas cowboy boots. Since the San Antonio Spurs won the title, Parker (of Ben’s Best Deli in Rego Park, Queens) will be delivering enough salami and chopped liver to feed Bush and 24 hungry staffers. Ben’s is no stranger to political catering; its fare is often imported to Capitol Hill by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens).
"The governor has been [to Ben’s] a number of times and enjoys their food," said Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon. "Unfortunately, Gov. Bush will also be enjoying it."
Pataki’s generosity notwithstanding, Bush’s presidential campaign is reportedly bursting with an astonishing $35 million: probably enough to buy all the chopped liver in New York state.