On the 33rd floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel Tuesday night, Sheldon Silver’s mood transcended that of the Democratic crowd in the ballroom below. Silver, the state Assembly speaker, was elated that he had held onto his majority in the state’s lower house, and even gained a seat, as staff members and politicians in his suite noshed kosher deli sandwiches and checked off names and districts on a large chart.
But as the tally of electoral votes continued to skew in favor of President George W. Bush, Silver — easily re-elected to his Lower East Side seat Tuesday — took a minute to reflect on the implications of a second Bush administration on Israel.
“Based on his family history and not having to face voters again, you have to have questions,” he said, referring to former President George H.W. Bush’s sometimes testy relations with Israel and its supporters, and the current president’s status as a lame duck. Silver pondered whether James A. Baker, the elder Bush’s chief of staff and later secretary of state — a non-favorite in the pro-Israel world — would now take a place in the younger Bush’s cabinet. “He played a role in the campaign, as the negotiator on the debates,” said Silver. “You also have to wonder about the relationship with Saudi oil.”
City Councilman David Weprin of Queens, visiting Silver’s suite, also said that Bush’s support for Israel might not be as strong in a second term. “Bush in the second term may not be the same as Bush in the first term,” he said. “John Kerry’s history and his need to run for re-election would mean that the Jewish community has nothing to worry about.”
In the Grand Hyatt Ballroom, a re-elected Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens told reporters “I don’t want to fathom what it’s going to be like for four more years of Bush.” Acknowledging a fair share of Jewish support for the president, Weiner said “Bush was persuasive to some Jewish people but for the most part the values of the Jewish people continue to be the values of John Kerry. The values of the Jewish community are the values of the Democratic Party,” such as fair treatment and good relations and sympathy with immigrants, and social values.” Noting a majority of Jewish votes for Kerry, Weiner said “what they learned is that there is more to winning the Jewish vote than being good on Israel, you have to be more tolerant, respect the separation of church and state and be more fiscally responsible.”
At Branch restaurant on the East Side, members of AIPAC’s New York regional board gathered to watch the returns. It was a solidly bipartisan crowd.
Adam Sanders, a Manhattan banker and Bush voter, said he didn’t think Kerry would be as strong on Israel. “In a second term, there is always the possibility that Bush would turn on Israel, but it would be a dramatic about-face,” said Sanders as the projection of another state captured by Bush flashed on a giant TV screen.
Carol Lipsky, also of Manhattan, a real estate broker and lifelong Democrat, said “Kerry got the Jewish vote because of the issues and because they were anti-Bush, who stands for bringing down the wall between church and state.” She said Republicans would continue courting the Jewish vote because they “still get a tremendous amount of money from the Jewish community, so I don’t think they can afford to neglect the Jewish vote.”
Added Mort Fridman, 46, a medical doctor from Teaneck, N.J.: “One election does not turn the tide. I think the Bush campaign knew what it was going to get [from its own polls]. They were figuring to get between 20 and 25 percent or the Jewish vote. They were realistic.”
Michael L. Binday, an investment broker from Westchester and Kerry supporter, said he made his choice for Kerry painstakingly. “I was on of those voters who was on the fence.” He decided to vote for Kerry because “I believe that he is more capable of winning the war than Bush.” He said Bush has mismanaged the war since declaring victory in the initial hostilities in 2003.
This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, said Jeff Ballabon of Orthodox support for the Republican president.
A public affairs consultant from Long Island who has been working since 9-11 to draw the Orthodox to Bush, Ballabon believes that “people who associate Jewishness with Judaism voted overwhelmingly for Bush.” Ballabon believes Orthodox support for Bush was near 80 percent, although exit polls in Ohio and Florida said the figure was actually 69 percent. He said he gathered rabbinical edicts urging support for Bush because of his positions on Israel.
A former aide to Sen. John Danforth who organized a meeting between Orthodox leaders and top GOP officials during the Republican convention here in August, Ballabon, 41, predicts that the party will only increase its outreach to observant voters in the future. “If current trends hold it will only be another five presidential elections before the Orthodox make up 50 percent of the Jewish community,” he said. He accused Democrats of trying to scare Jewish voters by linking the president to Christian conservatives.
“They said it doesn’t matter how good George Bush is, you should be afraid of him because he has a cabinet full of really religious people,” said Ballabon. “But [Orthodox voters] would be more scared of people who try to marginalize religious people.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Borough Park, a Democrat, says Bush won 67 percent of the Jewish vote in his district. He supported Democrat Al Gore in 2000 but switched to Bush this year. Was it fair to abandon, in Kerry, a senator who had a 100 percent vote rating from AIPAC?
Kerry’s record was “like most people in the Senate. But Bush was perceived as someone who really cared and had proven himself over four years.” When Kerry said he might send Jimmy Carter as a Mideast envoy “people just couldn’t get it out of their mind,” said Hikind.
Staff writer Stewart Ain and editorial intern Shmuel Steinberg contributed to this report.