A state Supreme Court ruling last week has set off a scramble for the second-most powerful job in city government.
Several key City Council members are insisting they are solidly behind Speaker Gifford Miller in his legal battle to stay in office. But just in case the court rejects Miller’s appeal of the ruling, which would force him out in December, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to fill the void.
"There is an overwhelming feeling in the Council that the city would be better off if the lawsuit is reversed," said Councilwoman Melinda Katz of Queens, among those said to be angling for support in a possible speaker bid.
Noting the ongoing budget negotiations and such efforts as the Council’s attempt to prevent firehouse closings, Katz said, "Most people feel that a change right now in the administration of the Council is not the best thing for the city."
Ruling on a suit by a former Republican councilman, the state court decided that the Council did not have the authority in September to override an aspect of voter-approved term limits. The change sought by Miller and five colleagues elected before 2001 would allow them to seek another four-year term since the current term is shortened to two years because of decennial redistricting.
If Miller’s appeal is unsuccessful,a new speaker must be chosen in January.
Katz, who would be both the first female and first Jewish speaker, was elected last year but previously served three terms in the state Assembly. Supporters say her prior political experience and ties to the Queens Democratic machine would make her a formidable candidate.
Another contender is finance chairman David Weprin, also of Queens.
"Clearly I’m in the mix whatever happens," Weprin said. "I’m on everybody’s list. But it’s still much too early."
Others include Lewis Fidler and Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn and Leroy Comrie of Queens. Some insiders give Comrie the best shot because he is already in a leadership post as majority whip, and as an African American might lead in support among members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, who comprise half the Council.
Another consequence of the ruling is that Council members who were forced out in 2001 and required to wait four years to seek re-election under the disputed amendment may get to run again next year. Among those mentioned as comeback-seekers are veterans Morton Povman of Queens and Noach Dear of Brooklyn.
"People have talked to me about it, and its something I’m contemplating and exploring," said Dear, who is best known as a champion of Orthodox issues, such as his battle to ban public advertising featuring scantily clad models. He has been itching to get back in public office, and last year narrowly lost a race for state Senate.
Dear’s former district, which includes parts of Borough Park and Flatbush, has been altered under redistricting and now does not include his Midwood home. But the rules allow candidates to run from anywhere in the city in a redistricting year, as long as they later relocate inside the district they represent.
Seeking his old seat back would mean challenging the formidable Simcha Felder, who has loads of money and the support of Borough Park powerhouse (and Dear nemesis) Dov Hikind.
Dear, currently a lawyer and member of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, also won’t rule out a run against the incumbent in his new home district, Kendall Stewart. n
The City Council has passed its share of resolutions in support of Israel over the years. Now Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations wants to return the favor.
Dan Gillerman plans to submit to the General Assembly next fall a measure that would "recognize the valor, the bravery, the freedom and the incredible hospitality of New York," the rookie diplomat announced Friday at a lunch forum sponsored by the Council’s Jewish Caucus.
He said it would be interesting to see if the resolution was adopted unanimously "as opposed to other resolutions introduced by Israel."
Over a kosher deli repast, Gillerman fielded questions from several Jewish and non-Jewish pols, as well as a few City Hall visitors, and spoke of his commitment to not only raising Israel’s profile in the world body but also working "to promote the interests of this city."
But few City Council events, it seems, can pass without a few sparks flying. Councilman Felder took an opportunity to question the usefulness, and even the existence of the United Nations.
"Even the tour stinks," said Felder.
That prompted G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx to note that Felder’s sentiments were not representative of the entire Council.
Felder replied: "I would never speak for you, Ollie."
The annual legislative breakfast of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush has gained a reputation as the noisiest Jewish organizational event on the East Coast: if not the country.
Community leaders, police officials, politicos and other guests at this yearís event on Sunday shmoozed on as usual as rabbis, Gifford Miller, city Comptroller Bill Thompson, various members of Congress and two borough presidents spoke from the podium.
There were exceptions. Hikind, just back from a trip to Israel, repeatedly shushed the audience during his long speech, as did Felder, one of the honorees.
But only Sen. Charles Schumer was afforded a quiet room without shushing, an apparent sign of his broad popularity and stature on the subject of Israel, his primary topic.
"ìWe have to make sure that when [the war] is over, no one is going to twist Israel’s arm," Schumer told the crowd, most of whom continued their conversations when he was done.
Other honorees at the breakfast included Ester Fuchs, a special adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Miller. When accepting his award, the endangered speaker suggested he was glad to have a group of his colleagues in plain sight.
"ìI see the entire Brooklyn delegation is standing behind me," he quipped, "which is a great relief."
Minority Leader David Paterson, the first African American to hold a leadership post in the state Senate, recently held a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, deepening an already strong relationship.
"Cooperation between blacks and Jews in Albany is stronger now than I have ever seen it," Paterson, who was elected to the Senate in 1985 but became the top Democrat last year, told The Jewish Week. He represents Harlem and parts of the Upper West Side. "Maybe it has to do with Sept. 11. But there is a realization that we have the same agenda.î"
Paterson recently hired a Jewish adviser, Wolf Sender, a former aide to H. Carl McCall when he was state comptroller. n
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver invoked his faith last week in an impassioned speech favoring funding for stem cell research, which would allow doctors to grow specialized cells or tissue to treat disease or injuries. The Catholic Church and other groups oppose the research because harvesting the stem cells from human fetal tissue destroys the embryo, which many see as morally problematic.
The House of Representatives has passed an anti-cloning law, supported by President George W. Bush, that would also ban stem-cell research.
An Assembly bill would ban research for reproductive cloning, but it authorizes stem cell research while creating a legislative advisory committee on the subject.
"As a Jew and a legislator, I know a thing or two about the conflict between religious law and secular law," Silver told a March 19 conference in Albany that included paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, a stem-cell advocate. "While I agree that we should not be cloning human beings, I have serious objections to the total ban on therapeutic cloning and somatic cell transfer advanced by the Bush administration."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman was to be a surprise guest speaker at a UJA-Federation-sponsored rally Thursday protesting proposed state cuts to programs in naturally occurring retirement communities.
Recognizing the 101st anniversary of the late Lubavitcher rebbe’s birth, the state Assembly is to issue a proclamation next week honoring the "immortal leader" of world Jewry, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The proclamation was presented by Silver to Rabbi Shmuel Butman, a leader of the Lubavitch messianic movement.
Feisty former Mayor Ed Koch has a few choice words for Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, who caused a firestorm by blaming Jews for the Iraq war.
"How can you say that your comments were simply insensitive but not anti-Semitic?" Koch asks in a letter to the Democratic congressman obtained by The Jewish Week. "What your comments, and I suspect your intent, convey is that if there are casualties, as there surely will be in any war, ‘blame the Jews.’"
Koch called on Moran to resign from Congress, then ended with his trademark closing: "All the best."