Rudolph Giuliani’s much-maligned comments at a Jewish breakfast Sunday, implying the city might fall into anarchy under Democrat William Thompson, have placed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a bind.
The aura of continuing his predecessor’s tough-on-crime policies is vitally important to the incumbent’s re-election effort. Yet Bloomberg has struggled not to be seen as polarizing and divisive, the way much of the city views Giuliani’s eight-year tenure.
Democrats bashed the erstwhile Republican mayor’s comments as fear-mongering.
“I worried daily that the city might be turned back to the way it was before 1993 — and you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Giuliani told the crowd at the Jewish Community Council of Borough Park. “This community remembers the fears, the worries and the crimes — and the great fear of going out at night and walking the streets.”
Giuliani unseated Democrat David Dinkins in 1993, criticizing the mayor as weak on crime because of the 1991 Crown Heights riots.
In addition to Jewish community leaders, the room was filled with a large number of Holocaust survivors who were being honored by the JCC.
“I think, you know, because of the presence of the Holocaust survivors and so many other things, how important this is, so please vote for a mayor that’s been there for you,” Giuliani said.
Thompson spokeswoman Ann Fenton said the remarks were part of a “tired Republican campaign tactic — scare people into voting by threatening their personal safety. It didn’t work for Rudy Giuliani during his abysmal presidential bid, and it’s not going to work for Mike Bloomberg this year.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which has often called on candidates in previous races to stick to the issues and avoid divisive rhetoric or appeals, said it had no comment Tuesday.
“We don’t think there were any lines crossed here. It was a general statement,” said spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum.
But Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel, author of a flattering book about Giuliani’s tenure, blasted the comments, telling the New York Observer that they were “neither morally defensible nor politically sensible.”
A Democrat who could soon be a thorn in Bloomberg’s side as public advocate if both are elected on Nov. 3, Councilman Bill de Blasio called on the mayor to “disavow those comments and show that he doesn’t buy into that kind of rhetoric.”
While he has not directly addressed Giuliani’s comments, the mayor, while receiving the endorsement of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Monday, said: “I am phenomenally proud of our record of bringing people together from all neighborhoods and every community. And I think we’ve successfully resisted attempts to divide the city.”
Throughout his tenure, Bloomberg has bristled at any suggestion of rising crime. In the Oct. 13 mayoral debate, he attacked Thompson for saying he would replace Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and in closing remarks he said “eight [years] is not enough for lowering crime.”
Giuliani’s comments may be a sign of concern that Orthodox Jews, who turned out heavily for Bloomberg in the last two races, might sit it out this year, either because of the mayor’s controversial maneuvering to overcome term limits or simply because of the perception that the City Hall race, like the other lopsided citywide contests, is a fait accompli.
But it also fits into a pattern in recent mayoral history where Giuliani and the Jewish vote is concerned.
History Of Dire Warnings
In 1997, when Giuliani was seeking a second term, his political ally, Jules Polonetsky, wrote a letter to The Jewish Press, an Orthodox weekly, saying that Democrat Ruth Messinger would be “our worst nightmare.” Polonetsky, an Orthodox Jew who was running for public advocate, later insisted he was not speaking for the mayor’s campaign.
Four years later, although Giuliani was not on the ballot, a senior adviser, Bruce Teitelbaum caused a stir with comments in The Jewish Week that Democratic mayoral contender Fernando Ferrer would appoint people who are “Dinkins retreads” and “that should be a great concern to the Jewish community.”
Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Bloomberg supporter, defended Giuliani’s comments, saying they had nothing to do with race.
“It’s reasonable to point out that Bloomberg lowered crime after Giuliani brought it down,” said Koch. “Simply saying that didn’t make it a racist statement. People who are critical of Giuliani and his statement would like to turn it into that.”
Asked if he felt Thompson would be weaker on crime than Bloomberg, Koch said, “I haven’t got the slightest idea,” but noted that Thompson, in his opinion, should not have ruled out retaining Kelly.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who was to endorse Thompson this week after backing Bloomberg in 2005, said Giuliani’s comments had hurt the mayor more than helped him.
“It was uncalled for and crossed the line,” said Hikind, who campaigns heavily in the Orthodox community for candidates he endorses. “In 1993, crime was the No. 1 issue in this city for everybody. What he did was go to those fears with a subtle message that we don’t want to go back to those days. He must have been trying to help Bill Thompson because surely none of this helps the mayor.
“No one is running to the polls to vote for Bloomberg because Giuliani scared them last Sunday.”
Of 500 people at the breakfast at Congregation Khal Chasidim, most appeared to be enthusiastic about both Bloomberg and Giuliani. At one table, occupied mostly by elderly women who survived the Holocaust, there was a discussion of how they would lean in a mythical match-up between the two mayors. The consensus was that it would be a tough choice.
As Bloomberg entered the hall, about an hour after the event began, some in the back began shouting, “Four more years.” Giuliani arrived about 30 minutes later and received hearty applause as he made his way to the dais to receive the JCC’s “City Leadership Award.”
In his remarks, Bloomberg said his administration has built on what Giuliani did and that the former mayor deserves the “warm feelings” Borough Park residents have toward him.
A former housing commissioner and finance commissioner in the Koch administration and a board member of the JCC of Boro Park, Abraham Biderman, said he didn’t see any Jewish issues in this race — only the question of what’s good for the city as a whole.
“I think [Bloomberg] has done a very good job — and I think we need his leadership to continue” in that fashion, said Biderman.
Community organizer Ezra Friedlander, speaking on behalf of the JCC, said he invited Thompson to attend the event a few weeks ago but never heard back from the candidate’s scheduler.
He rejected the suggestion that giving the mayor an award less than three weeks before an election might be seen by some observers as an endorsement. “Candidates for office regularly receive awards from various organizations, and no one sees it as an endorsement,” he said. “It’s a reflection of the organization’s admiration for [the candidate’s] performance while holding elective office.”
Discussing his sense of the city’s Jewish population, Friedlander said he believes “the community historically supports the incumbent unless there’s a compelling message from the challenger why you shouldn’t. That’s how I gauge the reaction of the average Chaim Yankel on the street.” He said people in the neighborhood were grateful to the mayor for extending the city’s Priority 7 vouchers, which pay for tutoring for children in private schools.
Some Of His Best Friends
On Sunday evening, Thompson spoke before a crowd of about 40 people at the Avenue N Jewish Center in Brooklyn, where Hikind is a member.
Hikind spoke of three decades of working with Thompson as deputy borough president of Brooklyn, president of the Board of Education through his present term as comptroller. Hikind’s brother, Pinchas, is a special assistant to the comptroller and Jewish liaison.
Eli Rosenberg, an officer of the congregation, said it had also invited Bloomberg to speak but hasn’t received confirmation yet from the mayor’s campaign. “We want to give our community the chance to hear both of them,” he said.
Taking the political pulse of his congregation, Rosenberg said before Sunday’s forum that he believes the center’s members are pretty evenly divided in their views toward Bloomberg and Thompson.
The candidate, whose father, William C. Thompson, Sr., is a longtime Democrat activist, former state senator and retired judge, mentioned his lifelong close ties with Brooklyn Jews. “His closest friends, his business partners, people who came over to play bridge [were Jewish],” he said. “That’s what I remember.”
(The elder Thompson famously said during the 2001 inauguration that he and Bloomberg’s mother, Charlotte, were having “nachas” from their children.)
Thompson, Jr. recalled working with Hikind to raise money for bulletproof vests to protect medics who respond to terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank, and said he was the first New York comptroller to invest in Israel Bonds. As a major stockholder in American corporations on behalf of the city’s pension fund, he said he pressured U.S. companies to stop doing business with Iran and Syria.
In response to a question, Thompson said he did not support school vouchers but favored finding other ways to help families with students in private schools. He blasted Bloomberg for a “cynical attempt” to eliminate the Priority 7 vouchers. “He proposed eliminating them and then, because of pressure from the City Council, restored them and tried to take credit.”
The crowd seemed overwhelmingly favorable to Thompson. One man in the audience, Sol Winter, told the comptroller, “We Jews are used to long odds and don’t consider that an obstacle.”
After the event Winter said he had decided his vote based on the fact that “the mayor went against the will of the voters [regarding term limits]. I don’t want to see him get rewarded for undemocratic behavior.”
Moshe Muratov, 24, said he volunteered for Bloomberg’s campaign four years ago, but would vote for Thompson this time. “The term limits [change] showed chutzpah,” said Muratov. But he said getting out the vote in his community might not be easy. “We have to dispel fear in the community of another Dinkins.”
Correspondent Doug Chandler contributed
reporting for this article.
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