As if he hasn’t enough problems, trailing by double digits in recent polls, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful H. Carl McCall was contending with charges of ethnic conflict within his campaign this week after the firing of top political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
Democratic insiders loyal to Sheinkopf note that the strategist known for his bare-knuckle style ran the mayoral bid last year of Mark Green, who was accused of race baiting to defeat Fernando Ferrer in the Democratic runoff. Key backers of Ferrer, including former Bronx Democratic chairman Roberto Ramirez and former Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, are active in McCall’s campaign.
One Sheinkopf ally said that when the strategist engineered the easy victory by state Sen. Eric Schneiderman in a race against the Ramirez-supported Guillermo Linares in an Upper Manhattan primary brawl last month, “that clinched it.”
Some even claim Sheinkopf was fired because he is an Orthodox Jew with more conservative views than McCall’s, despite the fact that McCall has several other Orthodox Jews closely involved in his campaign.
Campaign manager Alan Cappelli said Ramirez was not involved in the decision and had no prior knowledge of it. “This is simply and purely an economic decision,” Cappelli said.
Other sources said Sheinkopf, who was earning $10,000 per month, was increasingly out of the loop on key decisions, had difficulty working with other staff members and was a luxury the campaign could no longer afford as the cash-strapped candidate steps up his costly TV ad campaign.
The controversy comes as McCall has faced questions about his apparent penchant for writing recommendations for friends and relatives on state stationery to companies that do business with the state. That fracas threatens to derail the momentum from McCall’s easy primary win against the fading Andrew Cuomo, who dropped out of the race.
Sheinkopf early on had served as chief media spokesman for the campaign. But McCall later brought in Steve Greenberg, the communications director from the comptroller’s office, and Cappelli increasingly has spoken for McCall. Sheinkopf also was out of the loop increasingly toward the end of Green’s campaign last year.
Sheinkopf was not the first choice to run McCall’s media campaign. He got the job after David Axelrod, who also worked for Ferrer, failed to commit quickly enough. Axelrod went on to work for Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Dennis Mehiel, whose campaign is now merged with McCall’s.
While somewhat embarrassing, the firing may turn out to be a blessing for the consultant, who has helped elect Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, city Comptroller William Thompson and other candidates in New York and across the country. That’s if McCall loses badly to Republican Gov. George Pataki next month.
A Quinnipiac University poll showed Pataki leading McCall, 48 to 32 percent, with a month before Election Day.
# “Everything comes to an end” was all Sheinkopf had to say on the record. “It was a good gig. I was proud to be able to cut Andrew Cuomo’s legs off and help them win the primary.”
Changes are afoot in the Pataki campaign, too. Greg Menken, a community liaison in the governor’s New York office, recently took a leave of absence and was named Jewish outreach director of Pataki’s re-election campaign. His responsibilities include a regular newsletter detailing the governor’s Jewish exploits. (This week’s top story: The mayor of Kiryas Joel calls Pataki a “mensch.”)
Taking over for Menken at the state office is Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, the affable chaplain of the state National Guard. Rabbi Goldstein, a Lubavitcher who formerly worked in the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal, insisted his new job did not involve helping the governor’s political campaign while on the taxpayer’s dole.
“I’m involved in the nitty-gritty of the governor’s Jewish community relations,” he said.
Expect the governor to make the most of an upcoming signing ceremony for the recently passed Workplace Accommodation bill, making it easier for religious employees of all faiths to sue for discrimination.
The photo op would allow him to appear with two top Democrats, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Spitzer, strengthening his appeal to moderate voters.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli, whose political career crashed and burned this week, had a record on Israel that was almost as murky as his ethics.
Morris Amitay of Washington PAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group, said Torricelli had “a fine record of support,” adding that he “was not particularly involved in our issues, but was a consistent supporter over the years.”
But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Torricelli had shied away from some measures that were less cut and dried. “Whenever we went to his people on issues of capturing Palestinians who murder Americans, or cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, his response was always lukewarm.”
Torricelli has also been slammed for taking money from the pro-Iranian National Council of Resistance for lobbying to get them off the State Department’s terrorist watch list.
Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, N.J., a close friend and supporter of Torricelli’s, said the senator is “very talented and has a tremendous sense of history. He’s a very eloquent spokesman for the issues he felt passionate about.”
An administrator with the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division, Rabbi Genack said Torricelli went with him to Israel.
“He was always a strong advocate,” said the rabbi, who believes the senator should have continued his bid for re-election, despite an ongoing corruption scandal. He said statements made by influence peddler David Chang ‘weren’t credible because he is a liar.”
Councilman Martin Golden is seeking the moral high ground in his campaign against Democrat Vincent Gentile for a state Senate seat in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Golden, of Bay Ridge, notes that he blasted Independence Party bigwig Lenora Fulani last year for saying that the Sept. 11 attacks were “the result of how America has positioned itself in the world.” As a result of his criticism, Golden claims, Independence members backed Gentile — who did not criticize Fulani — in the primary for the party’s nomination last month.
“Marty Golden defended his nation against Fulani’s attacks and ultimately sacrificed a ballot line for it,” said his campaign manager, Walter Pacholczak, in a statement.
Golden might be in a better position to criticize, however, had he not continued to seek the nomination of Fulani’s party.
Instead, he mounted a write-in campaign to get the nod, losing to Gentile only by two dozen votes.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems likely to veto legislation approved by the City Council last month to suspend street cleaning rules on Ash Wednesday, the Lunar New Year and Purim.
“The city can neither afford to not clean the streets, nor the $1 million this bill costs [in lost fines],” said mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz.
Brooklyn Councilman Simcha Felder, who drafted the legislation, isn’t giving up. “I’m hoping the mayor will see the light,” said Felder.
Agudath Israel of America has come out swinging over a recent measure by the City Council to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized outside New York.
The bill, says Agudah’s David Zwiebel, “is a further step away from the traditional notion of a family that has sustained civilized society since time immemorial.” Zwiebel adds that its “offensive” that the bill contains no provision to exempt religious organizations from compliance with the law.