Pentitent politician Eliot Spitzer took his campaign on a pre-High Holidays visit to Borough Park Friday, where he purchased a pair of prayer books and said he hoped people would remember his advocacy for religious freedom.
“I’m hoping people will look at my record as attorney general and as governor on issues deeply important to the Orthodox community,” he said.
Spitzer, who resigned from the governor’s office in 2008 after a prostitution scandal and is now leading in the all-Jewish Democrat primary for city comptroller, recalled his successful 2002 lawsuit against Sears on behalf of an observant Jewish worker and his support for more taxpayer funding for yeshivas in answering questions from reporters.
But after meeting privately with undisclosed rabbis and other leaders, Spitzer greeted just a few voters on 13th Avenue, the neighborhood’s central shopping strip, which is far less crowded in the summer, when thousands vacation in the Catskills.
Wearing a large black yarmulke of the sort favored by haredi Jews, Spitzer visited Eichler’s Judiaca and Amnon’s Pizza, both longtime Borough Park institutions. At the first stop he purchased two ArtScroll machzorim for the holidays, declining a store patron’s advice to hondle, or bargain for the price. He also declined to attempt to sound a shofar. “I can’t read the Hebrew either,” he said, holding the books (which contain English translations). “I freely confess my limitations.”
Spitzer was accompanied by Rabbi Shlomo Braun, founder of Aleh Foundation, which helps special children in Israel and also a community liaison to Republican state Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn. Also with him were local businesman Ben Barber and Warren Cohn, a political consultant.
Spitzer said he did not plan to campaign during Rosh HaShanah, Sept. 5 and 6, noting that it resulted in a “truncated” week leading up to the Sept. 10 primary. He said he would attend services with his parents at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, a change from recent years in which they went to Temple Emanuel in Westchester, where the family has a second home, because his father, Bernard, is in poor health.
Reception ranged from polite to enthusiastic, to bizarre. One man walked up to him and silently handed him a scratch-off lottery ticket which Spitzer, heir to a real estate fortune, offfered instead to a New York Post reporter. Several people stopped to take photos with him. At Amnon’s Pizza Marlene Simon, 83, said “I hope you make it, Boruch Hashem.”
Another patron who exchanged pleasantries with Spitzer while dining with his family said he probably wouldn’t vote and declined to be identified, or to comment on whether Spitzer deserves a second chance in public office.
A veteran campaigner, Spitzer knew not to attempt handshakes with Orthodox women.
Asked if he viewed his campaign as a quest for redemption, Spitzer said “It’s an effort at service.I hope the public will make a choice based on whatever qualities I have for this office. And if the public sees it that way, I’ll be thrilled and I’ll do my very best.”
Spitzer leads Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer 56-37 among likey Democrat primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Aug. 14.
Rabbi Braun said Spitzer had asked for his support in gaining Orthodox votes. “I know both candidates in the race and I think he is considerably more qualified,” he said. Admitting that Spitzer’s past may make him a tough sell for some in the conservative, strictly Orthodox neighborhood, Rabbi Braun said “When push comes to shove I think the Borough Park community is enough sophisticated to see that they should support [Spitzer] compared to the other candidate.”
Barber, owner of Elegant Linens in Borough Park , said he he believed Spitzer would eventually seek to return to the governor’s mansion. “I’m sure he will do it,” Barber said.