In his overwhelming victory Tuesday, Eliot Spitzer made history as the first Jewish Democrat nominated for governor in more than 60 years.
If he prevails over Republican John Faso in November’s general election, hewould be the state’s second Jewish governor and the first since HerbertLehman served from 1932 to 1948.
Spitzer, the popular attorney general whose prosecutions and investigationsof executives in the financial and insurance industry have earned him national headlines, easily defeated Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, whose attacks on Spitzer never gained him momentum in a contest in which Spitzer was always viewed as frontrunner. The final margin was 81-19 percent.
Positioning himself as a reformer, Spitzer in his victory speech promised to change the way business is conducted in the state capital. “If Albany does not bring us change, we will bring change to Albany,” he said.Fortune was not as kind to another Jewish Democrat, Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate, whose political career came to an end with astinging defeat in the race to succeed Spitzer as attorney general. Former U.S. housing secretary Andrew Cuomo beat Green 52-32 percent, earning a spoton the ballot against Republican Jeanine Pirro in November.
Green, who narrowly lost the 2001 mayoral contest to Republican MichaelBloomberg, faced an uphill battle in the attorney general’s race from the start, with Cuomo winning the party designation for the job at its statewide convention, forcing Green to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
He spent the last few months attacking Cuomo’s record running the Departmentof Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, to no apparent avail.
“I’m not a very good politician,” Green confessed in his concession speechlate Tuesday night. “But I’d like to think I’m a good advocate and teacher.”
Green’s candidacy created the possibility of a statewide ticket that included three Jews. But the actual ticket will be more diverse, with Spitzer running alongside lieutenant governor nominee David Paterson, who is black; Hevesi; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Methodist who easily banished challenger Jonathan Tasini Tuesday 83-17 percent to win the nomination for asecond term and Cuomo, an Italian-American Catholic.
Polls favor Spitzer for a victory in November. The possibility of a Jewish governor at the same time as a Jewish controller and senator, in addition to a longtime Jewish speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, is being seen asa watershed of how well accepted Jews have become on the local political landscape.
“It signals the position Jews enjoy in American society,” says Steven Bayme, national director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee. “We are so well-integrated into American society that people do not blink at the prospect of Jews in high office. It’s an incredible statement about the nature of the American Jewish experience.
“There has been no society in the disapora Jewish history so willing towelcome Jews as Jews. It also means that the real challenges Jews face in America is not the challenge of anti-Semitism but what it means to lead a distinctive Jewish life: What are they going to do with the access they have?”
Bayme said the milestone in New York is consistent with trends on a national level. “It goes back to the last decade of the 20th century, when the Clinton administration stopped counting how many Jews it employed [incabinet positions].”
Bayme dismissed the possibility of an anti-Semitic backlash.
“I trust the fairness of the American population,” he said. “They tend toevaluate people on their records. Jews who fail will be appropriately punished at the polls. Those who succeed will be appropriately rewarded.”
In other races of note, Yvette Clarke, a black city councilwoman, prevailedin the highly contentious and racially loaded primary for the open seat in the district being vacated by retiring Rep. Major Owens (see accompanyingstory) and Rep. Edolphus Towns regained the nomination to serve the adjacent 10th District in Brooklyn, fending off a challenge by Councilman Charles Barron, a critic of America’s support of Israel.
In Flatbush, Brooklyn, leaflets were distributed at least one subway stop declaring that “Jewish leaders agree these are the best candidates for Brooklyn.” The leaflet, which did not name any of those leaders, listed Spitzer, Cuomo, congressional candidate David Yassky, Towns and Kevin Parker, a state senator. The leaflet also included a Hebrew phrase that means all of Israel is responsible for one another, but did not disclose who printed the flier.
Also beating back primary challengers were Rep. Elliot Engel of the Bronx and Rep. Nita Lowey of Westchester.
In Brooklyn state legislative races, former Borough Park City Councilman Noach Dear narrowly lost a bid to wrest the nomination from Parker in adistrict that includes Flatbush. And Alec Brook Krasny is on track to becomethe first Russian-born elected official in New York, having apparently narrowly edged out Ari Kagan to win the Democratic nod to succeed retiring Assembly member Adele Cohen in Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.
As attention turns to the general election, Democrats are widely viewed as having a strong chance of gaining sweeping new powers in the state if they capture the governor’s mansion and attorney general’s office while retaining control of the Assembly and perhaps making gains in the Senate, which now has a Republican majority.