A list of Jews who donated to a local Republican congressional challenger that was compiled by the Democratic incumbent’s campaign — and led to the firing of an aide on Thursday — is tied to Democrats’ growing fears of a backlash in November against President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, The Jewish Week has learned.
A source close to the re-election campaign of Staten Island Rep. Michael McMahon said the campaign was concerned about the amount raised by the GOP’s Michael Grimm — $200,000 in his last filing period — much of which seemed to come from Jewish names, despite McMahon’s support for Israel on Capitol Hill. The source said a list of such donors was compiled by finance director Debra Solomon only for internal use and that the campaign planned to discuss the matter with Jewish leaders.
In an apparent attempt to show that Grimm has more support outside than inside McMahon’s district, Nelson — without authorization from the campaign, the source said — gave the Observer reporter, David Freedlander, a file that was called “Grimm Jewish money Q2,” an apparent reference to Jewish donations in the second fiscal quarter. The district includes all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.Where is Grimm’s money coming from?” Nelson told the Observer. “There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees.”
McMahon, a former city councilman elected to the House in 2008, fired Nelson immediately, saying her comments "were entirely inappropriate and there is no place for this kind of behavior. I sincerely apologize for her comments, and as she has since been terminated from our campaign, there will be no such incidents in the future.”
A former reporter for the Staten Island Advance and former spokeswoman for then Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, told the Observer that the point of compiling the list was not to highlight the ethnicity of donors, but the degree to which Grimm was depending on out-of-district contributions, and that the donation data were compiled by Solomon, who previously worked on the campaign of Democratic Long Island Rep. Steve Israel.
“She herself is Jewish so she knows a lot of people in that community,” Nelson said of Solomon in the Observer. The paper said the donations totaling $200,000 contained 80 names, only a handful of which are from Staten Island or Brooklyn. A report on McMahon’s fundraising and that of his Democratic primary opponent, Michael Allegriti, did not include any reference to Jewish donors.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn said he was involved in helping raise funds for some 20 Republican challengers in this year’s midterm elections as a protest against the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel, which began last year with a demand for an end to Jewish West Bank settlements in order to advance talks with the Palestinians.
"Money is being raised to help Republicans all over the country," he said. While he declined to name the candidates he was helping he said they were all outside New York. Hikind said the recent cordial meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t done much to soothe anger among conservative Israel supporters. "No one was fooled by that," said Hikind, who has met with Grimm but has not yet made an endorsement in the Staten Island race.
Solomon was not in the office when The Jewish Week called on Friday and did not immediately return a message.
In his statement, Grimm said the issue of the list wasn’t going to go away. “This is a United States congressman that’s segregating people out by their religion. I’m outraged. Even an apology isn’t going to make it right. This goes to his thought process and his feelings.”
Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York said the compilation of the list was “outrageous and offensive.” But he said he was “pleased that the communications director was immediately dismissed and that the congressman issued an apology.”
JTA contributed to this report.