Most politicians tend to play up their friends in high places. Simcha Felder seems to downplay them.
When asked about his cozy relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Brooklyn councilman simply says, "A lot of people have good relationships with the mayor."
But a lot of people weren’t invited by Bloomberg to fly to Israel this week on his private jet. Felder is one of 10 Jewish members of the City Council, but the only one making the trip.
"Simcha is a great leader of his community who works hard for his constituents, and the mayor is looking forward to traveling with him," Bloomberg’s press secretary, Ed Skyler, said Friday. "We don’t have room for everyone, and the mayor chose Simcha to represent the Council."
It’s not the first sign of an alliance between the Republican mayor and the Democratic councilman, whose district includes most of Borough Park and parts of Midwood, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst.
In December, Bloomberg attended a community breakfast in Felder’s district. With hundreds of people crammed into a small catering hall, it remains the largest all-Jewish gathering in a community setting that the mayor has attended. And it came just a month after the Council approved Bloomberg’s vastly unpopular property tax hike.
Felder, who supported the hike, even ran interference for the embattled chief executive.
"Point your finger where it belongs: at Osama bin Laden," he told the crowd.
A few months later, it was Felder at the mayor’s side at police headquarters when he and Commissioner Raymond Kelly briefed Jewish leaders on security precautions for the High Holy Days. In introducing Felder, the mayor joked that he was "not to be confused with Lew Fidler, who is also a councilman."
Bloomberg also has helped Felder deliver on many of his campaign promises, such as restoring the number of day care vouchers available to his constituents and scheduling garbage pickups after rush hour to ease traffic congestion in the crowded district.
Bloomberg won three-quarters of the vote in Borough Park in 2001, and made several appearances there in the final days of the campaign. The politically conservative area, where people generally vote in blocs, is a natural target for his re-election campaign.
Felder, 44, says he doesn’t know why the mayor asked him to join him on the whirlwind Israel jaunt, originally scheduled for September but moved up in response to the renewed wave of terrorism.
"I’m honored to be able to go along, to be with the people of Israel, to visit the sick and maybe pay a shiva call" to terror victims’ families, said the non-practicing rabbi, who was ordained at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, and father of four.
Felder is a freshman seeking re-election this year, which he will accomplish automatically if he succeeds in keeping his predecessor, Noach Dear, off the Democratic primary ballot in a dispute over term limits. Felder said the mayor supports his campaign, not surprising since he’s also the Republican and Conservative candidate for the seat.
As for Bloomberg’s performance, Felder said: "He’s doing the best he can during very difficult times."
He attributes the billionaire mayor’s dismal approval rating to a kind of reverse psychology. People, he said, actually want the kind of qualities in an elected official they profess to hate.
"They ‘hate’ politicians who are movie stars and not real mayors," Felder said. "And elected officials who owe everybody favors and need everybody’s money is also something they ‘hate.’"
In other words, if the billionaire Bloomberg had more charisma and needed to raise money rather than finance his own campaigns, people would like him better, in Felder’s view.
"And also," he adds, "I think some people don’t like rich people."