Following his impressive victory last week, few people are remembering that in the early days of the Charles Schumer campaign, the buzz was that his Senate bid was “going nowhere.” Pundits predicted he would drop out of the race in time to hold onto his House seat.
But Schumer turned into living proof that with guts, determination, a clear message and an opponent who can’t keep his mouth shut, great things can happen in America for the underdog. (Schumer also did Brooklyn proud when he challenged Sen. Al D’Amato to call him a putzhead to his face.) These factors put Schumer way at the top of the winner’s list this election year.
Gov. George Pataki is a predictable winner. He’s minded the store well, took some surprising (for a Republican) environmental initiatives and continued Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s get-tough-on-crime posture. Doubling his Jewish vote from 1994 is largely due to his competent performance, but also a result of widening his base.Yasher koach to Sheldon Silver. The Assembly speaker not only held the Democratic majority in the Assembly but actually gained one seat over the Republicans, despite predictions of doom following the Jenna’s Law debacle. On the other hand, Silver now faces the prospect of living in the shadow of Schumer as the state’s most influential Democrat.
State Comptroller H. Carl McCall won re-election with more votes than any statewide candidate, leaving him well-poised to run for Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Senate seat in 2000. But an expected race against Republican Giuliani for that seat could be a contest for the Jewish vote that makes the D’Amato-Schumer match look like a game of mah-jongg.
Leo Rosten wins, too. The putzhead story sent every reporter in town scrambling for his “Joys of Yiddish” dictionary. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. He and Schumer owe us lunch.
A little noticed winner: D’Amato. Think about it. Now he can do all the ethnic impressions, fat jokes and stand-up he wants, with no political cost. That’s got to be worth something. (Private lobbying or a banking job will fatten his bank account, too.)
As for the losers, D’Amato’s Jewish team was only 23 percent useful. The team included Pataki aide Jeff Wiesenfeld, Rabbi Jacob Goldstein of Crown Heights and Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn. Hikind gathered thousands in Borough Park to cheer the three-term senator. (Or were they there for the free Mordechai Ben David concert?) But Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights can’t elect a candidate without a heavy Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox vote. That means fewer visits to the rebbes next time around.And as much as we love the chutzpah of Ed Koch, scandal-plagued Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton carried more endorsement power in the Senate race, which makes the ex-mayor a loser, albeit a minor one. On the other hand, Koch did back Pataki, McCall and attorney general candidate Eliot Spitzer, who may yet win.
Council Speaker Peter Vallone loses because no one can figure out what he gained from this quixotic race for governor. But he wins in the guts department, and for proposing good issues, like subsidized college tuition for the state’s hardest-working students. If only someone was listening.
At D’Amato’s pivotal “putzhead” breakfast with Jewish leaders on Oct. 19, the senator reportedly warned of the consequences of his defeat, noting that the chair of the Senate banking committee would go to Texas Republican Phil Gramm. Banking jobs would leave New York for Texas, he warned.
D’Amato apparently did not point out, though, that Gramm — with barely a Jewish constituency to please — is unlikely to duplicate his aggressive Holocaust restitution efforts. Although the ink is already dry on the deal between Swiss banks and the World Jewish Congress, the organization is concerned about ongoing action against European insurance companies and German and Austrian banks.Those efforts will be aided by city Comptroller Alan Hevesi, chair of the Executive Monitoring Committee of 800 public financial officers, whose threat of investment boycotts helped trigger the Swiss deal. Hevesi and D’Amato are both to be honored by the Knesset in Jerusalem this week for their efforts.
But Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said D’Amato’s loss would be felt. “I am convinced there was a strong moral component to what he did,” said Steinberg. “I don’t think anyone will say of Schumer that if he puts his mind to something, he won’t be heard on it. But he’s not the chair of the Banking Committee.”
Brooklyn Rep.-elect Anthony Weiner is taking in stride the nasty campaign against him by his vanquished GOP opponent, Lou Telano. After getting 65 percent of the vote, Weiner can afford to.Supporters of Telano, the security chief at the private Sea Gate neighborhood, placed ads in the Jewish Press insisting Telano’s values were in sync with the Orthodox community while Weiner, who supports gay rights, represented “Greenwich Village” values.
“It was borderline bizarre, even for a New York City campaign,” said Weiner, who will be sworn in Jan. 6 at the Capitol. “It sounded like the rantings of someone not in touch with the mother ship.”
On reports that City Councilman Noach Dear, who lost to Weiner in September’s primary, is gearing up for a rematch in 2000, Weiner said: “The best defense against a strong challenge is to do a good job as a congressman, and that’s going to be my strategy.”
Staten Island, which has only one Jewish elected representative, could have a second come February if Libby Hikind has her way. The sister-in-law of Assemblyman Dov Hikind has announced a bid for the City Council seat to be vacated by John Fusco, who was elected Staten Island surrogate last week. Hikind, a public school teacher and wife of Dov’s older brother, Moshe, held a fund-raiser Sunday. A special election will be held within 45 days of the vacancy.
“She is a fine person,” said Rabbi Jay Marcus of the Young Israel of Staten Island, the borough’s largest Orthodox congregation. But the rabbi said he was reserving his judgment on the race until the full field of candidates is announced. On the prospect of an Orthodox Jew representing his Willowbrook community for the first time in recent memory, Rabbi Marcus said, “We have to find the best person [for the job], and not support candidates based on ethnic identity.”
Hikind declined to comment, saying she had not officially announced her candidacy. Assemblyman Robert Straniere is currently the only Jewish representative on the island.