Promising to be the kind of mayor who will speak out on issues other officials would rather sweep under the carpet, Anthony Weiner on Thursday depicted a former kosher meat king imprisoned for bank fraud as a victim of judicial anti-Semitism.
“When Gedalia came to me about the Rubashkin case, the scandal-plaged ex-congressman said, referring to host Gedalia Weinberger, a Flatbush busienssman and Weiner suppoter, and jumping off every page of the legal documents are judges that are clearly anti-Semitic …a local jurusdiction of the IRS that w s clearly … it just jumps off the page.”
Weiner spoke out about the case in 2010, when Agriprocessors vice president Shalom Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years, saying he was “extremely troubled and concerned about the injustice going on,” but did not mention anti-Semitism at the time.
Asked for further comment about his view of the judges’ (ostensibly including appeal judges) conduct on Friday, Weiner’s campaign spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, referred The Jewish Week to a 2010 letter he wrote on Rubashkin’s behalf to Attorney General Eric Holder. In it, he mentions “apparently improper communications … between a federal judge and prosecutors and investigators,” but did not raise anti-Semitism. The letter is posted on a pro-Rubashkin web site.
Weiner’s latest comments were in the context of arguing that he is not afraid of tackling difficult issues and that even though he is not Orthodox he understands the concerns of the influential local community, a large chunk of which he represented as a member of the House with a Brooklyn and Queens district.
Weiner also noted that after Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi urged her members not to hold Town Hall meetings on President Barack Obama’s health care initiatives because they had become too volatile, Weiner nevertheless held more than two dozen in his district, although only 55 percent of his constituents supported the president in 2008.
“What type of person do you want to be mayor?” Weiner asked the gathering. “I honor and respect my constituents enough that they can make their arguments and I can make mine and we can go back and forth and there’s no china broken.” (See video below, from Failed Messiah.)
Weiner brought his political outreach Thursday morning to the heart of Brooklyn’s fervently Orthodox community in the midst of a minor controversy — the day after Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner made an apparently patronizing reference to a fellow candidate as “Grandpa” — during a campaign dominated by the major controversy over his past as a serial sexter.
At a parlor meeting in the living room of a community activist in Flatbush, at a table around which sat about a dozen haredi businessmen, rabbis and reporters, Weiner bantered easily with the conservative Orthodox crowd. Referring to himself as “a liberal with a libertarian sense,” (evoking Ed Koch’s “liberal with sanity” mantra) Weiner threw out a succession of Yiddish and Hebrew expressions, discussing how he conducted himself as a member of Congress and how he would act in the mayor’s office.
But one man in attendance asked “What guarantees do we have that [your] questionable behavior will not continue?” He was referring to the extramarital relationships through social media and phone calls that have now twice led Weiner to be publicly disgraced. The first instance and unsuccessful coverup in 2011 forced him to resign from the House of Representatives.
“We have lots of things you can judge me on,” Weiner responded, citing his record in Congress, the list of nearly 200 “Keys to the city” governance suggestions he has proposed, and his performance on the campaign trail during which he has undergone daily quizzing by the press and his opponents in the Democratic Party primary.
“This is not an endorsement,” said George Weinberger, the community activist and longtime political supporter of Weiner who hosted the meeting. He called the event an example of “hakores hatov,” Hebrew for thankfulness or appreciation, a recognition of the candidate’s record on such issues as government controls over metzitzah b’peh (oral suction conducted at a circumcision) — Weiner is opposed to the Health Department’s parental consent form — and a call for a review of the conviction of Agriprocessors kosher meat king Sholom Rubashkin (jailed on federal fraud charges.) “[Weiner] has always been there for us.”
“Your track record was sterling,” another man at the table said.
The parlor meeting followed similar haredi gatherings with other mayoral candidates.
Most of the questions on Thursday, while alluding to the candidate’s self-confessed and much publicized failings in his personal life, were polite and respectful. There were also few questions about narrowly parochial Jewish issues like aid to day schools or security patrols in Jewish neighborhoods.
The community representatives did not ask Weiner to commit to any specific policies should he be elected mayor, and Weiner offered no promises.
Instead, most of the discussions, both the men’s questions and Weiner’s opening remarks, centered around such community-wide governance issues as crime, poverty and housing. None of Weiner’s comments broke new ground.
Most voters in the fervently Orthodox community separate a candidate’s personal life from his or her effectiveness in office, voting on the basis of the latter, Weinberger said. “We question” some of Weiner’s highly documented deeds, Weinberger said, adding, “that’s not the issue.”
“We want a mayor, not machetunim [in-laws],” one man at the gathering explained.
“I’m not a perfect person, God knows,” said Weiner, who wore, like all the men there, a black cloth kipa.
“Who would be the best mayor?” he asked, lauding his “independence. Independence is an important part of the checklist of what you want for mayor.”
The meeting may not have swayed any votes, but the participants left with the sense “that he’s real,” Weinberger said. “He’s a potentially very effective mayor.”
Adam Dickter contributed to this report.