Wednesday, April 25, 2012

As New York Establishes New ‘Super Jewish’ District, Community Leaders Rally Behind Felder Candidacy

My article as published in the Jewish Voice in print: 

Former NYC Councilman Simcha Felder was the first to announce a bid for the state Senate seat created as a result of the latest redistricting lines, as a ‘Super ‘Jewish’ district, on the Democratic ballot. “I look forward, G-d willing, to the opportunity once again to serve the community and the people of New York State,” Felder said on Wednesday. “But as always, I will work with anyone and everyone who will work with this community,” Felder added. 

 The new district was first strongly opposed by one of the most vocal of New York’s Jewish politicians, Councilman David Greenfield. At an event last month in Boro Park, Mr. Greenfield compared the effort to create the district to efforts 500 years ago in “The Republic of Venice” where, “They created a specific neighborhood for Jews to live in. They told Jews ‘It would be good for you.’ They gave us a grand new name for that neighborhood,” Mr. Greenfield continued. “They called it a ghetto.” Mr. Greenfield added that the new district was a “ghetto district” and the creation of it was “ghetto politics at its worst.”

 

Yet, once Felder announced his intent to return to local politics, Greenfield rushed to declare his support of the move, both on The Nachum Segal Show, and at a press conference on Tuesday. Speaking with the Jewish Voice, Greenfield explained his change of mind, and early support for Felder. “I still believe that the Super-Jewish district, which was created by the Republicans without the Jewish community’s input, diminishes the community’s power,” he said. “However, the reality is that we now have a Super-Jewish district. So the question becomes: who is the best candidate for this important seat? I believe that Simcha is uniquely qualified due to his experience of consistently delivering for the communities that he represented in the Council. I also know, firsthand, that Simcha really cares about the people he represents. I know Simcha. I trust Simcha. That’s why I support Simcha.” 

As of now, it is still unclear if Felder will be running unchallenged on the Democratic Party line, and with whom he will caucus if he wins the seat. Chris Bragg in the City and State blog writes, "Two Orthodox Jewish sources with direct knowledge of ex-Councilman Simcha Felder’s thinking say he will caucus with the Senate Democrats if he wins election this fall in Brooklyn’s so-called “Super Jewish” district.... Felder himself just texted Liz Benjamin to say that he would caucus with “anyone that will help the district and New Yorkers most.” In a 2008 democratic primary senate seat debate, Felder noted that Bloomberg was the only Republican he’d ever supported, and strongly implied Bloomberg was the only Republican he ever would support. And in a web video, Felder is quoted saying “I look forward to making sure the Senate Democrats regain control of the Senate.” 

 However, running only on the Democratic line puts the district’s representative in a difficult position, since the district is mostly conservative, and leaned Republican, at least ideologically and politically on a statewide and national level. Although some prominent community leaders suggest that the Jewish community votes for the candidates and not for the party. It’s hard to see a Democrat represent a district that honors values and that is one of the biggest sectors and voting blocs within the Republican Party nationally. 

One of the rising stars in Brooklyn journalism and one that is most knowledgeable of the political spectrum is Colin Campbell, a political reporter for the NY Observer and blogs on PolitickerNY website. Speaking with the Jewish Voice, Campbell assessed Felder’s party affiliation as playing a minor factor in this community. Since lots of Democratic politicians have won in Borough Park and within the Jewish community while facing Republican challengers, obviously someone like Felder, as a frum candidate, can win without the Republican line. “Having the Republican line is nice, but not essential.” Campbell said, “Since Felder is a registered Democrat,” he added “he’d need Brooklyn GOP Chair, Craig Eaton to give his stamp of approval to even run in the Republican primary.” 

According to a report by Yossi Gestetner based on talks with insiders knowledgeable of the discussions that took place in recent weeks, following the undecided special election in the 27th district, the NY State Senate’s Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is ready to clear the way for Democrat Simcha Felder to run in an open election for the newly-created district. The capitulation by the Republicans who fought for and created the new district came as a result of hefty conversations that Skelos had with key Jewish activists, leaders and political insiders. The consensus was that Felder, based on his background, will have broad support among all Jewish voters. 

In an effort to run a unified candidate in an ‘Open Election’, and the pledge of unity by rabbanim to avoid a replay of the Greenfield/Lazar council election in 2010, Skelos reportedly is ready to help Felder secure the Republican and conservatives lines, to secure a Felder win. 

David Storobin, still hoping for a certified victory in SD27 March 20th special election, told the Jewish Voice that he is definitely running on the Republican ticket. Although it still remains unclear whether that will be out of a position as an incumbent State senator or not, David Storobin clearly is expressing his intention to compete for the Jewish vote, and convinced that proving to run a competitive election in southern Brooklyn and his showing in the last election will help him garner the support needed to win, if he ends up running on the Republican line. 

“The values of the Republican party are more in line with Jewish values than those of the Democrats,” He told the Jewish Voice. “Even a conservative Democrat will support liberals for the leadership of the legislature. The single most important vote that a politician makes is for the leadership of the legislature where he’s serving because the leadership will set much of the agenda. A Democrat will inevitably support his fellow Democrats, and their leaders in the New York State Senate are liberals who oppose traditional marriage and school vouchers, who want to raise taxes to pay for abortions, and so on.” 

“Simcha is a nice guy, but he’s a liberal,” he said. “He’s a very close supporter of Christine Quinn. He even brought her to a girl’s school and declared that she’s a role model for these children. I don’t think that the parents of these girls would agree that her “non-traditional marriage” is a role model for yeshivah girls,” he added. “He voted to raise our property taxes 18.5%. He supported overturning term limits to give Mike Bloomberg a third term. He is so liberal that he said that the only Republican he could ever support is Mike Bloomberg, who is really not a Republican. He could support Barack Obama, but admitted that he can never support any Republican.” 

Nonetheless, Felder still remains the favorite at this moment. According to Campbell, “It’s still early, but considering that Felder has actually announced and appears to be amassing establishment support, it’s hard not to consider him a favorite at this moment in time.” He also added that “although Felder is on record being an early supporter of Obama when he was trying to primary Democratic Senator Kevin Parker, four years later, that doesn’t seem like enough of an issue to doom him even though the community overwhelmingly went for McCain in 2008.”