A New York Minute
A Rabbi's World
A New York Minute
The Nosh Pit
A Rabbi's World
Have you heard about the chasidic guy who’s running for City Council in Williamsburg? Of course you have. He’s gotten a fair amount of press, including the front page of this paper.
What about the Council candidate who said some nasty things about Israel at his son’s bris and now wants to represent, of all places, part of Borough Park? Yeah, we did that one, too.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s going all out to get the Jewish vote, putting Yiddish, Russian and Hebrew speakers on his extensive payroll. His campaign manager calls it “kosher canvassing.” If it seems so 2005, that’s because it is.
There’s supposedly a Democratic primary for mayor, between the guy we never hear from and the guy we’ve never heard of.
Item: Mark Green is running for public advocate, giving new meaning to the words been there, done that. His grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants who came here with nothing. He mentioned that a few times when he ran for mayor in 2001.
One of the people Green’s running against is a classic Jewish liberal, the civil liberties activist Norman Siegel, who has run for public advocate nine times before. Or maybe it just seems that way.
The city’s first Asian-American councilman is running for comptroller against three Democrats who would be the city’s umpteenth Jewish comptroller. That could be interesting, or as interesting as a comptroller race gets.
Dov Hikind went to Israel again. With Mike Huckabee. Again. A Jewish congressman popped the question to his Muslim girlfriend. That’s new. Hikind is backing the former Israel-basher for City Council. That’s new, too.
But so far in this busy election season, no one’s attacked anyone with a Yiddish insult, although Bloomberg and a Hispanic state senator did have a discussion awhile back in the mamaloshen during an Albany hearing. That prompted the Times to trot out a story about politics and Yiddish that could have been written in 1998, when Sen. Al D’Amato made “putzhead” a household word, along with the words Senator Schumer.
Another spectacle like that would really shake things up. But for now, in the words of the band Green Day, “Wake me up when September ends.” (Yes, I have teenagers at home.)
“This is the most boring primary season since 1993, when there was nothing on the ballot,” says Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “It will be a boring primary but an exciting general election.” He has to say that. He’s working for Bloomberg. But in his kishkes, he has to believe that November will be just as boring. Even with Democrat Bill Thompson closing the gap, he faces a Bloomberg campaign budget that rivals the national deficit.
Another one of my favorite quote suppliers is equally in the doldrums. “It almost seems like an off-year,” says former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who has seen quite a few elections in this town, and run in a few of them (serving as a City Councilman for nine years). He predicts a light turnout for the primary next week.
Other than some sleepy borough president and City Council races, “There isn’t an incumbent” in the primary, he notes. And of those running for open seats “none has aroused much excitement at this point.”
About the juiciest issue to come up so far, says Stern, was the Daily News scoop in which comptroller hopeful John Liu’s own mother contradicted his claim of once having worked in a sweatshop.
Setting aside the dynamics of the races, it’s undeniable that the intensity of politics in this city has changed.
It used to be that politicians and candidates fell all over themselves at press conferences speaking out on Jewish issues. Now they just e-mail.
And the local political scene is about as exciting as Democrats defending the Obama health plan, or as the current marital status of Jon and Kate, whoever they are.
There’s a good explanation for why things are so quiet, and it’s not a bad one.
Aug. 19 marked the 18th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots. Did anyone notice?
For years, those four dreadful days in New York history loomed large over so much that transpired between the Jewish community and city, state and even federal government as Crown Heights morphed from a neighborhood in Brooklyn to a frightening concept. For more than a decade it cast a shadow over elections for mayor and governor, ending the political career of David Dinkins and boosting those of Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki.
There were more racial flashpoints in the subsequent years: The Harlem massacre at a Jewish owned store in 1995; The X-Men security guards in Coney Island. Khalid Mohammed. Lenora Fulani.
It all seems like another world today. Maybe because the polarizing figures involved have given it a rest, and the choirs that they preach to are fed up.
Term-limited Giuliani, who was unwilling to meet with black leaders let alone sympathize with their concerns, has turned his attention to getting rich at consulting, running bad presidential campaigns and threatening to run for governor. Al Sharpton turned to national politics, and has become moderate to the point of being almost boring. Farrakhan rarely speaks up.
And in one of the most overlooked stories, Lenora Fulani, the Marxist activist who once accused Jews of being soulless “mass murderers of people of color,” has renounced those comments, a possible byproduct of her political alliance with Bloomberg.
Sure, there are still tensions, including in Crown Heights, where chasidic patrols and black residents clashed as recently as last summer. A “perfect storm” of negative factors, like those that created the dry timber on that hot 1991 day, could perhaps set off another maelstrom.
But without the underlying tension, unanswered resentments and lack of dialogue, the tensions are no different than those in any other city. Whatever you think of Bloomberg, anyone would be hard put to say that he hasn’t been a mayor of all the people who respects the concerns of everyone (no implied endorsement intended). The politics of righteous indignation have left town.
For years after Crown Heights, the media commemorated the anniversary of the deaths of Gavin Cato and Yankel Rosenbaum, who were killed a few hours and blocks apart, but on different planets of circumstance. For several years running, the occasion was marked with a friendly meal between Cato’s father and Rosenbaum’s brother, a photo-op orchestrated by Giuliani and Pataki that disappeared when they left office. Now, the media and elected officials have left Cato and Rosenbaum to rest in peace, free of iconography.
Jewish leaders these days, like those in every other ethnic community, still have concerns about safety and security. But these days it isn’t the threat of an urban riot that keeps them busy but fear of terrorism literally exploding into our lives, as it did on 9/11, and as it might have on several occasions before and after, if not for opportunistic informants and vigilant law enforcement.
It’s a danger that knows no politics or favorites, and even if it is aimed at a Jewish center, the target is the heart of the city. No one is immune from the cold, random calculation of bombers or hijackers.
If politicians are to argue about something in the election of 2009, let it be about how best to make sure New York gets the necessary funds from Washington to keep all its citizens safe, rather than allow downsizing of the anti-terrorism budget to free up funds for other Obama administration priorities.
That debate might be pretty boring. Which is just what we need.
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