Rep. McMahon In ‘Jewish Money’ Flap

Aide who shared McMahon’s list of opponent’s donors fired; worry over Obama Israel backlash cited.

08/04/10
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A list of Jews who donated to a local Republican congressional challenger that was compiled by Democrat Rep. Michael McMahon’s campaign — and led to the firing of an aide last week — is tied to Democrats’ growing fears of a backlash in November against President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, a campaign source told The Jewish Week.

The source said McMahon’s team was concerned about the amount raised by the GOP’s Michael Grimm — $200,000 in his last filing period — much of which seemed to come from Jewish names, despite McMahon’s support for Israel on Capitol Hill. 

The source said a list of such donors was compiled by McMahon’s finance director, Debra Solomon, only for internal use and that the campaign planned to discuss the matter with Jewish leaders.

In an apparent attempt to show that Grimm has more support outside than inside the district, McMahon’s spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson — without authorization from her supervisors, the source said — gave a New York Observer reporter, David Freedlander, a file that was called “Grimm Jewish money Q2,” an apparent reference to Jewish donations in the second fiscal quarter. The district includes all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.

“Where is Grimm’s money coming from?” The Observer quoted Nelson as asking. “There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees.”

McMahon, a former city councilman elected to the House in 2008, fired Nelson immediately, saying her comments “were entirely inappropriate and there is no place for this kind of behavior. I sincerely apologize for her comments, and as she has since been terminated from our campaign, there will be no such incidents in the future.” He did not address why the list was created. 

Solomon declined to comment when reached by phone on Tuesday and said she had no contact information for Nelson. She referred inquiries to a campaign consultant, Evan Stavisky, who forwarded statements by the Anti-Defamation League, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind accepting McMahon’s apology and the firing of the aide.

A former reporter for the Staten Island Advance newspaper and former spokeswoman for then Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, Nelson told the Observer that the point of compiling the list was not to highlight the ethnicity of donors, but the degree to which Grimm was depending on out-of-district contributions, and that the donation data was compiled by Solomon. “She herself is Jewish so she knows a lot of people in that community,” Nelson said of Solomon in the Observer. 

Solomon previously worked on the campaign of Democratic Long Island Rep. Steve Israel.


The Observer said the donations totaling $200,000 contained 80 names, only a handful of which are from Staten Island or Brooklyn. A report on McMahon’s fundraising and that of his Democratic primary opponent, Michael Allegriti, did not include any reference to Jewish donors.

Hikind on Friday said he was involved in helping raise funds for some 20 Republican challengers in this year’s midterm elections as a protest against the Obama administration’s policy toward Israel, which began last year with a demand for an end to Jewish West Bank settlements in order to advance talks with the Palestinians.

“Money is being raised to help Republicans all over the country,” he said. While he declined to name the candidates he was helping he said they were all outside New York. Hikind said the recent cordial meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t done much to soothe anger among conservative Israel supporters. “No one was fooled by that,” said Hikind, who has met with Grimm but has not yet made an endorsement in the Staten Island race.

Lee Cowen, a lobbyist in Washington who raises money for Republicans in the Jewish community, said that Obama’s “open antagonism against Israel” was fueling donations to Republican candidates across the country. “In conversations I’m having with political fundraisers there is a lot of anger and discontent in the Jewish community,” he said. “If you look at the Twoomey-Sestak race, it has been amplified by the Obama situation.”

He was referring to the race for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat between Democrat Rep. Joseph Sestak and Republican Pat Twomey. 

But Marcia Dickstein Sudolsky, director of the New York chapter of the National Jewish Democratic Committee, said there would not be substantial backlash because most Jews, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008, will want the White House to have a Democratic Congress. “The concern of the Jewish community will still be to ensure that there is a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate and they will continue to support those members who continuously support the U.S.-Israel relationship,” she said.

In his statement, Grimm said the issue of the list wasn’t going to go away. “This is a United States congressman that’s segregating people out by their religion. I’m outraged. Even an apology isn’t going to make it right. This goes to his thought process and his feelings.”

Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said the compilation of the list was “outrageous and offensive.” But he said he was “pleased that the communications director was immediately dismissed and that the congressman issued an apology.”

A statement by the Anti-Defamation League said the list “trades on age-old stereotypes about Jews and money and treats Jews as separate from other constituents” but accepted McMahon’s apology and the dismissal of the communications director.

A Jewish leader, speaking off the record, said he understood that such lists are commonly used in political campaigns to assess how candidates are faring in ethnic communities. 

But Hikind said, “In all the political campaigns I have worked on, I have never heard of that before. If they are trying to make the point that [the opponent’s support is coming from] people outside the district, why do they have to say Jews?”

Two Jewish agencies contracted by the city to handle programs for troubled children are in a bind while the city sorts out a dispute over $470 million in grant money.

The Jewish Child Care Association and the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s services had budgeted their share of the funds for counseling and other programs this year, but the city was forced to revisit the allocations in response to a complaint, they found a flaw in the grant review process. Because the community ties of those organizations weren’t considered, it was back to the drawing board for the Administration for Children’s Services and most of the grantees. Another $146 million is unaffected.

The error was first reported by The New York Times.

“It could take as long as October to restore the proposals,” said Ron Soloway, managing director for external and governmental relations at UJA-Federation of New York, the umbrella organization that includes both groups. “It’s unsettling because planning had gone on based on the first set of determinations and now everything is in abeyance.” 

Even when the matter is resolved, Soloway said, the outcome could wind up in court, which could hold the funds up even longer.

The JCCA program involved placing children who are sexually exploited or severely disabled in foster care. The JBFCS programs are for preventive services to keep troubled families together and for residential treatment centers for children with serious behavior or health issues.

“These kids have enormous needs,” said JBFCS director Paul Levine. “Because of the [funding] plan being reneged, the families don’t know what to do with these kids instead of sending them to residential care.” 

 

Last Update:

08/04/2010 - 11:32

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