In a sign that the Crown Heights murder case remains a racial and political hot potato, three black New York congressmen declined last week to sign a letter that calls the reversal of two convictions in the case “possible miscarriages of justice.”
The three were among 17 House members who met March 19 on Capitol Hill with Norman Rosenbaum, brother of slay victim Yankel Rosenbaum, to discuss the case. Each member was given a draft of the letter to U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, asking Olson to contest an appellate court ruling that may lead to a new trial for Lemrick Nelson and Charles Price.
Olson has indicated that he will authorize no request for a rehearing of the appeal. He has until Friday to make his final decision.
“If those reversals stand, the consequence will be divisive and incendiary retrials and possible miscarriages of justice because of the passage of time,” reads the letter.A dozen of the Congress members present later signed it. But despite a session with Rosenbaum described as cordial, the dean of New York’s delegation, Charles Rangel of Manhattan, was not among them. Neither was Rep. Edolphus Towns of Brooklyn, nor Rep. Major Owens, whose district includes Crown Heights.
“Rangel was the first one to come over,” said Rosenbaum. “He was very enthusiastic, and talked about how he lost his own brother. He was very positive, and so were Owens and Towns. But when push came to shove, their names weren’t on the letter.”
The others who declined to sign were Reps. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn and Amory Houghton of upstate Corning. Several congressmen from outside New York, including Henry Waxman of California and Eric Cantor of Virginia, added their names.
The five Jewish members of New York City’s House delegation signed on to the letter, while the city’s four black representatives did not.
Spokesmen for Rangel and Owens did not provide a comment Tuesday. Towns said through a spokesman that “regardless of my personal thoughts on the proceedings, it is incumbent on the courts to decide this matter.”
But a congressional source told The Jewish Week that Towns and other members were reluctant to push the matter if Owens did not.
“They don’t want to go over his head in his own district,” said the source. Owens’ district includes both Jewish and black neighborhoods, and he has been careful not to take sides on the issue.
A spokesman for the fourth black congressman, Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens, who was not at the Rosenbaum meeting, said the letter was circulated just prior to the congressional recess, and he “did not have time to investigate all the issues associated with this situation.”
Brooklyn Democrat Anthony Weiner, who wrote the letter with Republican Ben Gilman of Rockland and later circulated the letter for signatures, said no one refused to sign, although some did not respond. Weiner said the letter was prepared hurriedly.
“We tried to round up as many people as we could,” he said. “We didn’t target everybody. It was imperative that we do it very quickly, before the end of the session.”
In addition to meeting with the House delegation, Rosenbaum also met with Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Schumer told Rosenbaum that because of his seat on the Judiciary Committee and his role in selecting federal prosecutors, he could not take a stand on the issue.
Clinton said she would speak out on the issue but has not thus far.
Members of the Crown Heights-based Lubavitch community had an opportunity to raise the issue at the pinnacle of government Monday when they met with President George W. Bush to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the late rebbe’s birth. But somehow, the pending Justice Department decision never came up. “It’s disappointing and totally unacceptable,” said Rosenbaum.
# But Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Lubavitch emissary in Washington, said Rosenbaum had never asked him to raise the subject. “Norman has been the lead on this issue and has been quite effective,” he said.
Gov. George Pataki is “pandering to the lowest common denominator” by seeking the backing of the state Independence Party, says state Democratic chair Denny Farrell.
In a statement, Farrell blasted the Republican governor for appearing with members of the local Independence chapter to advocate a state constitutional amendment that would allow voters to propose legislation directly.
“Between Lenora Fulani, who in effect runs the Independence Party, and Pat Buchanan, the Independence pick for president in 2000, the … party has become a hotbed of hatefulness,” said Farrell.
Fulani, a leading figure in the New York Independence chapter, has been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for anti-Semitic statements.
State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, also blasted Pataki’s Independence bid in a recent Jewish Week interview.
“We know who Lenora Fulani is and what she stands for,” said McCall. “It’s outrageous what the governor is doing. If you want a party’s endorsement and you have to sacrifice certain principles to get it, it’s not worth it.”
McCall said he was seeking only the Working Families Party endorsement in addition to the Democrat line.
Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon did not return two calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Polls favor the governor in matchups with either McCall or fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo. By seeking the Independence nod, Pataki may be trying to thwart Rochester millionaire Tom Golisano, the party’s nominee in the last two gubernatorial races. Perhaps trying to head off Golisano, Pataki has successfully wooed the Monroe County Independence Party, in Golisano’s bailiwick.
It’s hard to imagine city funds going to Hamas, Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad, and as far as anyone knows it hasn’t happened. But City Council member Melinda Katz of Queens wants to go a step further by banning city contracts with any business that has ties to the terror groups.
“We want to send a clear message,” said Katz, who picked up the legislation from her Forest Hills predecessor, Karen Koslowitz. The bill has been introduced before the government operations committee but no vote is scheduled.
Katz likened the measure to requirements for companies that contract for city services; they must sign a disclosure that they adhere to fair employment practices.
She says there is currently no evidence that a city vendor is doing business with a terror group, but her bill, cosponsored with Brooklyn Republican Martin Golden, would provide a mechanism to find out.
“We won’t know until we start looking into it,” said Katz.
Bernice Spitzer, a spokeswoman for Council Speaker Gifford Miller, said the Council “has always been supportive of efforts to fight terror, and we will take a careful look at this bill to measure its impact on that effort.”
What’s former councilman Noach Dear up to these days?
Residents of Borough Park say he responds to the scene of events in his old district, like last week’s bomb blast, as if he were still in office.
And when he’s not planning his campaign for state Senate, Dear is working on a campaign to urge American Jews to buy Israeli products to help the country’s damaged economy.
“Not everyone can pick up and travel to Israel,” said Dear. “But everyone can pick up a shopping list and buy Israeli.”
Dear is seeking support from Brooklyn’s Republican and Conservative parties for a bid to capture a newly redrawn central Brooklyn Senate district. Insiders say Pataki is likely to further alter that district, the 25th, to include heavily white and Jewish Manhattan Beach. Under the current proposal, that neighborhood would be linked to East New York, an overwhelmingly minority area.