Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan will devote his remaining two years in office to promoting aid to families that pay parochial school tuition. That was the impression the Democratic senior senator (who will retire in 2000) left with some of the 35 Jewish leaders he met with privately last week. The meeting took place at the Loews Corporation offices of James Tisch, president of UJA-Federation.
"He made a very convincing case that the Founding Fathers had no notion of precluding programs like vouchers, or tax relief to parents using private schools, including religious schools," said one participant, Richard Stone, who is chairman of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs. "It's not just that he spoke clearly in favor of some sort of program of state-backed assistance to parochial schools. I think some of us have known he had that feeling for a long time. What is interesting is that he prefaced his statements with a long, detailed retelling of the history of the public transition from religious schools to public schools."
Stone noted that Moynihan was not exactly preaching to the choir, and that many of those in the room were on record as opponents of state-sponsored tuition aid as unconstitutional. Such aid programs include tuition vouchers issued to parochial school parents or credits enabling them to deduct a portion of the tuition from income tax returns.
A senior aide to Moynihan, David Luchins, said in an interview that the senator "has always considered appropriate government aid to non-public schools to be, in his words, a matter of simple justice. He'll be looking for some very creative ways to address this."
Opponents of tuition vouchers have suffered setbacks in the past year. Wisconsin's highest court recently upheld a pilot voucher program in Milwaukee, and in June the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review that decision. A similar case is pending before Ohio's Supreme Court.
Sources close to Moynihan pointed out the senator began his career in the Senate advocating tax vouchers and, together with former Oregon Republican Bob Packwood, sponsored an unsuccessful bill in the early days of the Reagan Administration. "He'll want to end his career as a champion on this issue," said one supporter.
But opponents in the Jewish community are prepared for a fight. "Sen. Moynihan has been unsuccessful in his efforts on this issue in the past," said Marc Stern, legal counsel of the American Jewish Congress. "If he takes it up again, we will oppose him." In another development, Moynihan has taken an interest in the 1994 murder of Ari Halberstam, the Lubavitch youth shot to death on the Brooklyn Bridge by a Lebanese gunman. Last week, Moynihan wrote FBI Director Louis Freeh, urging him to "reevaluate this attack to determine if it was ... an act of terrorism." Halberstam's mother, Devorah, has long contended that the shooting was part of a terrorist conspiracy, perhaps including a plot to assassinate the Lubavitcher rebbe. Ari Halberstam was returning home from visiting the hospitalized rebbe when the attack occurred.
It will be a case of trading places next month when Dan Hevesi leaves his job at the Queens borough president's office to assume a state Senate seat, while his co-district leader in Forest Hills, Melinda Katz leaves the Legislature for the borough president's office.
Katz, who gave up her Assembly seat to run for Congress, has been named director of community boards for Borough President Claire Shulman. Some speculate her new post is a way for her mentor, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi (an all-but declared 2001 mayoral candidate) to keep his eyes and ears in the administration of his home borough after the departure of his son. But Katz told The Jewish Week recently: "That has nothing to do with it. I think this is a wonderful move for me. Claire Shulman is an excellent borough president and most of our policies are in agreement." She later added, however, that she will be spending much of her efforts over the next few years "making sure that Alan Hevesi is the next mayor of New York."
Another Assembly member who quit to seek Charles Schumerís House seat has abandoned his plan to run for City Council. Dan Feldman of Brooklyn says he is "likely" to take a high-level job with the new state attorney general, Democrat Eliot Spitzer.
In response to an item in this column on Dec. 11, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's office called to remind us that the Senate Rules Committee requires a return of unspent funds from outgoing members, hence the request for a refund from a canceled Jewish Week subscription.