March 23 – New York City Council – 44th Brooklyn District
A highly unusual special election will take place on Tuesday to replace Simcha Feder who resigned 5 days into his new term to become a Deputy City Comptroller.
What makes this race fascinating is that it is occurring in one of the most Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, Borough Park and Midwood, in New York. Candidates have been literally campaigning with collectible “rabbi trading cards” (like baseball, only more holy) and allegations have been thrown around that organizations with leaders supportive of certain candidates will be punished by decreased donations over the Passover holiday, one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Added to the ethnic mix is an increasingly vibrant Pakistani-American community and Bensonhurst, an old world Italian neighborhood.
Voters will be choosing between 2 Democrats and one Republican. Felder, who resigned is a Democrat, and it is assumed by most that the seat will be easily held by the party. The question however is whether the older generation of powerful Orthodox leadership will prevail or if a young reformer with ties to Mayor Michael Bloomberg will upset the traditional order. Also at work – one candidate is Ashkinazi Jewish – which is a term for Jews who primarily come from Europe and Russia – while the other is Sephardic Jewish – Jews who trace their heritage to Spain, Portugal and the Middle East.
The political order in the area has lined up behind Joe Lazar, formerly the New York City regional director of the statewide Office of Mental Health. Lazar, 61, has been endorsed by Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jewish assemblyman who is as close to a political kingmaker in Jewish New York as there is. He has also enjoyed the fervent support of City Comptroller John Liu. An Ashkenazi Jew whose parents both survived the Holocaust, he has touted his deep ties to the community as well as his experience in city government. To learn more, click here.
David Greenfield could recently be seen campaigning with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and also is rumored to be supported by the former councilman. At the age of 31, he represents a new wave of Orthodox Jewish politicians in the area and has not ingratiated himself to the political dynasty already in place – for the most part, though he still has strong ties to the head of the Kings County Democratic Party, Vito Lopez. Currently the Director and Counsel of TEACH NYS, a parent-advocacy network for parochial and independent schools as well as the executive director of the Sephardic Community Federation, Greenfield worked in the past for Joseph Lieberman’s presidential campaign. To learn more, click here.
Hoping that the Democrats will split the vote is Kenneth Rice, a 27 year old Republican who currently serves as a lawyer for the New York Police Department. Endorsed early by the Kings County Republican Party, he has been helped by the disqualification of another, better known Republican. He lives in Midwood and received his JD from Brooklyn Law School. To learn more, click here.