Saturday, August 29, 2009

Conservatives Running in Liberal Brooklyn

Tucked in the middle of two predominantly liberal districts in Brooklyn (the 33rd and 39th City Council districts) there are pockets of conservativism. Mostly when people think of these districts they think of the battle between the reformers and the machine candidates. In the 33rd the frontrunners are reformer Jo Anne Simon vs. Vito Lopez machine hack Steve Levin. In the 39th the frontrunners are reformer Josh Skaller vs. Working Families Party machine hack (to the extent of being caught up in the big WFP scandal this year) Brad Lander. But in sach of these districts the machine candidates are also locked in another struggle: the attempt to take conservative votes from the sole conservative candidate in the district.

In the 33rd district, Isaac Abraham is a Satmar Hasid who is running on a combined platform of opposition to Vito Lopez and what for the district as a whole would be extreme conservativism. Isaac Abraham has been a supporter of Connectitcut Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Vice Presidential candidate who became a McCain supporter in 2008. Abraham, who is running in the Democratic primary, has gone on record urging Jewish Democrats to re-register Republican. Abraham supports tax-payer funded school vouchers for private schools, a tradtionally Republican stand. Abraham is also opposed to gay rights and is anti-choice. These stands put him at odds with most of the voters in the district but is more in sync with the orthodox Jewish and old-school Catholic neighborhoods. Competing with Abraham for these conservative votes is the machine candiadte Steve Levin whose boss, Vito Lopez, has connections in the conservative neighborhoods and is pulling strings to get the conservative vote for Levin over Abraham and is exploiting personality conflicts among the Hasids to siphon away votes from Abraham. So Hasids have the choice of voting their values (and so voting for Abraham) of voting according to political alliances and exchange of political favors (and so voting for the machine's Steve Levin). It should be noted that Levin's boss has had a history of supporting Republicans over Democrats before he became Party Boss, and even after that has had a history of actively discouraging challenges to Republicans in Brooklyn, so Vito Lopez certainly has his connections to conservatives.

In the 39th district the conservative candidate, John Heyer, isn't coming from the Hasidic community but from the old-school Italian Catholic community. He is also anti-choice and pro-school vouchers. His views on gay rights are more nuanced than those of Isaac Abraham, but still amount to opposition to gay marriage in the eyes of the LGBT community. Initially Heyer's sole source of support seemed to be the conservative end of the Catholic community and the candidate who was making the most inroads into the Hasidic community was Brad Lander whose connection to the scandal-ridden WFP machine, brought him an endorsement from ultra-conservative (politically), homophobic Jewish Assemblyman Dov Hikind. (I hear rumors that Brad Lander is receiving help from Vito Lopez's machine as well, but, as with rumors I heard last year about Lopez helping Roger Adler, do not seem well-founded or, at least, don't seem to represent any substantial help). This devil's bargain between Brad Lander (progressive and anti-Israel) with Dov Hikind (intolerant unltra-conservative pro-Israel Jew) does not sit well with either Hasids or progressives and seems to be backfiring. Brad has received criticism from the liberal majority in the district for eagerly seeking out Dov Hikind's endorsement, and Hikind is receiving considerable criticism in the Hasidic press for his support of a liberal, anti-Israel candidate. Both also receive criticism for making a deal that clearly is a purely political bargain that is the specialty of political machines and not in line with reform values that appeal to the majority of the district. This has been exploited by the genuine conservative in the district, John Heyer, who has recently made a blitz on the Hasidic community and been VERY well received as being FAR more in line with Hasidic values. Hasids traditionally prefer their candidates to be anti-choice, anti-gay rights and pro-school vouchers. AND pro-Israel. So Heyer now looks to be bringing together the coservative elements in the district while Lander's progressive credentials have taken a hit because of his ties to Dov Hikind.

Both Abraham and Heyer are dedicated community activists and I have found myself respecting them for their dedication. However, they are both appealing to predominantly Republican social values and to voters who, outside of NYC, would probably be Republican voters. Both also find themselves locked in a battle with the candidates linked to scandal-ridden machines, Steve Levin and Brad Lander, and so can make claims to being reformers despite their anti-progressive stands. The machines use their web of political connections to call in favors among conservative leaders and thus siphon conservative votes from the real conservatives.

Meanwhile the true progressive reformers, like Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone in the 33rd or Josh Skaller and Bob Zuckerman in the 39th, compete over the majority of the district with eachother and with the machine candidates who try to downplay the scandals their respective machines are associated with. Can the conservatives win enough votes exclusively through the conservative pockets of the district as the majority end splits the majority vote? Can the web of political favors the machines draw on be enough to combine enough conservative votes with votes from the majority of the district despite the fact that these two districts tend to prefer reform candidates? Or can one progressive reformer in each district draw enough of the majority vote despite machine money and connections to carry the day? Needless to say I prefer the last of these three options.

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