Jewish Lawmakers Shake Up New York Politics

Jeff Klein and Simcha Felder Hand Senate Keys to Republicans

Switching Sides: Democrats thought they had control of New York’s state Senate after winning a majority of seats. Jeffrey Klein and Simcha Felder had other thoughts in mind.
courtesy of jeffrey klein
Switching Sides: Democrats thought they had control of New York’s state Senate after winning a majority of seats. Jeffrey Klein and Simcha Felder had other thoughts in mind.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published December 31, 2012, issue of January 04, 2013.
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An Orthodox Jew like many of his constituents, Felder, a former New York City councilman, ran as a Democrat to represent the newly drawn state Senate district encompassing the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Boro Park and Midwood. But Felder announced a week after the election that he would caucus with the Republicans.

That was followed in early December by an announcement from a group of Democratic state senators calling themselves the Independent Democratic Conference that they, too, had cut a deal with the Republicans. Their leader, Klein, would effectively run the Senate in tandem with Dean Skelos, the head of the Republican caucus.

Klein represents parts of the Bronx, Pelham and Riverdale, all of which are home to small, largely non-Orthodox Jewish communities. Also in Klein’s defecting caucus is David Carlucci, who represents ultra-Orthodox towns in Rockland County. Carlucci’s mother is Jewish.

There’s little that connects Klein and Felder. The two broke with the Democrats separately, striking their own deals. And both were driven by divergent concerns.

Felder’s decision to leave the Democratic caucus is less than puzzling. In the statement announcing his deal with Skelos, Felder alluded to his constituents’ need for state-funded services, saying he would work with anyone who had “a plan to ease the burden of tuition-paying parents across New York.” The reference was to state subsidies for private education, a perpetual priority for his Orthodox constituents, who send their children to private parochial schools rather than public schools.

The Orthodox Jews Felder represents in Brooklyn often vote in a bloc under the direction of communal leaders. That bloc often votes Democratic in an effort to secure needed services, though the voters are ideologically conservative. In parts of Boro Park, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney won 90% of the vote over Democrat Barack Obama.

“Felder is doing exactly what Felder should be doing for the constituency he represents, which is Democratic because of where the communities are located, but not Democratic where their hearts and brains are located,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative-leaning Democratic consultant.


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