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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Klein, on the other hand, appears to have been far more worried about potentially alienating Democratic constituents. His public statements, rather than emphasizing potential pork for his district, have focused on his contention that the new alliance will allow him to push traditionally liberal issues like a minimum wage hike.

“We think that progressive goals can be better achieved when we seek to gain consensus on a bipartisan basis,” Klein spokesman Eric Soufer told the Forward. “We learned the hard way a few years ago that… trying to push issues through on a one-party basis is not the best way to actually achieve change,” he said, referring to the Democrat’s short-lived control of the Senate.

The sections of Riverdale and of suburban Pelham in Westchester County that are part of Klein’s Senate district both have sizeable Jewish communities. Though Modern Orthodox Jews have been increasingly present in Riverdale in recent years, the Jewish community is still overwhelmingly non-Orthodox. “Really, they’re not even the majority of Jews in Riverdale,” Stein said of the Modern Orthodox arrivals. “It ain’t Williamsburg, it ain’t Midwood,” he said, referring to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Stein, the Riverdale Press publisher, said that in his corner of Klein’s district, the state senator appears to have taken “a lot bigger chance than Felder” did in his district.

“Riverdale has a lot of people who consider themselves Democrats, and who may or may not take kindly, for whatever reason, to a state senator screwing the party out of a chance to take over the upper house,” he said. “You could say that there’s a certain amount of courage in what he’s doing.”

Carlucci, the Rockland senator allied with Klein, represents ultra-Orthodox Jews in the towns of Monsey and New Square. He’s not closely allied with those communities and did not have their support in his first race in 2010.

“I really doubt that Carlucci’s move had to do one way or another with the fact that he represents tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews,” said Yossi Gestetner, an Orthodox political activist.

A recent landmark study of the city’s Jewish community suggests that New York’s Jews are increasingly more observant and less liberal than they have been in the past. The conservative Russian-speaking and Orthodox Jewish communities make up more than half of the city’s Jewish population. Political observers have suggested that these population shifts could have a major impact on Democratic dominance of local politics — something the turmoil in the Senate could foreshadow.

The leadership change brought on by Klein and Felder’s maneuvering has met with staunch opposition from some Democrats. Black and Hispanic Democratic senators have argued that the governing coalition, which is mostly white, would exclude minorities from the leadership. The Senate Democratic conference is led by Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American senator from Yonkers. She was elected in mid-December to succeed John Sampson, who is also African-American.

In response to the charge that the deal excludes minorities, a spokesman for Klein noted that he has prioritized reform to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, which overwhelmingly target minorities.

“We think that people are really, regardless of their party affiliation, focused on the results that Albany produces and that their elected officials produce,” said Soufer, the Klein spokesman. “If you deliver those results that people are asking for and people expect, then the rest will be able to fall into place.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com, or follow him on Twitter @joshnathankazis


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