Jack Hidary, a well-connected tech millionaire, thinks he has a shot at being elected mayor of New York City. But his dark horse quest may tear Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community in two.
Hidary, who announced his candidacy in a respectfully reported New York Times story on July 16, is a scion of one of New York’s most powerful Syrian Jewish clans. He has already raised more than $300,000 from Syrian Jews for his mayoral campaign.
Yet Hidary’s candidacy has annoyed members of the Syrian establishment. Major players in the low-key community have backed him. More pragmatic activists, however, had been looking forward to endorsing a candidate who has a better chance of winning.
A Syrian spat could prove embarrassing — and could make the Sephardic leadership look weak.
“Jack Hidary’s candidacy puts the leadership of the Sephardic community in a bind,” said one Sephardic communal insider, who asked not to be identified to protect ongoing relationships. “While the sophisticated contingent of the leadership understands that endorsing Jack Hidary is a futile effort, some other powerful and influential community leaders… see a Sephardic candidate as a possibly powerful representative of the community.”
Hidary, for his part, has no doubts about his run. “I’m the best-qualified person for the job,” he told the Forward. “I am not a career politician. The others are career politicians. They’ve
had their chance.”
A 45-year-old Manhattan bachelor, Hidary has the worldly résumé of a globetrotting entrepreneur. He’s spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival and SXSW, preaching the gospel of social entrepreneurship. When he took his first company public in 1998, his net worth shot up by $83 million in a couple of days. A 2004 New York Times story had him hobnobbing with millionaires and politicians at that year’s Democratic convention, swapping promises to hold fundraisers for rising liberal stars.
Back home in Brooklyn, however, the Hidary family are leaders in one of New York’s most insular and politically conservative ethnic enclaves.
Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community is relatively small: A UJA-Federation survey in 2011 found just 6,000 Syrian Jewish households in the borough, compared with 31,200 Jewish households in the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi neighborhood of Boro Park alone. But it’s also extraordinarily cohesive, thanks in part to a rabbinic edict that excommunicates anyone who marries a non-Jew. Converts are also barred.
The community is wealthy, thanks to its success in the garment and real estate businesses. But Syrian Jews do their best to keep their names out of the papers. Besides a sprawling 2009 federal sting that resulted in convictions of two leading Syrian rabbis on money-laundering charges, plus corruption charges against a handful of public officials, the community has largely succeed in maintaining a low profile. The Syrian establishment’s advocacy group, the Sephardic Community Federation, is always fronted by Ashkenazi executive directors.