Jack Hidary's Longshot Bid for New York Mayor Divides Syrian Jews

Can Millionaire Gain Traction in Crowded Democratic Field?

Dark Horse: Tech mogul Jack Hidary is trying to gain traction in the crowded New York mayoral race. Will he split the Syrian Jewish community in the process?
courtesy of Jack Hidary
Dark Horse: Tech mogul Jack Hidary is trying to gain traction in the crowded New York mayoral race. Will he split the Syrian Jewish community in the process?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 25, 2013, issue of August 02, 2013.
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That tendency to shy away from the spotlight may be one reason that Syrian Jews have generally not run for public office. Instead, they cultivate relationships with non-Syrian Jewish politicians, among them New York City Councilman David Greenfield, a former executive director of the SCF.

Hidary, however, said that he sees his community’s insularity as more or less a thing of the past.

“I think that’s changing,” Hidary said. “The community now is really engaging in a very public way.” He noted that Syrian Jews often cooperate with real estate industry publications like The Real Deal.

Though he lives in Manhattan and doesn’t attend synagogue regularly, Hidary’s Syrian roots run deep. His father, David Hidary, is a powerful community leader who, with his brothers, runs M. Hidary & Co. Inc., a privately held apparel firm. A cousin runs Hidrock Realty, a real estate investment firm. Hidary’s brother, Rabbi Richard Hidary, was recently hired as the distinguished rabbinic fellow of Congregation Shearith Israel, a prominent Sephardic synagogue in Manhattan.

Their influence goes beyond the Syrian community. David Hidary was on the board of UJA-Federation of New York, and other family members have served on the board of Yeshivah of Flatbush, both Ashkenazi-dominated institutions.

Some in the Syrian community have given early support to Hidary’s candidacy. A brunch fundraiser held in the Syrian summer retreat in Deal, N.J., at a seaside bungalow of real estate investor Joe Cayre, raised $350,000, according to Hidary. That represents three-quarters of the $450,000 Hidary said that his campaign has brought in.

Public filings so far available on the website of the city’s campaign finance board show $131,000 raised so far, much of it from Syrian Jews.

The SCF, however, has not backed the homegrown candidate. “Jack Hidary comes from a very well respected family whose work on behalf of our community is immeasurable and appreciated,” Executive Director Avi Spitzer wrote in an emailed statement. “[W]e have not yet taken a position in the Mayor’s race. Currently, we are holding off on any endorsements until early September.”

Though the Syrian vote is smaller than the other Jewish bloc votes in Brooklyn, the Syrians’ wealth enhances their political influence. The SCF makes endorsements in every mayoral cycle. The group pursues a policy agenda that includes opposition to casino construction in Brooklyn’s Coney Island and support for aid to private religious schools.

Hidary told the Forward that he had been under the impression that the SCF would not be making an endorsement in the mayoral race. The SCF is a 501(c)(4), a not-for-profit category under the federal tax code that allows it to make endorsements.

Greenfield, who now represents the Syrian community’s Brooklyn neighborhood in New York’s city council, introduced Christine Quinn at a recent luncheon at the offices of the Orthodox Union. He has yet to make an endorsement in the mayor’s race.

Greenfield did not respond to a request for comment on Hidary’s candidacy.

“I’ve been speaking in every major [Syrian] synagogue,” Hidary said. “The support has been great. The number of people across the board that have supported us has been tremendous.”

Though he’s given heavily to Democratic candidates and been deeply involved in Democratic politics, Hidary chose to skip the Democratic mayoral primary and run instead on an independent ballot line. That allows him to dodge the potentially bloody and expensive Democratic fight, but means that he’ll enter the general election without the institutional support and name recognition conferred on the Republican and Democratic nominees.

Instead, he’ll be one of a handful of third-party candidates, including Independence Party nominee and former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión.

No candidate for New York City mayor has won without the backing of the Republican or Democratic Party since 1969, when incumbent John Lindsay won on the Liberal Party ballot line.

Hidary paints himself as a pro-business candidate, comparing himself to billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the incumbent mayor, whom he says he admires. In his campaign announcement media blitz, Hidary has touted his ties to the tech community and his entrepreneurial experience.

Unlike all the Democratic primary candidates, Hidary said that he supports publicly funded vouchers to fund private religious school tuitions, a position popular with Orthodox Jews that is dismissed as impractical by most Orthodox advocates. Hidary said that any voucher system he backed would require that schools receiving voucher funds allow unionized teachers.

Hidary did not respond to an emailed inquiry sent to a spokesman about his position on the NYPD’s controversial Muslim surveillance program.

Though the mayoral race looks crowded now, with a huge Democratic primary field, Hidary insisted that he would have a chance to stick out after the primaries are over. “There’s a lot of sideshow now,” he said. Later he acknowledged that “it will really be a clear, clear choice.”

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


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