Willie Rapfogel's Downfall in Scandal Means Murky Future for Jewish Programs

Unfolding Kickback Scheme Erases Decades of Connections

Sudden Fall: William Rapfogel took decades building up a political network that delivered funding to Jewish poverty programs in good years and bad. What happens now that he is gone?
met council
Sudden Fall: William Rapfogel took decades building up a political network that delivered funding to Jewish poverty programs in good years and bad. What happens now that he is gone?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 14, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
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“I deeply regret the mistakes I have made that have led to my departure from the organization,” Rapfogel wrote in a statement issued by his attorney. “I pray that my family and friends and all who care about the Met Council can find it in their heart to forgive me for my actions.”

Various news outlets have reported that the alleged scheme involved donations to political candidates. The Daily News also alleged that Rapfogel pocketed kickbacks from an insurance company doing business with the Met Council.

One communal official brushed off the notion that the Rapfogel scandal would scare elected officials away from Jewish organizations. “We still deal with the stock market even though there’s always scandals,” said Agudath Israel of America’s Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, the Orthodox organization’s Albany representative. “The elected officials will go on. There’s a lot of industries that have problems, but life goes on.”

Rapfogel was uniquely a well-connected and influential figure in the New York political scene. “Willy is the prince of the Jews,” said one lobbyist in Jewish communal affairs who asked not to be named to protect relationships. “He’s more powerful than most elected officials.”

That power came from his 21 years at the helm of the Met Council, where he assiduously cultivated relationships with politicians, and many years of communal and governmental experience prior to that.

It also came from his deep roots on the Lower East Side. Rapfogel is a close ally of Lower East Side political don Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly and among the two or three most powerful men in Albany for the past twenty years. Rapfogel’s wife Judy is Silver’s chief of staff. The two men are members of the Bialystoker Synagogue, a major neighborhood institution, where Rapfogel is on the board. And they make up two-thirds of a well-known troika of neighborhood power brokers that dominated local politics along Grand Street for decades.

In a statement, Silver described himself as “stunned and deeply saddened” by the news of Rapfogel’s firing.

Prior to his position at the Met Council, Rapfogel headed the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress’ New York Metropolitan Region and worked for several years as an assistant comptroller for the City of New York.


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