By E.J. Kessler

Published March 25, 2005, issue of March 25, 2005.
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Middle East Mayor: Rep. Anthony Weiner, running in a large Democratic field for the party’s nod to challenge New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, has been focusing on issues of interest to Jewish voters as the key to assembling an outer-borough ethnic coalition.

“The Democratic Party is the anti-terrorism party,” the Queens lawmaker said at a National Jewish Democratic Council breakfast in Manhattan on Sunday. “Every day it’s pushing for homeland security funds, and every day the Republicans are pushing back. Four-fifths of Democrats voted to stop all aid to the Saudis. Four-fifths of Republicans voted for it.” The controversy over academic freedom at Columbia University, in which pro-Israel students say that because of intimidation by professors they cannot speak freely in the classroom, is another issue upon which Weiner has been seizing. “What’s going on at Columbia University in this city is an outrage,” he said. “Nobody is saying let’s not have an open academic debate” but the professors “lie, libel and intimidate. It’s our obligation to speak up, and Democrats are doing it. The Democrats have become the true conservative party in Congress.” Jews can constitute a quarter of the city’s electorate in a Democratic primary.

“Weiner’s job is to get outer-borough Jews and Catholics motivated,” strategist Hank Sheinkopf said. “That’s the only arithmetic that gets him into the runoff. The best way to hold that territory is to make emotional arguments to get people to remember him.”

* * *

Dr. Deadly: No one in Washington accuses Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of having a hopping personality. But the GOP presidential hopeful from Tennessee, a heart transplant surgeon, really needs to give a jolt to his stump skills, if a speech he gave at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter meeting earlier this month is any indication. The address flat-lined, according to several Republicans to whom we spoke. “People were shocked at how bad it was,” said one Republican, who for obvious reasons will remain nameless. “He was poorly prepared and a poor speaker…. People were turned off. There were some major-league fund raisers in that room.” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks did not return a call seeking comment by press time. Frist protégé Michael Lebovitz, who did not attend the speech, said that Frist “is committed to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and is working hard as Senate majority leader to that end.”

* * *

Purim Parody: Nathan Diament, the Washington representative of the Orthodox Union, has been fending off wry comments since an anonymous jokester sent out an e-mail that had a bit of fun at his expense.

“My first assignment today is bittersweet — to bid farewell to Nathan Diament, one of the most creative and talented individuals to ever work for the Orthodox Union. Nathan will be leaving us next month for his new position as senior adviser for ethnic outreach in the Bush administration,” the jokester wrote in the e-mail parody, which purported to be a Purim message from the O.U.’s executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. “As much as we will all miss him we are proud of his considerable achievements on our staff and are confident that he has been well prepared for his new job of selling the Bush administration’s policies to the public,” continued the jokester, who we’re pretty sure is a Democrat alarmed at how much of the Orthodox vote went to the president last year. The parody went on to “report” that the O.U. was combining its Washington office with that of right-wing Orthodox group Agudath Israel. Joked Diament in response: “Funny, I heard David Saperstein was taking the new position at the White House — at least that’s what Eric Yoffie told me when he called to see if I was interested in taking over” the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

* * *

Maryland March: A legendary Baltimore Jewish name is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated in 2006 by retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes. Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat who represents the Baltimore suburbs, is a relative by marriage of longtime Jewish communal leader Shoshana Cardin, famous as the first female head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. According to Hotline sources, Cardin soon “will announce… his candidacy, and immediately start raising money” for a bid. Others in the race include former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen having established exploratory committees.

Local handicappers said that Cardin’s tight connections with Baltimore’s Jewish community would help him in the race, but the contest is extremely competitive and wide open.

“Cardin has shown a propensity to raise substantial dollars, particularly from the Jewish community of Baltimore,” Maryland strategist Keith Haller said, “but we’re talking about five or 10 times what you’d need for a congressional race. Every Democrat in the state, including the party leadership, realizes the Republicans see [the seat] as a big prize. The stakes are enormous. Money is clearly going to be a big factor.” Cardin also might benefit in that he “would be an heir apparent” to Sarbanes, because he is “quiet, but respected for his expertise, particularly in the financial area.”

In more Maryland news, if Van Hollen takes the plunge, Susan Turnbull, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and National Jewish Democratic Council stalwart, is eyeing his seat.

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