By E.J. Kessler

Published February 13, 2004, issue of February 13, 2004.
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Baker Botch: A top New York supporter of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is saying that the candidate told him he made a “mistake” when he named former president Jimmy Carter or former secretary of state James Baker as possible Middle East envoys in a December speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Kerry told him that he never intended to name the men in the speech, and that Kerry had blamed the insertion of the names on a staff mistake. According to Silver, who endorsed Kerry last week, Kerry told him that when he discovered the names of the two men had been inserted into a draft of his speech by staffers, he had requested they be removed, but was told that the draft remarks already had been distributed to reporters, so there was no way to deliver the speech minus the names without causing a stir. Kerry said that the names were an attempt to appear bipartisan, according to Silver.

Kerry has gotten major grief for the Carter-Baker remarks from Jewish communal leaders who consider Carter and Baker to be pro-Arab and anti-Israel.

In a conference call with reporters last Friday, Silver said, “I spoke to him about that very issue, saying that was not something that was going to be very popular in the Jewish community. John Kerry assured me that neither Jimmy Carter nor Baker would be his choice.

“Kerry is saying, ‘Look, this is a mistake.’”

Silver pronounced himself “satisfied” with Kerry’s assurances and called him an “ardent” supporter of Israel.

Asked to comment, the Kerry campaign neither confirmed nor denied Silver’s story, but just blew a lot of smoke.

“What was absolutely true at the time remains true: every Middle East envoy President Kerry chooses will understand his steadfast lifetime support of Israel,” wrote Kerry aide David Wade in an e-mail. “There’s a reason why leaders like New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stand with John Kerry — because John Kerry will engage in the Middle East with the conviction that the United States took sides in the Middle East under President Harry Truman even as the United States is a fair and honest broker for peace. John Kerry will not be afraid to reach across the aisle for counsel and support in his efforts.”

Wade added: “John Kerry made clear in his speech and in this campaign that he will lead an effort to reach out to foreign policy hands of both parties and those affiliated with no party at all, and that was precisely the point of his comments in his speech. We can debate the who, what, when and where of the ways John Kerry will reach out to elder statespeople of both parties till the cows come home, but the contrast is clear because this administration has left brilliant and tested minds on the sidelines just because they happen to be Democrats.”

One Jewish communal leader who criticized Kerry, the president of the American Jewish Congress, Jack Rosen, accepted Kerry’s purported explanation.

“There are a lot of things that go on in a campaign,” Rosen told the Forward. “If Kerry didn’t mean to put it in, that’s good news. Even if he had time to reflect on it and decided not to do it, that’s good news, too.”

* * *

Joe’s Legacy: Lots of folks are weighing in on how the fiery, anti-Bush message of former Vermont governor Howard Dean sharpened the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination and is being carried forward by the new front-runner. But the same could be said for the centrist message of Dean’s ideological opposite, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, according to one of Lieberman’s finance chairmen.

“It’s clear Joe Lieberman’s candidacy was significant,” Mitchell Berger told the Forward, crediting Lieberman for leading the field on the race’s “two principal issues.”

“He was the first person talking about national security. Now John Kerry says, ‘Bring it on.’ …. John Kerry was joking about ‘regime change’ before Joe Lieberman set that tone.” Lieberman was also “the first to talk about middle-class tax cuts, when he said the Bush recession would be followed by the ‘Dean depression.’” Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards followed in Lieberman’s footsteps in that regard, Berger noted. Take that, Howard. Or is it John?

* * *

Symbolic Voting?: If the game is really over and the March 2 New York primary becomes an afterthought rubber-stamping Kerry’s success, two other candidates may score some success with “protest” voters.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who struck out among black voters in South Carolina and Michigan, stands to gain in the Empire State as a side effect of Kerry’s dominance, according to one New York strategist. “If the race is over, Sharpton stands the chance of doing even better in New York because the vote becomes symbolic, without any consequences,” said political consultant Allen Cappelli, who managed Carl McCall’s unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial campaign. “People will say voting for him sends a certain kind of message. Al has a political base here. I don’t think that however poorly he does on the road is in any way a reflection of his constituency in New York.” Sharpton has run for office in New York three times, all unsuccessfully. The last time out, in 1997, he garnered about 100,000 votes. Without looking at the numbers, Cappelli estimates that Sharpton could get 50% of the vote or better in some congressional districts and could amass perhaps 10 delegates.

To a much lesser extent, a different set of New York voters — pro-Israel Orthodox Jews — may register their distaste for the other candidates by sticking with Lieberman, who remains on the ballot despite his exit from the race last week.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Boro Park, an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, predicted his community would protest on March 2 mostly by staying home. He said, however, that he thinks “Lieberman will do very well with those that do vote.”

But pollster Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said few folks among Lieberman’s supporters would vote in that fashion, because most voters aren’t motivated by sending a message.

Kerry will try to build turnout in New York with an aggressive public awareness campaign, according to a campaign source.

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