Republican Jews: We’ll Take Manhattan

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 17, 2003, issue of January 17, 2003.
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The Republican Jewish Coalition is planning to open an office in New York, in support of the GOP’s anticipated invasion of the Democratic — and Jewish — heartland when it mounts its 2004 national convention in Gotham.

Republican strategists have been eyeing a plan to peel off Jewish support for the eventual Democratic nominee by trumpeting President Bush’s stands on the Middle East and homeland security. The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matthew Brooks, told the Forward that a New York office, which he expects to open in the next few months, would give Republicans a “dramatic presence when the convention comes in 2004.”

“Having the convention in New York City significantly enhances our outreach for the Republican Party into the Jewish community by virtue of the fact that the largest Jewish community in America is in New York,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have an opportunity to show the Jewish community what the Republican Party has to offer, to hear our message and to hear directly from the president on down about our commitment to Israel, to peace and security, to the war on terrorism and to our inclusive agenda for the future.”

While 79% of Jews voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in the 2000 presidential election, Brooks’s boosterism finds an echo in a new survey of 1,386 Jews nationwide. The survey showed that identification with the Democratic Party has dropped and political conservatism has grown among Jews, especially among the younger generation (Please see related article, Page 1). Respondents gave Bush high marks for his handling of Middle East and security issues. As Brooks said, “it’s a good time to be a Jewish Republican.”

If Bush is using the backdrop of post-September 11 New York to highlight his national security leadership, the Republican Jewish Coalition can claim part of that mantle. Its vice-chairman, Lewis Eisenberg, the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, has had a special role in New York after September 11. A former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the agency that owns the World Trade Center site — he shepherded the authority through the first three months after the September 11 attack. He now serves as a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which is charged with redeveloping the site of the fallen towers.

“The Republican Jewish Coalition has grown dramatically since the election of George W. Bush,” Eisenberg told the Forward. “His popularity in the Jewish community is similar to the enormous popularity he enjoys across the nation. His coming into New York City will contribute to solidifying his strong standing in the Jewish community. It is generally recognized that there has been no president who has done more for the State of Israel than George W. Bush.”

In addition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Democrat who won 52% of the Democratic vote when he was elected the city’s first Jewish Republican mayor in 2001, the GOP has an impressive Jewish establishment to draw on as it sets up camp in New York, observers say. Among the figures who are expected to be active in outreach efforts are George Klein, principal of Park Tower Realty, one of the largest real estate concerns in the city, and a member of Bloomberg’s transition team; Jacob Stein, a Long Island developer who served as an adviser in the first Bush White House and as president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Charles Moerdler, a partner in the law firm Strook& Strook & Lavan who has been active in city affairs since the Lindsay administration.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former executive assistant to New York’s Republican governor, George Pataki, called the New York Jewish community, which gave more than half its vote to Pataki in November’s election, “fertile ground” for a Republican drive. “The view that Jews are monolithically liberal is not the case,” he said. “When they see people such as Pataki, Giuliani and Bloomberg govern from the middle, it changes things. I think [Bush’s chief strategist] Karl Rove would be very smart to attempt to have the Jewish community in his corner.”

Jewish Democrats, for their part, declared themselves unimpressed with the Republican effort to use New York as a staging ground to raid their base.

“The last time the Jews of New York voted Republican for president was in 1920,” said the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman. “I extend a hearty mazel tov to the RJC on their new office; with some hard work and a lot of luck, maybe they can win the Jewish vote in Manhattan in another 83 years.”

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