The race to replace longtime Jewish Democratic congressman Gary Ackerman could play out as a contest between Jewish and Asian constituencies in a newly shaped Queens district.
Vying to replace him are State Assemblywoman Grace Meng, State Assemblyman Rory Lancman, and New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. The three will face off in a primary in June.
Lancman, who is Jewish, is positioning himself as a Middle East hawk in a district that will include parts of the congressional district where Republican Bob Turner beat Democrat David Weprin in a special election in which Israel played a major role.
“This is a very, very perilous time for Israel, both in terms of Iran potentially developing nuclear weapons and combating…the delegitimization of Israel,” Lancman said in an interview with the Forward. “We need a fierce, experienced advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Ackerman, a long-serving congressman, surprised supporters on March 15 with an announcement that he would resign after his term expires next January. The news was especially jarring because some had expected that Ackerman’s district would be eliminated in the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process .
He appeared to dodge that bullet when the boundaries of the new district, now designated New York’s 6th Congressional District, were drawn. The district is heavily Asian-American, but includes Orthodox and Bukharian Jewish communities in Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Kew Gardens, among other neighborhoods.
Ackerman previously represented parts of the district and would have been a heavy favorite to retain the seat, even though much of his constituency lay farther east on Long Island.
Lancman interned for Ackerman as a high school student, but had some harsh words for the departing congressman.
“Gary was a supporter of Israel but he made some very substantial missteps,” Lancman said. “He fell in with the J Street crowd, which many in the Jewish community in Queens were very disappointed about.”
Ackerman received J Street’s endorsement in 2010, then turned on the organization in 2011, famously quipping that the dovish pro-Israel lobby was “so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”
First elected to the state assembly in 2006, Lancman was an advocate of a program that drove federal Homeland Security money to Jewish organizations. He co-sponsored a January bill to bar state and local government from dealing with companies that do business with Iran.
Meng will have the Queens Democratic party’s official support. If elected, she would be the first Asian American to represent New York in congress.
The Queens party’s decision to back Meng also hints at some family drama. Elizabeth Crowley is a cousin of Queens party chair Congressman Joe Crowley.
“I love my cousin very much. I hope she realizes this is in the best interests of the district,” Crowley told The Politicker, a New York City political news website.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.