Just in time for the Democratic presidential primaries, a Jewish Democratic group is rebuilding its presence in New York.
The National Jewish Democratic Council, founded in 1990 as “the national voice of Jewish Democrats,” has hired fundraiser Jill Straus to spearhead its revived New York chapter. Straus will reach out to donors, candidates, officials, community leaders and the public and will generally seek to serve as a liaison between Jewish voters and the state’s Democratic Party.
The group, which had a New York chapter in the early 1990s that faded, is not tied to any campaign and counts supporters from across the Democratic field among its cadre. Straus, for example, raises money for Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, while the council’s most prominent New York supporter, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, is a supporter of former Vermont governor Howard Dean.
With the Middle East having turned into a hot-button issue in the primaries, the council is proving its worth as a sounding board for the candidates and a clearinghouse for those who want information on Democratic positions, its supporters say.
“For those in the Jewish community concerned about bipartisan support for Israel, NJDC is an answer because we’re making policy and political arguments to good friends why the Jewish community is central to the Democratic Party and why a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is central to the values and interests of the Democratic Party,” said the council’s executive director, Ira Forman. “To those concerned that the Tom DeLays of the world are hoodwinking the Jewish community with pious words of support for Israel while snatching away civil liberties, advocating puritanical moralism in government and adopting a fiscal policy taking care of their friends and contributors at the top of the income structure, we are out there six days a week, exposing who Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and their ilk really are.”
A local supporter, Westchester political consultant Arnold Linhart, said, “It’s a two-way street: The party will utilize us for reaching out into the Jewish community and Jewish Democrats for having representation in the councils of the party.”
The reception the group gets from the party apparatus remains an open question, however. The chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, Assemblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell, approached the subject of the council’s new presence cautiously. “I will watch to see how it develops, and if I can be of any help, I will,” he told the Forward.
Farrell has been known to be cool to such efforts. When some supporters of the council met informally at a Manhattan restaurant late last fall to air some dissatisfaction about the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial campaign, Farrell said he was “surprised” by the meeting because the individuals involved — Democratic officials and operatives — “should have made their complaints known” during the campaign.
But the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matthew Brooks, hailed the Democratic group’s new presence. “Great,” said Brooks, whose group is inaugurating its own New York office. “We welcome the opportunity to bring to the Jewish community of New York a chance to learn about both sides.”