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Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who has positioned himself as the most antiwar of the top Democratic presidential contenders, is insisting that he did not mean to cast aspersions on the New York metropolitan area — or its Jews — when he called the region “hawkish” in remarks to a Southern newspaper.

“The most hawkish area of the country is not the South,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an article published last Saturday. “It’s New York and New Jersey.”

Dean told the Forward that he made the remark because “that was my experience,” although he acknowledged his impression was “totally unscientific and anecdotal.”

“There’s a lot of support for the war in New York and New Jersey because of the proximity to the World Trade Center,” he told the Forward in a telephone interview. “There’s a lot of anger about the [attack on the] trade center,” especially among those who lost family or friends.

Dean said his remark did not refer to New York and New Jersey’s Jewish population at all. He said he had been apprised of polls showing the nation’s Jewish community to be about as supportive of the war as any other, which also accords with his experience.

“There’s a huge feeling against the war in Los Angeles,” he pointed out, referring to another area with a large Jewish population.

Dean will swing by Manhattan April 30 to give a healthcare address at the Drum Major Institute, an urban policy think tank headed by former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer. The candidate, a physician who made health coverage a priority during his tenure as governor, will join Roger Toussaint, president of Transit Workers Union Local 100, and Irwin Redlener, president of the Children’s Health Fund, on a panel there. The event should provide Dean with an excellent chance to politic; among its sponsors is New York’s powerful healthcare workers’ union, SEIU Local 1199, whose chief, Dennis Rivera, is close with Ferrer. “It’s certainly a union whose support I’d like very much, given that its principal interest is healthcare, as is mine,” Dean said. The union is also against the war.

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The presidential bid of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman got a boost last week in the form of an endorsement by Thomas Suozzi, the photogenic chief executive of suburban Nassau County. In the Empire State, however, the endorsement was being seen less in the context of the presidential election of 2004 than in that of the gubernatorial election of 2006. Suozzi is considered a contender for the Democratic nod if, as some think, he can dislodge the presumed front runner, the state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer.

Spitzer, like Lieberman, is Jewish and is close to communal leaders. However, said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant who once worked for him, “Spitzer’s beatable.” By whom? “By a Catholic from the suburbs who can get the black vote,” Sheinkopf said, naming Suozzi.

So, endorsing Lieberman is a smart move.

“Senator Lieberman is a quality candidate who has a lot of appeal to New York voters because of his proximity to New York and time spent in our media market,” said another New York Democratic strategist, Allen Cappelli. “The fact that he is more moderate and Jewish helps solidify the county executive’s cultivation of suburban voters, and does not hurt him with [Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver],” the state’s top Democrat and a Lieberman supporter.

In other Lieberman news, the campaign has hired Kristin Carvell, a former press aide from the unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial bid of former state comptroller Carl McCall, as its New Hampshire press secretary.

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The race for the seat held by Florida Senator Bob Graham is stuck in the mud while the popular Graham, a Democrat, decides whether he will seek re-election or go forward with his 2004 presidential bid.

But that is not stopping one of the Democrats eyeing Graham’s seat, Rep. Peter Deutsch, from slinging some mud at one of his would-be Republican rivals, Rep. Mark Foley.

Deutsch, a Jewish congressman whose district stretches from Broward County south to Key West, told the Forward he was not concerned by reports that Foley, who represents the neighboring 16th district in south Palm Beach County, had raised more than $2.3 million for the race.

“I’m not sure Mark Foley meeting more people helps Mark or hurts Mark,” Deutsch said. When asked to explain, Deutsch said, “You can take that at face value.”

Foley’s spokesman did not let the swipe go unanswered and used the occasion to try to score points with Deutsch’s base. “Congressman Foley has received immense praise and support from the Jewish community, especially for fighting for money owed to Holocaust survivors from insurance companies,” said Christopher Paulitz. “Congressman Foley will turn the other cheek. Hopefully Congressman Deutsch will do the same and turn his attention to helping us force insurance companies to pay Holocaust survivors what is rightfully theirs.”

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Grown used to the soothing Arkansas drawl of CNN military commentator Wesley Clark? You may be hearing more of it soon. Gossip in political circles is that Clark, a retired general who was supreme commander of NATO during the Kosovo war, will announce his long-predicted Democratic presidential bid when the Iraq war ends. Until then, he’s certainly not losing any hearts and minds among liberal Democratic primary voters with his frank television critiques of American military strategy. He also is writing a regular column on the war for the Times of London. Talk about “media candidates.” An associate of Clark denied the rumor.

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Longtime Democratic operative David Luchins is taking the death of New York’s former senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as his cue to throw in the political towel. “Everything I cared about in politics was buried [last] Monday in Arlington [National] Cemetery,” he told the Forward. Luchins, who worked as a top aide to Moynihan, to the late senator Hubert Humphrey and most recently to McCall, has assumed posts as the chairman of the political science department at Touro College and as senior adviser for communal affairs to its president, Rabbi Bernard Lander.

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Mandell Ganchrow, head of the pro-Israel Hudson Valley Political Action Committee, or Huvpac, is expecting a high-powered assemblage for a luncheon celebration/Israel action event planned for May 7, Israel’s Independence Day. Ganchrow told the Forward that a bunch of his pals have accepted invitations, including Senators Robert Bennet, Sam Brownback, Jim Bunning, Richard Durbin, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Tim Johnson, Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Mikulski, Lisa Murkowski, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Harry Reid, John Rockefeller and Ron Wyden. Eight of the 14 are running for re-election in 2004, wouldn’t you know. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is to speak at a cocktail party for the 80 members of Congress whom Huvpac supported in 2002.

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Speaking of one of those senators, here’s another tidbit from the cocktail party at last week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee banquet in Washington: One of the Aipac grandees brought over a female reporter to meet Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. As they neared the lawmaker, the reporter joked, “So that’s Senator Wyden? He’s tall and handsome. Why isn’t he running for president?” The grandee, naturally, repeated the remark to Wyden, who responded, in effect, that he is much too sober a fellow to try such a venture. “I’m the designated driver for all my friends who are running for president,” Wyden said.

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