2001-09-08 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk by Howard Schwach

There was a time when the Orthodox Jewish community in Far Rockaway and Bayswater voted the straight Democratic Party line. The community, which often votes as a block for the candidate of its choice, very seldom moved from the party’s designated choice.

That is why it is unusual and worthy of note that the community is moving away from the party designation this year to back James Sanders, Jr., rather than Charlotte Jefferson for the city council seat in the 31st councilmanic district.

That endorsement of Sanders, however, carries a story that is worthy of Tom Clancy or, perhaps, Boss Tweed. In fact, if my informants are correct, this election might well mark the final closing of the alliance between that community and the Democrats.

The Orthodox community has its issues with the Democratic Party this year largely because it has always pledged its allegiance to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. In return, Pheffer has paid attention to the needs of that community.

When the party decided to bypass Pheffer and anoint Helen Marshall as its candidate for Queens Borough President, that was the beginning of the end. The community began to understand that the party no longer took its particular interests to heart.

That is, however, only the beginning of the story.

The question for the community was, "if not Jefferson, then who?"

Leaders of the community had met with Reverend Fullard. They reportedly thought that she was nice woman and one who reflected the same general values as they did, but many in the community believe that she is "unelectable,"

"We do not want to waste our vote on a candidate who cannot win," one community leader told me.

They met with Jefferson, and were reportedly "unimpressed."

One leader, who requested anonymity, told me, "we felt that she will be just another political hack of the county machine, which has only hurt us in the past."

Sanders, on the other hand, had been on the school board for a number of years and had worked closely with members of that community to address its educational needs.

"He has always been a man of integrity who has tried to help children," I was told.

According to my sources, Reverend Floyd Flake dropped from the blue into the game about two weeks ago.

"We heard that Flake was bucking the party and backing Fullard," a source told me. "We found it very strange that Flake would split from the county to back Fullard, particularly since it was Flake who convinced the county to back Marshall rather than Pheffer in the first place."

Then State Senator Malcolm Smith dropped into the game. I understand that he called in leaders from the community and asked them to back Fullard if they could not back Jefferson.

Flake then called the same leaders and asked them to back Fullard. He told them that Smith had asked him to call.

It seemed to many of the Orthodox leaders that the party was asking them to back a dead horse – Fullard, to keep them from backing Sanders – a horse that had a chance to win the race going away.

"They are trying to neutralize the Orthodox Jewish vote, and we are not buying it," one of the leaders told me.

Calls to Democratic leaders in Queens and to Flake resulted in silence on the question of their support for Fullard rather than Jefferson.

In any case, Sanders is the candidate who will receive the largess of the community’s vote. You might not see its endorsement of Sanders in any paper or on television, but it is there and it is critical.

The evening of September 11 should be an interesting Tuesday evening.


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