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Race To Succeed Felder Heats Up

The race to fill an empty City Council seat in Borough Park and Flatbush is heating up, with new candidates entering the fray as the incumbent, Simcha Felder, stepped down only one month into his third term.

Felder took office as a deputy to Comptroller John Liu on Feb. 1, but has not made an endorsement in the race to succeed him in the heavily Orthodox district.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set the election date as March 23.

Noach Dear, the Civil Court Judge who held the seat for almost two decades, appears to have opted not to seek his old job back. Dear didn’t return a call for comment but Assemblyman Dov Hikind, citing firsthand knowledge of his decision, said "Dear was not in the race".

Another potential candidate, former state senator Seymour Lachman said he has been asked by political and civic leaders to consider a run and said Monday that he was close to making a decision. Currently an official at Wagner College on Staten Island, Lachman said he was having a “tough year” because of personal family matters, but was “leaning toward” running.

Collecting signatures this week (750 are required to get in the ballot) were David Greenfield, who is on leave from his job as director of the Sephardic Community Federation; Joseph Lazar, a former regional director of the state Office of Mental Health, and Nachman Caller, a lawyer who has specialized in tax abatement issues. A Republican, Jonathan J. Judge, President of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club, is also running.

Greenfield had the endorsement of Felder in a race last year that was aborted when term limits were extended and Felder chose to run again. This week former Mayor Ed Koch endorsed him, calling him “a caring person who understands what it takes to organize our communities and make a forceful case for our shared priorities.” Greenfield’s campaign manager, Mark Botnick, who worked on Bloomberg’s successful campaign last year, is the son of a former Koch administration official, the late Victor Botnick.

Greenfield also has the backing of council members in adjoining districts, fellow Democrats Lew Fidler, Domenic Recchia and Mike Nelson.

But the support of Hikind, who is highly influential in the district and an avid campaigner for his friends, is with Lazar. In an interview, and on his weekly radio program, Hikind does not hide his distaste for Greenfield, his former chief of staff, nor does he explain it.

“One of the things I have urged people on the radio show is to look at the candidates and the records to see if what they say is really true. Go and check the record,” Hikind said. Asked about Greenfield’s tenure as Hikind’s chief of staff, he said “he worked for me a very short period of time.”

Greenfield appears to have made some political enemies while lobbying aggressively on behalf of the SCF and another related organization, TEACH NYS, for more state aid to private schools. At one point the latter organization sent a direct mailing to voters in the Lower East Side district of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver accusing him of opposing aid for yeshivas.

“The fact is that almost all moisdos do not support Greenfield, and the question has to be why,” said Hikind, using a term describing religious community leaders.

While Borough Park and Flatbush each have diverse needs, they are united by a presence of conservative voters, areas of heavy poverty and a scarcity of affordable housing. In Borough Park, anti-Bloomberg voters in last year’s mayoral election said they were upset about high taxes and the sense that their dense, high-traffic neighborhood was being targeted for overzealous ticket writing.

“This is an area where people need to be around shuls, where kids don’t want to move out if they don’t have to,” says Lazar, who is also backed by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, among others. “We need to get the city, state and federal government together on housing. I’m sure they have properties in the city they could use [for subsidized housing].” He also suggested that “rather than ticketing the hell out of everyone” the city build a garage in the area to generate income from parking fees.

Caller said he would use his real estate law background to advocate for education relief in the City Council. “I want to see restoration of the abatement for two-family houses and I would like to get a first-time homeowners’ tax credit,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Greenfield said he would draw on his experience lobbying in Albany for tax credits. “Our whole campaign is based on making New York more affordable, and education is a top issue. Equally important is affordable housing, lowering taxes, stopping the ticket blitzes in the community and saving student MetroCards.”

While acknowledging that the 44th has been consistently represented by a Democrat in recent years, Judge said “it’s a very conservative district and Republicans have tended to cross-endorse [Democrats].” He added, “If you look at the vote tallies for ’05, Simcha Felder got more votes on the Republican line than on the Democratic line.” (Felder ran on both ballots that year). Judge, who is a coordinator at Community Board 14 in Flatbush, said the district is more diverse than people realize.

“We have an Italian community and a Pakistani community as well as Ashkenaz, Sephardic and chasidic Jewish communities,” he said. “Everyone needs to be adequately represented in City Hall. I want to have a broad coalition to make sure everyone benefits, and that we address the obvious issues like being taxed to death.”

This week Brooklyn state senator Kevin Parker refuted a press release from Lazar that appeared on the blog Yeshiva World News saying that Parker endorsed Lazar.

“These are two strong candidates running, and that’s a good and healthy thing for Borough Park,” said Parker in a statement.

The Web site later said it had contacted 11 people who appear in a Lazar campaign photo depicted as community leaders endorsing Lazar, and that only four said they endorsed him.

Lazar told The Jewish Week he stood by the photo and said, “The people in the picture have in fact endorsed me.”

Another special election, this one for a state Assembly seat in northern Queens, is slated for Tuesday, Feb. 9. And it, too, is getting nasty.

The vacancy was created when Mark Weprin was elected in November to fill the City Council seat vacated by his brother, David, who ran unsuccessfully for city comptroller.

Now, because politics is the family business, David is running for Mark’s old job.

That has led his opponent, Bob Friedrich to lash out against “the seat-swapping, flip-flopping Weprin brothers and their musical chairs maneuver.”

Friedrich ran unsuccessfully against Mark Weprin last fall in the Democratic primary for the Council. This time, he’s running as a Republican.

He says running as a Democrat in the special race would have required the consent of four district leaders, two of whom are the Weprin brothers. “The way they did it was offensive to me and to others in the district,” he said.

Replies David Weprin: “[Friedrich] ran in the Democratic primary for the City Council seat then flip-flopped to run in the general election as a Republican when he lost. I think his running as a Democrat and Republican in two different races a couple of months apart is more of a flip-flop than my having run for comptroller and now for Assembly.”

Mark and David’s father, Saul Weprin, represented the 24th Assembly District from 1973 until his death in 1994, and was speaker of the Assembly in the final three years.

Neighborhoods in the district include Jamaica Estates, Glen Oaks, Holliswood, Little Neck and Middle Village.

Friedrich, an accountant, is president of the Glen Oaks Village, a co-op with 10,000 residents. He blasts David Weprin, who was the Council’s finance chairman, for supporting Bloomberg’s 18.5 percent property tax hike.

“My opponent’s record in the City Council is one of an assault on working families,” said Friedrich. “He supported the biggest tax increase in New York history, and he is proud that he was able to reduce it from 24 percent. I wouldn’t be proud of that.”

Friedrich says he favors cutting spending on both the city and state levels instead of tax hikes. “Just like a family does when there is no additional money, you have to cut back and tighten your belt and do more with less,” he says.

Friedrich said the Weprins treating the district as a family business was “offensive” because “it should be about serving the community.”

But David Weprin says that as a councilman he represented about 80 percent of the Assembly district and had secured funds for libraries, senior programs and schools.

“If my name wasn’t Weprin, I’d still run on my eight years as a councilman and finance chairman,” he said.

The Jewish Week
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