Hillary On The Run

Calev Ben-David - November 12 - The Jerusalem Post

Calev Ben David reports from New York: Hillary Clinton's visit here is but one part of the first lady's battle with Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the crucial Jewish vote in next year's New York senatorial race.

[See Section Relevant to Jonathan Pollard in bold type.]

It's often said that only three campaign stops are absolutely necessary for anyone running for higher office in New York and all begin with the letter I: Ireland, Italy and Israel.

These days, the large Irish- and Italian-American vote in New York may no longer be cohesive enough to make the first two stops quite so urgent. But Israel is still seen as a must for any serious candidate here, which is why nobody takes seriously Hillary Clinton's claim that her visit this week was strictly a personal trip. No less than her recent jaunts to upstate New York or her purchase of a post-White House home in Westchester County, her Middle East trip is regarded as another way-station along the road in her bid to succeed retiring Democrat Daniel Moynihan in next year's New York senatorial race.

Although the first lady has yet to formally announce her candidacy (expected to come in January), the media are already salivating over the prospect of a juicy no-holds-barred battle between Clinton and the expected Republican candidate, New York City's combative mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The latest polls by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion show the mayor, who has suffered some recent political setbacks, maintaining a narrow lead, with 46 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 43 percent.

For Clinton, winning the Jewish vote big is a must. The traditionally high Jewish voter turnout usually translates into a crucial 10 percent of state-wide elections. A majority of the New York Jewish community holds left-of-center political views, making them an essential electoral base for liberal Democrats.

YET seasoned observers of the Jewish community warn that the first lady cannot take Jewish support for granted. Centrist Republicans with strong pro-Israel records - like Giuliani - have sometimes taken enough Jewish votes to beat even Jewish Democratic candidates, as former senator Al D'Amato did in three campaigns before finally losing to Charles Schumer last year.

The mayor also enjoys his own base of Jewish support among the Orthodox communities in Brooklyn that have benefited from his get-tough attitude toward crime and support his more conservative views.

Clinton also hasn't made it easier for herself with her controversial statement last year in support of a Palestinian state, or the confusion over the itinerary of her Israel trip. Her decision not to meet with Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat raised eyebrows among her more liberal supporters, while the initial reports that she would not visit the Western Wall generated outright protests among such Jewish leaders as Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman.

Giuliani was quick to pounce on the misstep, inviting visiting Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert to City Hall to condemn the first lady "for the fact that she chose not to visit the east side of Jerusalem, which appears to me like a political statement."

The first lady's White House spokesperson Marsha Berry, in what most took as a sign of quick backtracking, then informed reporters that Clinton would be visiting the Western Wall after all, and had always intended to do so.

The seemingly disordered manner in which Clinton arranged her Israel trip, says Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and a Clinton supporter, "is evidence of the fact that she's not quite tuned into the Jewish community here yet, doesn't understand its nuances and complexities, and is perhaps getting some bad advice."

Jonathan Mark, columnist for The Jewish Week, sees the incident as part of the bigger problem that "Hillary is not really connected to New York and only looks more phony when she tries to make gestures to look like she is.

"To me, this trip to Israel is like her putting on a Yankees' baseball cap to give the impression that she's been a life-long fan. The problem isn't necessarily Hillary's policy positions, but her style. Her running in New York is like putting mayonnaise on pastrami."

ALONG with votes, the New York Jewish community also serves as a substantial source of campaign funding, and offers the kind of political influence and expertise especially needed by a novice out-of-towner candidate like Clinton.

That's evident in the support team the first lady has already assembled for her campaign. A key player will of course be Schumer, one of the president's strongest backers in Congress; Hillary Clinton's campaign appearances on his behalf last year were seen as a major factor in his upsetting of Republican incumbent D'Amato.

She is also relying on lesser-known Jewish Democratic power-brokers, such as Paul Adler, the chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party who hosted the first lady during her visit there this autumn. As an upstate politician and observant Jew connected to the substantial Orthodox community in the Monsey area, Adler can help Hillary Clinton make inroads among the kind of Jewish voters one would expect to support Giuliani.

Also playing important roles are the liberal New York Jews already involved in the HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) Exploratory Committee, the fund-raising group set up earlier this year to garner contributions for next year's campaign. These include HRC finance chairman Allan Patrikof, a prominent investor and long-time Democratic fund-raiser; HRC media spokesman Howard Wolfson, who played a similar role in Schumer's senatorial race; Jack Bendheim, a wealthy businessman who also serves as chairman of the Israel Policy Forum, a Labor-associated peace-process advocacy group; and Victor Kovner, a top First Amendment lawyer and unofficial Clinton adviser.

"In September I hosted a fund-raising affair for the first lady at my home," says Kovner, "and we raised $75,000 in one night, the most I ever did in a single night for a candidate in years of holding such functions."

AS A board member of Americans For Peace Now, Kovner not surprisingly disregards most of the Jewish criticism leveled at Clinton, including that of her warm embrace of Arafat during a visit to Gaza last year - an act that was markedly in contrast to the way Giuliani had Arafat kicked out of a city-sponsored concert a few years ago during the UN's 50th anniversary celebrations.

"The first lady's strong support of the peace process is completely in tune with the views of the majority of the New York Jewish community," asserts Kovner. "We have polls showing Hillary holding a sizable lead over Giuliani for the Jewish vote, which is exactly what you would expect, given the Clintons' unparalleled record of support for Israel."

It's true the Marist polls show Hillary Clinton leading Giuliani by 53 to 38 percent in the contest for Jewish votes. But those numbers are by no means impressive for a liberal Democrat candidate in New York. Schumer, for example, won a whopping 70 percent of the Jewish vote in last year's senatorial race.

Those numbers are not surprising to Dov Hikind, the Democratic assemblyman who represents Brooklyn's Orthodox Borough Park neighborhood. While acknowledging that the first lady got a tremendous break with Prime Minister Ehud Barak's victory over Binyamin Netanyahu in last year's electoral race - thus putting her more in tune than the mayor with the Israeli government's stance on the peace process - Hikind criticizes what he sees as her overly enthusiastic support for the Palestinian side.

"It's one thing to recognize the fact that it's necessary to deal with Arafat in order to make peace and another to actually hug the guy and give the appearance of being overly chummy with him," says Hikind. "I think that rankles a lot of Jews here, not just my Orthodox constituents, but the also the general Jewish community."

THE mayor has also made missteps that may cost him some Jewish votes next November. Especially criticized in Jewish circles was his handling of the police shooting of Gidone Busch, the mentally disturbed, hammer-wielding Orthodox Jew gunned down on the streets of Borough Park on August 30.

The next day Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir, flanked by some Jewish community leaders, held a press conference in which they strongly defended the shooting by claiming Busch was in the act of beating a downed officer when he was shot. Testimony later given in a grand jury investigation of the incident contradicted the mayor's version of the incident, and the Busch family is now preparing a civil suit against the city with the aid of famed O.J. Simpson lawyers Johnny Cochran and Barry Scheck.

Even Hikind, who in the past has crossed party lines to support Giuliani, says "the mayor has hurt himself tremendously in our community, which has always been among his strongest supporters, by the way he handled the Busch matter. It brought out what some see as his dictatorial side, his inability to take criticism, which aren't qualities that will serve him well in the Senate."

The mayor's high-handedness, suggests Hikind, opens up a window of opportunity for Clinton to gain some ground among Giuliani's Jewish supporters. This is especially so, Hikind adds, if she acts on an issue that many have seen so far as a thorny problem for the first lady: Jonathan Pollard.

Thus far Hillary Clinton has taken no stand on the question of executive clemency for Pollard, perhaps concerned that it would put her husband in an awkward position, since the president until now has declined to shorten the sentence of the imprisoned American-Jewish spy for Israel. Her inaction on the issue has prompted Hikind, and other supporters of Pollard's release, to picket outside the headquarters of the HRC Exploratory Committee.

"This issue could especially hurt Hillary because Giuliani has strongly supported Pollard's release for years," says Hikind. "If Pollard were to receive presidential clemency, I'm sure it would help Hillary's support among my constituency and with other Jewish voters."

Clinton supporter Kovner agrees that "Pollard is an issue that Hillary should, and I assume will, take a position on. But when she does, it will be in the appropriate manner, after taking the time to address the matter with great care and study, instead of just shooting from the hip on serious issues in the way Giuliani does all the time."

Of course, if Pollard were to be released in the middle of a Hillary Clinton senatorial run, Republicans would no doubt accuse her husband of granting clemency strictly to help her political prospects, just as they did when the president recently pardoned jailed members of the Puerto Rican FALN terrorist group.

"Maybe so," says Hikind, "but at least Giuliani, having already called for the freeing of Pollard, would not be able to make much political capital out of it. And since no matter what she does the Pollard issue is problematic for Hillary, she and the president might as well handle it in the manner that benefits both Jonathan and her."

At the end of the day - election day - it may be the candidates' more general political stands, or the charges that Hillary Clinton is simply a carpetbagger riding her husband's coattails and Rudy Giuliani a short-tempered tyrant ill-suited to serve in Congress, that will determine the direction of New York's Jewish vote in the senatorial race.

But with the candidates' political fates tied to the development of the Middle East peace process, the progress of a lawsuit lodged by the family of Gidone Busch, and a possible "October surprise" preelection day release of Jonathan Pollard, Jewish voters will have plenty to mull over as the Hillary-and-Rudy show plays on.

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