If you thought the race between Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Councilman David Greenfield was over, you haven’t seen anything yet. In their first public break since they made amends after Greenfield’s landslide victory over the Hikind-backed/funded/inspired Joe Lazar, Assemblyman Dov Hikind has decided to endorse a Republican challenger to defeat centrist Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon. Why does this even matter? Because the Hikind/Greenfield split over this race evidences a fundamental difference in philosophies between the two Jewish powerbrokers.
According to Hikind’s detractors, he has no loyalties to any political candidates and routinely makes his endorsement decision at the very last minute depending on whichever way the political wind blows. Hikind’s endorsement of Mike Grimm seems to follow that model. After all, just a few weeks ago Congressman McMahon was an invited guest on the “Dov Hikind Radio Show” where Hikind spent much of the show praising McMahon for his outstanding support of Israel.
So what happened? Polling happened. Recent polls show that Congressman McMahon is more vulnerable than previously thought. As a result, Hikind may have switched his support from Democratic McMahon to Republican Grimm to take credit for the possible victory of the Republican challenger. This seems to fit a well-established pattern by Hikind. Even as far back as 1994, Hikind seemed to evidence this “endorsement by polling results” strategy. At the very last minute, Hikind abandoned his close political ally Governor Mario Cuomo to endorse new-comer George Pataki in the hotly contested race for New York Governor. Coincidentally, polling showed that Pataki was on the cusp of defeating Cuomo. Ironically, Hikind could not possibly have imagined at the time that Mario’s son, Andrew Cuomo, would come back 16 years later as the Governor of New York. Sources say that Andrew has neither forgotten nor forgiven Hikind for turning on his father at the very last minute for seeming political expediency.
This brings us back to the current contest between Mike McMahon and Mike Grimm. Truth be told, the fate of the US Congress does not rest on this singular seat. By all accounts, the margin which will decide control of Congress will be a large one. So why did Greenfield decide to back McMahon? Those familiar with his thinking believe that there are two things driving him: 1. Greenfield has a soft spot for moderate Democrats – McMahon fits that mold to a tee. He voted in favor of middle-income tax cuts but stood up to Nancy Pelosi to vote against Obama’s controversial health care reform. 2. Greenfield follows the AIPAC model on supporters of Israel. The unofficial rule of AIPAC is that they always support incumbents who are pro-Israel. The reason is simple: if you don’t support incumbents who support Israel, those incumbents have little incentive to continue supporting Israel. In that regard, McMahon also fits the mold – he has an outstanding record of consistently supporting Israel. In Jewish terminology this falls under the category of “hakoras hatov” or gratitude for McMahon’s unwavering support of Israel.
More importantly, the real question is: do either one of these endorsements actually translate into anything? Lately, it seems like Hikind’s endorsements have lost their weight. Even before Greenfield beat Hikind’s candidate earlier this year, Hikind’s other candidates have done poorly in the Jewish community. A recent example is Brad Lander, who lost 6 to 1 in Boro Park despite Hikind’s massive efforts on his behalf in 2009. In fact, the last time Hikind weighed in on a congressional race, in 2006, his candidate Carl Andrews lost the Jewish vote 8 to 1.
As for Greenfield, he is a blank slate on endorsements. However, if Greenfield utilizes his Bloomberg-inspired style of micro-targeting voters like he did in his own election, he could make a real difference in this race. If he can identify, target and deliver Jewish voters for McMahon, Greenfield’s value as a political power-broker will take him well beyond the Jewish community.
Daniel Miller for YWN
Jewish Politics is a new opinion column by veteran political strategist Daniel Miller. The views and opinions reflected herein are solely of Mr. Miller and are not necessarily those of Yeshiva World News.