As David Greenfield drove his Honda down Ocean Avenue, he pointed to the one- and two-family homes lining the streets of Midwood and complained about how much each one cost.
“That one on the corner? A million-and-a-half to two million. That little one? Only a million,” said Greenfield. “Plus, you’ve got the tickets, property tax increases, water rates, tuition costs. For a lot of young families like mine, these costs are really astounding.”
Greenfield has been thinking a lot about property costs in Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst recently. In addition to putting together a campaign ahead of the March 23 special election to replace Simcha Felder, he has recently bought a home there—because, like his fellow frontrunner Joe Lazar, he did not live in the district he hopes to represent before Felder resigned to become a deputy comptroller under John Liu.
Everyone seems to agree there is an affordability problem in the neighborhood, where many parents send their children to yeshiva schools that can run $13,000 a year per child.
But solving the problem remains a thornier question.
Lazar believes the solution is winning more funds for Jewish social organizations that help the neighborhood’s poor.
His campaign is touting Lazar as a consensus builder with 40 years working in government as former director of fiscal affairs for the Department of Buildings and former regional director for the state Department of Mental Health.
Lazar was not made available by his campaign to comment.
Campaign advisor Gary Tilzer, though, spoke on his behalf, arguing that his candidate’s power will be in securing member items and other budget earmarks for the district.
“There are two kinds of Council members: those who know how to get funding from the speaker and those who don’t,” Tilzer said. “Joe Lazar knows how to find money inside a budget.”
Greenfield, meanwhile, believes these affordability issues are best addressed by putting money directly into the pockets of families. He points to his work winning a $330 state tax credit for private school parents through Teach NYS, a broad coalition of religious leaders which has used aggressive union style tactics that have rankled the Jewish political establishment. On the Council, Greenfield said he would push for a $500-per-child tax credit for public and private school parents.
Though their candidates may be divided in their take on how to approach getting cash into the district, the social and political organizations in Boro Park are not: nearly all of the major groups in the area, which encompasses a significant portion of the district, are united behind Lazar.
This is unlike what happened in several recent races, when the growing ultra-Orthodox Hasidic population has split with Assembly Member Dov Hikind, the conservative Orthodox longtime power broker.
But this special election proved different. When Hikind initially pushed for former Council member and Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Noach Dear to run, Hasidic leadership expressed concern about returning Dear to the Council, according to a source who has spoken to Hikind about the situation.
Hikind backed off of his support for Dear, who ended up not running. Precipitating Dear’s decision, Hikind announced his endorsement of Lazar.
Since then, most of the Boro Park political and social leadership has thrown their support to Lazar, though one major slice of the Bobov Hasidic community so far is remaining neutral for fear of offending Greenfield, according to a source involved in talks with that community about an endorsement for Lazar.
Observers say the unity of Boro Park was demonstrated recently when wealthy real estate attorney Nachman Caller decided to drop out of the race.
Shiya Ostreicher, a political powerbroker in the Hasidic Belzer community who is backing Lazar, asked Caller to drop out, according to an unpublished letter Caller wrote to the newspaper Hamodia that was obtained by City Hall.
Caller is Hasidic, while Lazar is conservative Orthodox, but the political leadership of the Hasidic community bypassed the chance to try and put the first Hasidic on the Council, in part over concerns that Calller would play a spoiler for Lazar.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Hikind ally, also discouraged Caller from running.
Greenfield, meanwhile, has plenty of prominent supporters as well. Kings County Democratic Party leader Vito Lopez, who is backing Greenfield, met with Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey and helped seal Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Greenfield.
Lopez and Greenfield also have a close relationship.
“One thing I respect about him is that he’s loyal to his friends,” Greenfield said.
Lopez and Greenfield have worked together on a number of issues important to both Lopez’s majority-Catholic district and to South Brooklyn’s Sephardic Jewish community, for whom Greenfield serves as political liaison.
Last year, Lopez and Greenfield teamed to kill a bill that would have temporarily opened the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases at religious institutions. In the process, Greenfield also built close professional relationships with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Archdiocese and Rabbi David Neiderman of South Williamsburg’s United Jewish Organization, two powerful Lopez allies.
But Tilzer, the Lazar advisor, indicated that they would seek to use Greenfield’s close relationship with Lopez against him.
“What do you think these people from the county party are supporting Greenfield for? Not for the community’s good,” Tilzer said. “They’re concerned about constructing housing projects and developments.”
Other maneuvers by Lopez on Greenfield’s behalf have not worked out as well as the Bloomberg endorsement.
The night before former Council candidate John Heyer was set to endorse Lazar, two of Lopez’s advisors approached Heyer at the Cathedral Club of Brooklyn annual dinner and asked him to reconsider. Heyer declined.
Brooklyn Democratic Party district leaders have also asked Jonathan Judge, a Republican who is the third candidate in the race, not to run, since Judge could siphon off some support from Greenfield. But Judge has decided to stay in the race.
Two other candidates, a college student named Abraham Tischler and a Republican named Kenneth Rice, have also filed petitions with the Board of Elections.
With much of the Boro Park political class united against him, Greenfield is hoping his political allies in Bensonhurst and Midwood, two neighborhoods that have traditionally been less politically active than Boro Park, will drive up turnout there. He has the support of State Sen. Carl Kruger, the powerful Finance Committee chair whose district covers much of the area.
At the same time, Greenfield hopes to win some support from a younger generation in Boro Park that is also not beholden to the neighborhood’s political leadership.
“The door-knocking has gone especially well there,” Greenfield said.
“They’ve never had someone knock on their door and ask them what they needed. They’ve always had someone telling them what to do.”
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