As first reported last Thursday by the Observer, neither Democratic Councilman Lew Fidler nor Republican attorney David Storobin actually live in the new “Super Jewish” state Senate district (which we will refer to inauspiciously as SJSSD) recently created by the Senate Republicans.
Fidler is in State Sen. John Sampson’s district, but promises to run in whatever district ultimately includes most of the current 27th Senate district, where he is running in the special election to replace convicted state Sen. Carl Kruger. Storobin, the Republican candidate, would be in State Sen. Diane Savino’s district under the new proposed lines.
At first, the new district caused some head-scratching. Why would the Republicans draw their own candidate out of the district?
But according to Michael Fragin, a Republican operative with deep ties within the Orthodox Jewish community, the lines are exactly as always intended. Though Storobin, who is Russian-American, is currently the chosen (no pun intended) candidate for the GOP, the party had all along intended to create the SJSSD to cultivate ties within that community, according to Fragin.
“They created this seat with the intention – and promises were made some time ago – to create an Orthodox Jewish seat that would represent the community in the state Senate,” Fragin said.
Neither Fidler nor Storobin are Orthodox.
During last year’s budget battle, Senate Republicans surprisingly landed $18 million in funding for tuition assistance for rabbinical students, after striking a deal with Agudath Israel, the giant Jewish social services organization – one of several moves that has endeared the Senate Republicans to the Orthodox community.
Assuming that Fidler wins the special election in March – a big if – and the SJSSD is created, who would be the Orthodox candidate to take on Fidler? That could be dicey for the GOP, according to several Brooklyn sources.
One issue for Republicans is that all obvious choices with enough gravitas to pull off a win against Fidler are Democrats, and would probably need to run as Republicans. And all might have other issues as well. Assemblyman Dov Hikind says he’s not running. City Councilman David Greenfield is an ally of Fidler’s and would be unlikely take on his Council colleague.
Former Councilman Noach Dear would have to give up his well-paying Civil Court judgeship in order to even begin raising money – a fact that likely caused him to pass on running for an open Borough Park Council seat in 2010 that was won by Greenfield.
And former Councilman Simcha Felder, while reportedly eyeing the seat, would have to take a substantial pay cut leaving Comptroller John Liu’s office, where he currently earns $179,000 a year.
The most likely candidate could end up being Chaskel Bennett, a community activists who has deep connections with Agudath Israel and has appeal in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Not everyone in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community is happy with the idea of the SJSSD. One prominent Borough Park insider, who is neutral in the Fidler-Storobin race, said that while many in the more socially conservative ultra-Orthodox population were happy with the idea of having an ultra-Orthodox representative, more mainstream Jews may be unsure about the prospect.
“Before, we had Borough Park split in five Senate districts, but now it’s the entire other side of the coin, where we’re going only have one representative,” the source said. “If it’s just one representative, they could be marginalized. We need as many people as possible pushing for yeshiva education against the teachers’ unions.”
Still, the insider could not help but compliment the way Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos had played things so far.
“He’s made a brilliant move in making this pact with Agudath Israel,” the insider said. “Democrats will unite for Skelos. It’s a brilliant stroke.”
The Yeshiva World blog just floated the rumor that Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s son, Yoni, could run for the seat.
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