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1st September
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, September 1, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Long before there was a Mayor Bloomberg pouring millions of dollars of his own money into his political dreams, there was one New Yorker who helped set the pattern of the rich politico devoting himself and his fortune to a political career.

His name was James Scheuer. He served 26 years in the House of Representatives, but failed in his big dream: to become New York’s first Jewish mayor. He died Tuesday at his home in Washington, D.C.
Scheuer was not the sort of fellow to ever give up. Scheuer was born in 1920, the son of a wealthy developer. When his efforts to win a congressional seat on Manhattan’s West Side as a reform Democrat fell short in the early 1960s, he decided he was better off as a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and moved to the Bronx — the South Bronx, just before the area began to decline.

In 1962, he ran against Rep. James Healey, a low-wattage machine loyalist. Healey barely held on, but Scheuer never stopped campaigning. Two years later, he easily beat Healey, while another “reformer,” Jonathan Bingham, defeated 30-year veteran, Rep. Charles Buckley, the Bronx County Democratic boss, in the district just to the north. The citywide press took note of the success of the Bronx reformers, which included men such as Harrison Jay Goldin, who would become city comptroller, and Robert Abrams, later to serve as state attorney general.

But Scheuer was a standout. He was a natural campaigner who loved to press the flesh. Carrying his walking stick, a result of a bout with polio he contracted on his honeymoon in Italy, Scheuer would work the seniors on the benches of Joyce Kilmer Park on the Grand Concourse. “Good luck,” they would tell him. “Your vote is my luck,” was the reply.The people on the streets loved Scheuer.

After New York Magazine ran a feature on Scheuer proclaiming him “Super Jew,” a political messiah who could finally lead his people into Gracie Mansion, he was viewed as the best hope to seize the prize that eluded so many Jewish politicians before him.

Armed with deep pockets and loads tem in citywide primary elections, to ensure that victorious candidates possess something approaching the support of his or her party.

In 1972, Scheuer and his reform colleague Bingham were thrown into the same district due to reapportionment. Bingham, the son of a former Connecticut senator, Hiram Bingham, was a political anomaly, a WASP in the very ethnic atmosphere of Bronx politics. The new district was then perhaps the most Jewish in the state. Conventional wisdom had Scheuer the easy winner, but the voters had a different idea.

This painful, surprising loss did not dissuade Scheuer. Once again, he packed his tents and moved to Queens, winning an open seat in 1974. After another reapportionment in 1982, Scheuer found himself representing a Nassau-Queens-Bronx district.

By 1992, at 72 years old, he no longer had the stomach to challenge Rep. Gary Ackerman after the two men’s districts were combined. Scheuer retired to his Washington home.

Scheuer, the wealthy “Super Jew” of the 1960’s, never did grab the elusive brass ring of the mayoralty. But he did help create the road map for other wealthy New Yorkers, notably Mayor Bloomberg, and certainly set the standard for dogged determination to succeed in politics, no matter what borough it might bring him to.

Former Bronx borough president, Fernando Ferrer, first expressed outrage after hearing of supposed anti-Semitic remarks by his close ally, Bronx Democratic leader, Jose Rivera. To his credit, Mr. Rivera quickly apologized in an admirable unconditional fashion (unlike the various Ferrer apologies for his remarks concerning the Diallo shooting).

By Saturday, all was forgiven, and Mr. Ferrer was publicly embracing Mr. Rivera at a Bronx political event. Just the kind of generous expression of forgiveness and unity that Mr. Ferrer denied to his fellow Democrat Mark Green four years ago. But, of course, Mr. Green was white and Jewish.
of charisma, Scheuer set out to challenge the incumbent Republican mayor, John Lindsay, in 1969. He recruited then-assemblyman, Charles Rangel, as his running mate for City Council president, the first time a black ran for citywide office, and the former police commissioner, Vincent Broderick, as his candidate for comptroller.

But despite having the most money,assembling the best ticket and the best campaign team, things began to go very wrong. The former mayor, Robert F. Wagner Jr., entered the race, as did Scheuer’s fellow-reformer in the Bronx, Herman Badillo. Even author Norman Mailer entered the fray, with columnist Jimmy Breslin as his running mate, pledging to make Gotham the “51st state.” With so many liberals splitting the vote, when the dust cleared, the conservative city comptroller, Mario Procaccino, had “stolen” the Democratic nod with just a third of the vote. Scheuer, who started the race as the front-runner, finished dead last, his dream of higher office dashed. One result of the race was the establishment of the runoff sys-

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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