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3rd September


First Published in The New York Sun, September 3, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

There is far-reaching political activity taking place in this town, and I don’t mean at Madison Square Garden. Here in the Bronx, there are an unusual number of contested elections that will be decided in 10 days. 

    In 1997,at the height of Mayor Giuliani’s pre-September 11, 2001, popularity, the Bronx was the only one of the five boroughs to vote to replace him with Ruth Messinger, a Democrat and the most extreme left figure on the New York political scene since Vito Marcantonio. 
    This kind of party loyalty means that few election contests in the Bronx ever make it to November. The real election in the Bronx has long been the party primary held among Democrats. Victory in the primary is tantamount to election. Now even the tiny band of local Republicans is looking to the Democratic Primary to retain their last toehold in the Bronx. 

    This results from the resignation of Guy Velella,a Republican state senator,and his subsequent conviction of corruption. The Bronx is not a hospitable place for members of the Grand Old Party, so the statewide party is looking to a moderate Democrat, Assemblyman Steven Kaufman, to save the seat for them. 
    Mr. Kaufman, who I’ve known for 30 years and has advertised in my newspaper, has longed bucked his own party establishment on a number of ideological issues. He fought the gay lobby in his party over the “BabyAIDS”bill, which he sponsored with a like-minded Queens Democrat, Nettie Mayersohn. This law breaks the shield of privacy that prevented doctors from informing parents when newborns were found to be HIV-positive. 

    Refusing to take direction from the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the Bronx Democratic Party boss, Roberto Ramirez, on the repeal of the city’s commuter tax back in 2000, Mr. Kaufman solidified his reputation as a true Albany maverick and voted against repeal — and Mr. Silver’s wishes. This in contrast to his opponent, Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein, who toed the party line and voted to repeal the tax, an action that has cost the city $2.5 billion thus far. 

    In 2001, sickened by the leftward tilt in his party coming out of the mayoral primary runoff between the president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer, and the city’s public advocate, Mark Green, Mr. Kaufman endorsed the Republican challenger,Michael Bloomberg.At the time,Mr. Bloomberg was considered an amateurish dilettante, given little chance to defeat either of the Democrats. But Mr. Kaufman delivered his district to Mr. Bloomberg. He also made a friend who has helped him reach across the aisle to win GOP support to succeed Mr.Velella. 

    The debate in the campaign has not been over crime or the schools, but rather about the water we drink. Mr. Klein, whose district includes some of the area around Van Cortlandt Park and the Jerome Park Reservoir, was long an opponent of the federally mandated Croton water filtration plant slated to be built in the area.Mr.Kaufman,whose district lies on the opposite end of the borough, in Co-op City and Throggs Neck, was never involved in the filtration controversy. 

    In 2001, after the courts ruled that the plant couldn’t be built in the park without legislative approval, Mr. Klein gleefully told the New York Times “No one in the Legislature is going to give their permission, Democrats or Republicans.”That was until Mayor Bloomberg dangled $250-million in improvements to Bronx parks in front of Mr. Klein’s colleague, the Bronx Democratic county leader,Assemblyman Jose Rivera. 

    To the horror of opponents of the plant,largely composed of “environmentalists” on the left, Mr. Klein obeyed the directive of his political patron, became an eleventh-hour convert, and supported the filtration plant in a close vote in the Assembly. Once again, Mr. Klein took to his new position with enthusiasm, giving an impassioned speech on behalf of the plant on the Assembly floor. 

    A year later, Mr. Klein flip-flopped yet again. He has aligned himself with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, a hard-left activist group, which is now running his campaign’s street operation, and has become a born-yet-again opponent of the filtration plant, now vowing to do everything in his power to scrap it.This didn’t stop him from mailing out a campaign flyer taking credit for the parks projects that will only come to the borough if the plant is ultimately constructed in the park. 

    This enraged the leading opponent of the filtration plant,Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Riverdale, who turned around and endorsed Mr. Kaufman. 

    “To me, trust is the issue. At least I know where Steve stands, even when I disagree with him,” Mr. Dinowitz said. 

    Mr. Klein is trying to cast himself as the “real”Democrat in the race.This is because Mr. Kaufman is also running on the Republican, Democratic, Conservative, and Independence Party lines.If elected,Mr.Kaufman promises to caucus with the Republican majority, ensuring the uninterrupted flow millions of dollars of the “member item” largess that residents of the district have grown used to receiving from Mr. Velella. 

    If Mr. Kaufman wins the Democratic line, it will all be over: a multiparty coast to victory for this unique hybrid candidacy.If he loses the Democratic nod, he and Mr. Klein will face off again in November in that rarest of all Bronx events, a truly contested general election.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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