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18th June

First Published in The New York Sun, June 18, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

The 1976 rescue by Israel of the Jews held as hostages taken from a plane in Entebbe, Uganda, was one of the uplifting events in the history of the civilized world.

For me, this was an exhilarating moment. I was vacationing in Italy when I learned of this liberation by the brave commandos of the Israel’s Defense Forces, led by Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu. He was the only one of the heroes to lose his life in the mission. 
That event also led to the beginning of a great friendship with one of the most decent public servants I have encountered, Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman of the Bronx.

I was publishing a newspaper in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood, which Mr. Kaufman represented in the City Council. We weren’t friendly. He was from Co-op City, and there was political competition between the communities. However, Entebbe brought us together.

By then I learned that Netanyahu had been born in New York and spent his youth here. The idea of commemorating him became an obsession. I found a partner in Mr. Kaufman. From this came the designation of Yonatan Netanyahu Lane, a byway in the Pelham Parkway thoroughfare in the heart of what was then the Bronx’s most energetic Jewish community.

In the spring, the ceremony naming the area was held, the stone monument dedicated as the Bronx Philharmonic played the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven.

Thousands attended. Present was Netanyahu’s mother, Cela, officials of the government of Israel, and New York politicos. It would be easy to forget the remarks of the speakers, except for one speech that electrified the crowd. Mr. Kaufman’s tribute to Netanyahu and the State of Israel.
By 1981, the leadership of the Bronx Democratic party had been hijacked by Stanley Friedman, the law partner of Roy Cohn and a former deputy mayor. Even the “reform” Democrats in the Bronx fell under Friedman’s spell.

However, one official stood apart, and refused to bow to Friedman’s leadership. It was Mr. Kaufman who paid for his independence by seeing his Council district redrawn into a dumbbell shape that linked Co-op City with Riverdale on the opposite end of the borough.

Thrown in with the Riverdale incumbent, June Eisland, Mr. Kaufman was forced to quit the race, his political career seemingly over, but unlike many former Bronx politicians who desert the borough for Manhattan, Westchester or beyond, Mr. Kaufman stayed put.

By 1988, the climate had changed. Friedman was in a federal prison, and a vacancy opened up in the Assembly when Eliot Engel challenged Congressman Mario Biaggi. Mr. Kaufman won, his career revived.

He has been a thoughtful legislator. Mr. Kaufman, along with Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn of Queens, sponsored legislation that forced hospitals to inform mothers if their babies tested positive for HIV, and legislation that gave women who had been raped the right to demand that their assailants be tested for HIV.

Although he is a moderate Democrat of the Mayor Koch variety, Mr. Kaufman has been a critic of the Assembly leadership, and challenged Speaker Silver and Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez by voting against the bill that eliminated the city commuter tax.

Mr. Kaufman also voted against the bailout of Nassau County. Again, he paid the price of independence, as the speaker removed him as chairman of the Elections Committee.

Mr. Kaufman has won praise for spearheading the effort to expedite traffic around Co-op City, marshaling millions in state and federal resources.

He brokered the deal among the city, state, and the Directors of Co-op City that ended 30 years of acrimony over the project’s finances. He then helped convince residents to approve the deal with 85% of the vote, even though it called for them to pay maintenance increases, which took political courage.

Barnes & Noble opened a bookstore in the Bay Plaza Shopping Center not long ago, their only location in the Bronx. Why? Because Kaufman kept after them, and would not take no for an answer. This was a coup for a borough that up until then had no major bookstore to serve its nearly 1.5 million residents.

Mr. Kaufman is a man who puts principle over interest. He seeks the Senate seat vacated by Guy Velella, recently convicted of influence peddling. I live in this district, and I look forward to voting for this Bronx hero, Mr. Kaufman, in September, and again in November.

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

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