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Queens Chronicle

Race heats up with arson revelation

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Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012 1:24 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Mon Apr 16, 2012.

The four-way Democratic primary for the new 6th Congressional District got a little more interesting over the weekend, when the New York Post reported that one of the candidates set his own home on fire 40 years ago.

Jeff Gottlieb, the former teacher who now works for the Board of Elections — a job he'll have to quit if he gets on the ballot for the June 26 primary — pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal mischief in 1972, according to the Post. He had initially been charged with second-degree arson, a felony, after setting a fire in his Flushing apartment that destroyed his home and damaged several others, the Post reported. The story did not say why he set the fire, but reported that no one was injured.

The Gottlieb campaign did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of the incident. But the Post story quoted campaign spokesman Jay Golub as saying, “He went through some bad times. He momentarily allowed himself not to do the right thing.”

A teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School at the time, Gottlieb took an unpaid leave from his job for "restoration of health" from April 15, 1972 until the end of that school year, the Post reported, returning to teach in September.

Gottlieb is one of four Democrats vying for the party's nomination in the recently redrawn 6th District, which stretches across Queens, from Ridgewood in the southwest to Bayside in the northeast. The party's choice is Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), but she is being challenged by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

The winner will face Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside), the presumptive Republican nominee.

Gottlieb's candidacy has been controversial from the start. Only a week before announcing, he was volunteering for the Meng campaign. After he announced his own run, Lancman charged that he was actually in the race just to be a spoiler, hoping to take some of the Jewish vote away from the assemblyman to help Meng come out on top. Both Lancman and Gottlieb are Jewish. The story was bolstered by a report on the City & State website that said a party insider had asked Matthew Silverstein, a Democratic state committeeman who is also Jewish, to run but was turned down — just before Gottlieb announced.

Gottlieb, however, says he is making a legitimate run.

Crowley chairs the City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice and had received the endorsement of the Uniformed Firefighters Association even before it was revealed that one of her opponents had once set his own home on fire, allegedly using gasoline as an accelerant.

— Peter C. Mastrosimone

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