The announcement over the weekend that Jeff Gottlieb, who is Jewish, has entered the Democratic primary race for the 6th Congressional District had drawn outrage from the other Jewish candidate, Assemblyman Rory Lancman, over tactics by the county Democratic Party and another of his opponents.
Lancman discussed what he called the “complete sham candidacy” of Gottlieb on Monday, adding: “It’s an outrageous and cynical tactic. And I think it will backfire badly.”
The Queens Democratic Party has endorsed Assemblywoman Grace Meng of Flushing for the seat. Lancman, of Fresh Meadows, and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of Middle Village are also running, forcing a June 26 primary.
Lancman, along with other political watchers, say the party leadership’s intent is for Gottlieb to take away some of his support in the Jewish community, leading to a Meng victory.
The City & State website reported that Queens Democrats first tried to involve Matthew Silverstein, a state committeeman, who is also Jewish, to run for the seat, but he turned the offer down. “Gottlieb listens to what they say,” Lancman said. “Just last week he was having petitions signed for Meng. He has no money, no website and is not a credible candidate. It was done to deceive the Jewish voters.”
Gottlieb, 70, is a retired Cardozo High School teacher who has held numerous appointed jobs with the county Democrats, having worked for lawmakers Martin Povman, David Weprin, Joe Addabbo Jr., Alan Hevesi and Brian McLaughlin. He is now employed at the Board of Elections, another appointed job.
On Tuesday, Lancman issued a statement condemning Meng for her part in what he sees as a plot. “Today, the Meng campaign has been caught red-handed in one of the most malicious schemes any of us have ever seen: an outrageous ploy to deceive Jewish voters with a fraudulent candidate designed to manipulate the electoral process in her favor,” he said. “Based on today’s revelations, Meng owes the voters an apology for concocting this sham, and Meng should fire her main campaign operative, Michael Nussbaum, for his role in perpetrating this fraud.”
On the City & State website, it was reported that Meng’s spokesman, Michael Tobman, confirmed that Nussbaum had asked Silverstein to join the race, but indicated he was not serious.
Nussbaum heads Multi-Media Public Relations, the political consulting firm which operates out of the offices of the Queens Tribune.
Sources told the Chronicle that Silverstein informed Lancman what had transpired during a private discussion at a meeting of Community Board 7 in Flushing Monday night.
Reached by phone, Gottlieb said he would have no comment until after he has garnered the 900 valid signatures necessary to get on the ballot. The deadline is Monday, April 16. He has since put up a website with his biography, but left out his position at the elections board. A spokesman said he will be taking a leave of absence from the job to mount his campaign.
On Tuesday, he issued the following statement: “People are tired of elected officials who forget that representing the people is an honor and responsibility. Rory apparently believes he has become bigger than those he seeks to represent. Why does he proclaim he should be the only Jewish candidate to seek this office? I will show that my record, my philosophy and my values better represent not only the Jewish voters of this district, but a majority of the voters who reside in the 6th Congressional.”
Michael Reich, executive secretary to the Queens Democratic Party, said he probably hasn’t spoken to Gottlieb in about a year. But he lashed into Lancman for his allegations.
“Shame on Rory Lancman,” Reich said. “He has no proof whatsoever to say that,” adding uncategorically that party leaders had not held conversations with Gottlieb.
“Whatever Jeff is doing he is doing on his own,” he said.
Meng’s campaign said it had no comment since “this has nothing to do with us.” It did not respond to inquiries later regarding Lancman’s charges. Crowley’s campaign did not respond at all for comments on the latest developments.
Gottlieb lives in Flushing and is president of the Queens Jewish Historical Society. In 2001 he attempted to run for the City Council in a race eventually won by Jim Gennaro. Prior to the primary, he was advised by the county Democrats to withdraw to give Barry Grodenchik a better chance of winning. He withdrew and Grodenchik lost.
In 2002, Gottlieb wanted to challenge then-incumbent Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn of Flushing, but was advised against it by the party and did not proceed.
Several well-placed political sources, who asked not to be identified, said they were unhappy with Gottlieb’s most recent decision to run and believe the party made the overtures to him.
Marc Haken, a community activist from Fresh Meadows and lifelong Democrat, who at one time did volunteer work for Lancman, thinks the Democrats are running scared. “They are afraid Rory will win so they did this,” Haken said. “I don’t think Gottlieb will draw votes away from Rory because he’s firmly established in Queens.”
Mulling over Gottlieb’s entrance into the race, Lancman said his take on it is that the party was shocked by the support he’s received from unions, the Working Families Party and former Mayor Ed Koch, and “they hatched this scheme. This time they crossed the line and it’s a new low,” Lancman said. “They are trying to exploit religious and ethnic differences.”
He added that the voters won’t be fooled and that in phone calls he has received since Gottlieb’s announcement, “people are very angry.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Councilman Dan Halloran of Whitestone.
At a press conference on Monday, Lancman also outlined his agenda for helping small businesses if he’s elected to Congress by helping them access credit and reforming the corporate tax code.
His plan would focus on changing the code so that small businesses are competing on the same playing field as large corporations. Lancman supports the president’s plan to cut the 35 percent tax rate to 28 percent for all businesses and close loopholes, which will help small businesses compete.
He spoke at the Cornerstone Diner in Hillcrest, a business that was opened 14 months ago by Spiros Kaloudis. “We’ve been struggling,” Kaloudis said. “We would love to expand but we are not eligible for small business loans and it’s hard to make ends meet.”
Michael Gannon contributed to this story.