Get this: an Orthodox Jew and five other Council candidates are invited to a Methodist church for a meeting.
So what’s the punch line? That depends on whom you ask.
Isaac Abraham, an activist in North Brooklyn’s Satmar community who is vying to succeed Councilman David Yassky (D–Williamsburg), will not attend the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats’ endorsement forum on April 23 because it will take place in the basement — not the sanctuary — of the Park Slope United Methodist Church.
“I asked my rabbi and [he said] it was better that I not go,” said the devout Democrat, who is one of six candidates for the 33rd Council District, which includes Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint and parts of Williamsburg, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope.
“Maybe I’ll be attacked for my position and maybe I’ll get some criticism, but that comes with the territory,” said the hardware store owner and tenants’ rights activist.
Abraham was right about one thing: the criticism is already coming.
CBID President Lucy Koteen, who organized the event, said that Abraham’s failure to attend would raise serious questions about his ability to hold office in a secular, multi-cultural city.
“How can someone who has so many restrictions on his life represent us?” she asked. “When you are on City Council, you have to go to funerals — if someone gets shot, are you not going to go because it’s a Catholic church?”
Koteen said that the group chose the basement of the Eighth Street church not because of its religious affiliation, but because it is the group’s regular meeting place. Plus, she added, it is conveniently located.
“It isn’t a religious space to my eyes, but of course I’m not looking from that perspective,” she said, adding that she is looking for another site. “I’m sure this isn’t the first place where Isaac is going to run into these problems.”
The other five candidates are expected to attend the smoke-free endorsement forum, which is used during the day by a neighborhood pre-school. That secular use, however, did not deter Abraham from practicing his faith his way.
“The meeting is in the same building as the church, so it’s better off that I don’t start bending rules,” said Abraham, who in the past has stood outside of churches during funerals so as not to violate Jewish law. “The most appropriate thing for me to do is not attend.”
Abraham’s rabbi could not be reached for comment, but other rabbis told The Brooklyn Paper that many Orthodox worshippers follow a Jewish law that bars them from entering churches — even for secular events.
Because their candidate cannot attend the forum, some Abraham supporters say that CBID should hold off on endorsements altogether.
“How could they give an endorsement without listening to him?” said Isac Weinberger.
And the man who once held the seat being sought by Abraham’s candidacy should be judged on his politics — not his faith.
“The Constitution provides that there should be no religious test for elected office,” said former Councilman Ken Fisher, now a lobbyist.
Fisher suggested that with good staffing, hard work, and a policy of meeting constituents outside of religious establishments, Abraham’s religious convictions need not interfere with his Council responsibilities.
“That is the least of Isaac’s problems,” he added. “The bigger political obstacle is articulating his views in a way that appeals to anyone outside of a narrow part of the district. … It’s what’s under the yarmulke that counts, and not the yarmulke itself.”
Money might be another hurdle for Abraham.
The Hassidic candidate was the best-funded Council hopeful in January, but his war chest is now the second smallest in the race.
According to campaign papers filed on March 16, Abraham has raised $24,127 and spent $15,377 — leaving him with only $8,750 left in his coffers.
Only Ken Baer, a former head of the New York State chapter of the Sierra Club lags behind Abraham, with $7,820 in his war chest.
Leading the fight for funding is Steve Levin, chief of staff for Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who has $61,041 cash on hand.
Former Yassky staffer Evan Thies — who was snubbed by Yassky this week when his one-time boss told Crain’s that he would not endorse any candidate in the race — has $34,074 in campaign funds remaining.
Behind Thies are Ken Diamondstone, who has $28,279 on hand; and Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon, who started her campaign with a December mailing blitz and has $26,371 of cash on hand.
©2009 Community News Group
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