Councilman Lew Fidler is scrambling to recover from an extended hospital stay that’s turned his two-man race for disgraced state Sen. Carl Kruger’s seat into a one-man act showcasing his Republican opponent David Storobin — a political rookie who’s gaining some momentum as the March 20 special election draws near.
Fidler (D–Marine Park) hasn’t appeared in public since a severe allergic reaction to his gout medication landed him in Beth Israel Medical Center on Kings Highway on Feb. 22, leading supporters to wonder if his lengthy absence from the campaign trail will hurt the veteran lawmaker’s chances in an election where he’s enjoyed front-runner status since announcing his candidacy.
“Getting sidelined can disrupt a campaign,” said Mike Geller, who heads the Highway Democratic Club. “This is not a slam dunk for Fidler by any means. It’s going to be close.”
Fidler was still hospitalized by Monday evening and declined to speak to us when we paid him a visit. A source said he’d be out of the hospital in a few days.
His hospitalization caused Fidler to miss a debate in Manhattan Beach last week where Storobin — an attorney and vice president of the Kings County Republican Party — was given a chance to touch on everything from gay marriage to school vouchers for 90 uninterrupted minutes.
A second debate at the Flatbush Park Jewish Center on Avenue U in Mill Basin scheduled for March 1 was canceled.
Yet Fidler insists that he will be making up for lost time.
“I can’t wait for the opportunity to discuss my record and vision for the future,” Fidler said in a statement.
But he’ll have to move fast to stymie the growing support for Storobin — especially among the more conservative Orthodox Jewish and Russian voters in the Democratic but heavily right-leaning district, which stretches from Mill Basin to Brighton Beach.
In recent weeks Storobin has picked up key endorsements from prominent Jewish leaders, one of whom even wrote a letter warning his followers that voting for Fidler would break the Torah’s commandments because the councilman supports same-sex marriage.
Storobin is counting on the wave of Jewish support that helped Republican newcomer Bob Turner beat Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin (D–Queens) in a special election in 2010 to replace former Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned in a cyber-sexting scandal.
Turner’s surprise win emboldened Republicans to back Storobin in their bid to expand the party’s base outside of Bay Ridge, where GOP leaders include state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge) and embattled Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge), who beat Democratic incumbent Michael McMahon in 2010.
Kruger resigned in December after pleading guilty to accepting $1 million bribes.
Republicans vowed to spend up to $500,000 on Storobin’s bid for Kruger’s seat — and help push Southern Brooklyn farther to the right. That support evaporated after GOP leaders announced plans to eliminate Kruger’s district.
Storobin’s campaign has only raised $120,000 — far less than Fidler’s $405,000 — and half of Storobin’s war chest came from two sources: Storobin and Storobin’s mom, campaign records show.
Nevertheless, Storobin said his campaign has picked up steam since Fidler dropped out of the picture.
“We’re in great shape heading into the last two weeks,” Storobin said. “I feel very confident.”
Political analysts said Storobin has reason to be optimistic, since Fidler has all-but disappeared from the public eye.
“Fidler’s illness didn’t choose the best time to attack him,” said political analyst Hank Sheinkopf. “The more you get out there campaigning [the better it is] and he can’t campaign right now.”