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Questions for Joe Lhota

The Jewish Press recently asked New York City Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota to address issuesof concern to the city’s Jewish community.
GOP mayoral candidate Joe Lhota

GOP mayoral candidate Joe Lhota

The Jewish Press recently asked New York City Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota, former chairman of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority and deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, to address issues that are of particular concern to the city’s Jewish community. The questions (and candidate’s replies) below are in addition to those posed to Lhota and his Republican primary opponents during a Jewish Press forum earlier in the campaign season. (That forum can be viewed at here.)

These same questions were sent to Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor. As of Monday afternoon, de Blasio had not responded.

The Jewish Press: As mayor, Rudolph Giuliani ejected Yasir Arafat from a Lincoln Center concert held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Many observers commented that Giuliani’s act was likely inspired by his support for Israel. Should pro-Israel New Yorkers care whether their mayor supports Israel?

Also, please share your views regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest push for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel and the rest of the world.

Joe Lhota: I am running to be mayor of New York and my primary concern is, first and foremost, keeping this city safe. The Jewish community in particular understands the need to live in a safe city, and how far we have come since the early 90s. Since 2001 the NYPD has thwarted 17 terrorist attacks, including the attempted bombings of Riverdale synagogues. That’s why I support Ray Kelly as NYPD commissioner and why we need to ensure the NYPD has the tools necessary to keep our city safe.

At the same time, being that our city is oft dubbed “the capital of the world” there is a role for the mayor to use his bully pulpit to speak on behalf of Israel, just like Rudy and Ed Koch have done in the past.

And as a Bronx boy I am not afraid to speak my mind in defense of Israel. Having experienced 9/11, I better understand what Israelis deal with as part of their daily existence, and any negotiations must support Israel’s security needs. And I strongly support the government and people of Israel in their search for a lasting peace.

Iran represents a threat not only to Israel but to the region and the Western world as well. Iranian-backed Hizbullah was responsible for the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 and the civilized world must remain united in preventing a radical, nuclear Iran.

Last year, the New York City Commission on Human Rights decided to pursue a discrimination claim against several chassidic storeowners in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section over their posting of signs that stated, “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store.” The storeowners claim they are simply requesting a level of modesty for their stores; that the commission has overreached based on existing city law; and that other institutions, such as high-end restaurants and even courtrooms, impose dress codes but have not met scrutiny. What is your opinion on this matter?

One of New York’s defining characteristics is its diversity, its immigrants who came through Ellis Island and later [on], and how disparate groups have helped make this great city what it is – and the Orthodox and chassidic communities of Brooklyn are an essential part of that.

Having visited those stores, I gained an appreciation for their way of life and devotion to their traditions. We cannot discriminate in either direction and we must find a proper balance between religious and secular sensitivities. For example, one disappointment I have with the Bloomberg administration has been its refusal to allow religious groups to rent public school space during off hours and weekends. That is something I would do differently because it doesn’t violate separation of church and state and religious groups can put the schools to good use while raising revenue for the city.

Too often, crimes that would appear to be anti-Jewish hate crimes – especially Nazi-related vandalism – get labeled as something more benign and are treated as simple mischief. Do you think New York City’s existing hate crime laws are tough enough?

Any form of racism is morally repugnant including what is perhaps its most pernicious form, anti-Semitism. My administration would ensure that hate crimes are prosecuted to the full extent of the law because it inflicts more individual and societal harm than non-hate- based crimes. The laws as they stand are strong and will deter hate crimes; yet we must remain vigilant.

We all recall when the NYPD wasn’t fully responsive to the needs of the Jewish community during the Crown Heights riots and keeping our city safe is the number one responsibility of the mayor. A Lhota administration would take every crime seriously and take every legal measure to protect all of its citizens.

Current Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has been running a program called Kol Tzedek under which its office declines to disclose the names of defendants from the haredi community charged with sexual abuse until a court case begins. (At that point, the DA releases the names.)

Hynes’s office defends the practice, saying it believes that immediately after the release of the name of an arrested individual, members of the community engage in a relentless search to identity the individual’s alleged victim and intimidate him or her. This intimidation includes barring the alleged victim from synagogues, yeshivas, and camps, in addition to attempting to ruin his or her marriage prospects. Please express your opinion on this program.

There has to be one law for everyone across New York and we must protect the victims of abuse and not the perpetrators. At the same time, we must be sensitive to the community.

It would appear that the city is sometimes unaware of the Jewish calendar. For example, street construction and renovations are sometimes scheduled in Jewish communities during and around Jewish holidays. Furthermore, many city recreational facilities often seem unprepared to handle the influx of Jews who visit such venues during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot).

If elected, will you help ensure that the various city agencies pay greater attention to the Jewish calendar?

Absolutely. The city needs to be responsive to its calendar although it must balance that with other competing demands on calendar days. We must ensure that awareness of these issues comes from the top, and a Lhota administration would have an open door to the Jewish community, starting with myself, to listen and act upon its concerns.

The New York City Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) supplies food to food pantries and community kitchens. However, the city does not allow local charities, such as Masbia, to choose the type of food they receive, and thus kosher food pantries and soup kitchens do not benefit from these programs.

Would you change the EFAP to allow charities to choose the food they receive?

EFAP is an important cornerstone of New York’s commitment to its low-income residents. We will review the issue of allowing excellent charities such as Masbia, Tomchei Shabbos and the JCCs of the Rockaways, Boro Park, the Bronx, and others to elect what they receive. Yet the core issue here is how to best help lower income New Yorkers so they can get food on their table in dignity. That is why a core part of my platform is about making New York more affordable for everybody.

Through creating affordable housing and increasing access to education we can ensure that more and more people can afford basic life necessities for themselves with dignity and respect. But for those who need EFAP we must strengthen it and we will work with local organizations to create a solution and increase their ability to partner with the city in fighting hunger.

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