Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Untold Story Of A Young Man Vying For An Assembly Seat

As reported in The Jewish Press, Central Queens residents will be voting in a special election next month for a state Assembly seat vacated by three-term incumbent Daniel Rosenthal, 32, who moved to a high-paying job as vice president for government relations for the UJA-Federation of NY, the largest philanthropy organization in the world.


The special election pits two observant Jews against each other – 34-year-old Rabbi Dovid Hirsch, a Republican, and 25-year-old Sam Berger, a Democrat. Berger is following the traditional campaign playbook for this heavily-populated Jewish district, emphasizing his grandparents living through the Holocaust and the value his parents put on education. Meanwhile, Hirsch would become the first rabbi in the Republican conference if victorious in this election.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the Queens Democratic Committee (left); Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D – Forest Hills), rear of picture; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) foreground; candidate Sam Berger (D – Flushing) right; Shayna Berger far right.

How does a 25-year-old get the universal support of Democrats in a district with many others who wanted to vie for the position? One answer might be who you know. Berger’s mother, Paula, is the Democratic district leader for the Assembly district up for grabs. As a district leader, she is responsible for spearheading the efforts of other candidates, and as easily gets her calls answered by powerful Democrats. Now she is cashing in her chits and putting her youthful son in a position to potentially serve the district for many decades.

Behind the scenes, this campaign might pit two powerful Jewish organizations against each other. A recent campaign kickoff for the Berger campaign was held at the home of Sorolle Bennett-Idels, sister of Chaskell Bennett, board member of Agudath Israel of America. Attending the campaign event was the director of government relations for Agudah. Hirsch is an independent education policy consultant for the TEACH Coalition, an arm of the Orthodox Union.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) attended the Berger campaign kickoff on August 2 at the home of Shimmy and Sorole Bennett-Idels.

Headlining the event were Congressman Greg Meeks, the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Committee, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

As if Rosenthal were a pawn in a chess game, Heastie alluded to “always being able to count on Dan’s vote” and to doing what the speaker and Democratic party leadership always wanted, which was not always in the interest of his district. Berger could play a similar loyalty role.

“Dan was the quintessential team player. Even when there were tough times and tough votes, Dan was always part of the team,” Heastie said. “I’m sad to see him go. Now we’re going to get Sam. All of the decisions made within the Democratic party are made within the Democratic conference. You want to have your representative in that room when the decisions are made.”

Democrats hold 102 seats to 48 seats held by Republicans in the 150-member Assembly. Even though Democrats hold a large enrollment advantage, Meeks cautioned Berger supporters that this election cannot be taken for granted.

“We’re going to have to work hard and spend a lot of money on this race,” Meeks said. Heastie is concerned about a low turnout next month, which could sway the vote towards Hirsch if the Republicans do a better job in getting out the vote than the Democrats.

Heastie cautioned supporters that this will be an expensive race to run, and the Democrats are ready to pull out all the stops.

Meanwhile, the Hirsch political team, headed by New York City Councilwoman Vicki Paladino, does not have a fundraiser or a campaign kickoff planned. That gave Berger a lot to crow about. An email Berger sent out Friday, August 11, shows the Hirsch campaign with one donor who gave an in-kind contribution of $28.75. Berger said he received $64,685.40 from 164 donors. Berger claims the Hirsch campaign is $860.53 in debt, according to a pre-special election financial disclosure report. The Hirsch campaign would not affirm or deny the accuracy of these numbers. Sometimes candidates hold back donations until after a pivotal filing so as not to let their opponent know how much money is being raised and spent.

This district encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Pomonok, Electchester, Kew Gardens Hills, College Point and Whitestone. Donald Trump carried the heavily-Democratic district in 2020.


Death of Two State officials – One Democrat, One Republican

New York lost two well-known officials elected 50 years ago. Both served in all three branches of the government on state and federal levels.

Rosemary Pooler ran for Congress two separate times against two conservative Republicans – George Wortley and James Walsh. She lost her first election by 1,000 votes and in her second attempt she garnered 42 percent of the vote. The picture is from my personal political button collection.

Activist and mentor to many women, Rosemary Pooler died at age 85 on August 10, 2023.

Pooler was born and raised in Brooklyn and has lived in Syracuse since 1965. She held a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1959, a master’s degree in History from the University of Connecticut, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.

In 1975, she was appointed by Governor Hugh Carey to be the chairwoman and executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board, serving until 1980. The now-defunct CPB was the statutory intervener in rate cases pending before the Public Service Commission. The following year, she was appointed to the utility-regulating board, the state Public Service Commission. In 1987, she left government service to become a committee staff member for the New York State Assembly. Following a stint on the faculty at Syracuse University College of Law, she served as Vice President of Legal Affairs at the Atlantic States Legal Foundation from 1989 to 1990.

Pooler, along with other women, broke barriers in ways that were previously considered impossible. In 1990, she ventured back into the political realm, being the first woman elected as a justice in the Fifth Judicial District of the Supreme Court of New York, serving until 1994. She then served four years on the federal bench as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, appointed by President Bill Clinton and becoming the first woman to serve on that bench. Clinton also elevated Pooler to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she assumed her seat in 1998.

Among other judicial honors, Pooler received the National Council of Jewish Women’s Hannah G. Solomon Award in 1998.

Pooler was predeceased by her husband of 58 years, Bill Pooler, who passed away in 2017. She is survived by her children Michael, and Penelope (Mark) Eisenbies; and grandchildren, Broden and Asher. She is also survived by her partner, Jerry Blackman.


Former New York U.S. Senator Dead at 100 Years Old

James Buckley, the oldest living member of the Senate at the time of his passing on August 18, served one term in the U.S. Senate from 1971 to 1977. He was elected solely on the Conservative Party line, defeating incumbent Republican Charles Goodell and Democratic Congressman Richard Ottinger. Buckley won with 38.7 percent of the vote as the other two opponents split the rest of the vote. Goodell was appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill out the term of Democrat Robert F. Kennedy. Buckley switched parties in mid-term of his brief Senate tenure from Conservative to Republican. In 1976, he was defeated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat.

James Buckley at age 96 and Jerry Kassar, Conservative Party chairman, presenting the inaugural James Buckley Award to recently retired Conservative Party chairman Michael Long on June 20, 2019.

Buckley ran for the Senate in 1968 against liberal Republican Jacob Javits. Buckley lost that race, but two years later, when he won the Senate race, he served with Javits, who was the senior U.S. Senator from New York.

After his term in the Senate ended in 1977, he served during the Reagan administration as undersecretary of state and then president of Radio Free Europe. In 1996 he was appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia until taking senior status.

Buckley was born in Manhattan on March 9, 1923, the fourth of 10 children raised on the family estate in Sharon, Connecticut by parents who educated their children in the classics, the doctrine of individual responsibility, and Catholicism. He was the last survivor of his nine siblings. In his final years, Buckley lived at a senior living center in Bethesda, Maryland. Buckley’s younger brother was William F. Buckley, a staunch conservative who was a writer, television host, and founder of the National Review.

Buckley and his wife of 58 years, the former Ann Cooley, who died in 2011, had six children. He leaves behind eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“From his World War II naval service through a term in the U.S. Senate, senior roles in the Reagan Administration and years on the federal bench, James Buckley’s legacy will be praised and studied for generations to come,” said Jerry Kassar, chairman of the state Conservative Party.

“His commitment to bettering the lives of his fellow Americans inspired countless individuals, including myself, to emulate the conservative ideals and principles he so truly believed in,” said state Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt. “While this is a great loss, Senator Buckley left his mark on this state and nation. His family and loved ones should be proud of the legacy he leaves behind.”


City and Congressional Leaders Flock to Israel

Democratic Congressional Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D – Brooklyn, NY) and Congressman Steny Hoyer (D –Mechanicsville, Md.) along with 24 other Democratic members of Congress traveled to Israel the week of August 6, courtesy of the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization.

While in Israel and the West Bank, the House members met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, various activists and stakeholders and spent significant time in areas important to the security of the region. The delegation explored a variety of pressing issues including the effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable, prospects for a two-state solution, the ongoing judicial reform debate, combatting terror, and the development of the Abraham Accords.

On a recent trip to Israel with a 24-member House delegation, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic Leader, met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“With this trip, House Democrats reaffirm our commitment to the special relationship between the United States and Israel, one anchored in our shared democratic values and mutual geopolitical interests,” Jeffries wrote in a news release. “We will learn ways Congress can continue strengthening this alliance and enable peace and stability between Israel and its neighbors. As we listen and learn, we reiterate our ironclad commitment to the safety and security of Israel and to the existence of Israel as a prosperous and Jewish democratic state.”

Hoyer, 84, is the most senior Democrat in the House, and twice served as House Majority Leader.

“On my twentieth trip to Israel, I look forward to continuing my work to strengthen our U.S. – Israel relationship and to protect the shared principles of democracy, freedom, and justice that bind our nations together,” Hoyer said in a prepared statement. “Congress has a responsibility to foster further cooperation between America and Israel so that we can overcome grave challenges to international peace and stability.” Hoyer, a Baptist, also wrote he is a steadfast supporter “in the effort to support Jews in Israel and around the world to ensure Israel stands as a beacon of democracy for all.”

Meanwhile, following up on the Congressional delegation visit to Israel, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and his team were in Israel this week for a three-day visit courtesy of the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

The mayor met with leaders in the protest movement and local and national leaders, learned about Israeli technology, and discussed combined efforts to combat antisemitism. Adams visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and the Western Wall. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen, and participated in a business leaders roundtable hosted by Andrew Abir, deputy governor of the Bank of Israel.

Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has close ties to the New York Jewish community dating back to the time he served in the state Senate representing Crown Heights. He has often called the Big Apple the Tel Aviv of America and Jerusalem New York City’s sixth borough.


Former State Health Commissioner Moves to New Post with the CDC

After resigning in September of 2021, Dr. Howard Zucker has landed a new gig as the deputy director for global health with the Washington, DC-based Centers for Disease Control. Zucker is a physician and an attorney.

Dr. Howard Zucker spent seven years as New York State Health Commissioner. During his tenure, he ineptly administered the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to his demise as the state’s top doc. He successfully oversaw the state response to many public health crises including Ebola, legionella, Zika, and a measles outbreak.

Zucker ran into trouble as state Health Commissioner when he supported the Cuomo administration’s policy to admit coronavirus-positive patients to nursing homes, putting the elderly residents in jeopardy of contracting the disease.

Since leaving his post, Zucker, 63, is a Visiting Research Professor at the School of Global Health at New York University.

“Zucker’s bio on the CDC website explains he “has broad operating authority and responsibility for overall planning, direction, and management of global strategy and programs across CDC.”

Zucker’s medical specialty includes various aspects of pediatric medicine. He completed his training in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, anesthesiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, pediatric critical care/pediatric anesthesiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and pediatric cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is board certified in six specialties and completed a post-graduate diploma in Global Health Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Zucker was the director of the pediatric intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].