Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Politics And Comedy

Governor Kathy Hochul, sometimes called the accidental governor, appears to be running what’s known as a Rose Garden campaign to become governor for her first full term in her own right. Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, took over the reins of New York government a year ago when Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped down from the top spot amidst several allegations that he said would have been a distraction from moving ahead with government policy.

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Hochul’s modus operandi is to speak at an event or have a bill signing, surrounded by fellow Democrats, present her remarks, and then walk off the stage without taking questions from reporters that might take her off message and upstage the purpose of the event.

 

Staying on Message a Priority for Hochul

Staying on message is an important component for election when a candidate or incumbent is insecure or feels threatened about winning an election.

A perfect example of this was a bill signing on Wednesday, August 10, supporting, honoring and protecting Holocaust survivors held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The legislative package of three bills addresses Holocaust education in public schools, Holocaust art stolen during the Nazi era, and establishing the requirement for the state’s Department of Financial Services to publish and annually update a list of banks that voluntarily waive transaction fees for Holocaust reparation payments.

Included in the bill signing ceremony were 22 elected officials (all Democrats) as well as Jewish organization officials and Jewish community leaders. Among the attendees were bill sponsors Assemblymembers Simcha Eichenstein (D – Borough Park, Brooklyn), Charles Lavine (D – Glen Cove, Nassau County) and Nily Rozic (D – Fresh Meadows, Queens). Senate sponsor Zellnor Myrie (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn) and Anna Kaplan (D – Great Neck, Nassau County), who sponsored two of the three measures, all spoke at the bill signing event.

Group of 22 elected officials (all Democrats), Jewish organization officials, Jewish community leaders, prominent members of the religious Jewish community and 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Celia Kene, who was a featured speaker, surround Governor Kathy Hochul as she signs a three-bill package of legislation to support Holocaust survivors in educational, cultural and financial institutions. The three new laws signed by Governor Hochul will help ensure schools are providing high-quality Holocaust education, will require museums to acknowledge art stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazi regime, and will instruct the Department of Financial Services to publish a list of financial institutions that voluntarily waive fees for Holocaust reparation payments.

Also at the controlled photo op were Assemblymembers Steven Cymbrowitz (D – Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn), David Weprin (D – Hollis, Queens), Daniel Rosenthal (D – Kew Gardens Hills, Queens) and Harvey Epstein (D – East Village, Manhattan). From the state Senate, attendees included Brian Kavanagh (D – Lower East Side, Manhattan), Shelley Mayer (D – Yonkers, Westchester County) and Brad Hoylman (D – Greenwich Village, Manhattan). Eighty-seven-year-old Holocaust survivor Celia Kene was a featured speaker. Prominent members of the religious Jewish community also attended. Surprisingly, congressional opponents Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, both of Manhattan, were at the photo op event.

 

Eichenstein Tries to Subvert the Media

Eichenstein speaks at Hochul Holocaust bill signing.

In an effort to separate himself from the gallery of attendees at the event, Eichenstein submitted to the media a press release leaving out the efforts of his colleagues and focusing the announcement on his efforts. A photo from the governor’s press office featuring seven key figures from the event did not mention any of them in the caption. A picture of Eichenstein speaking at the event was included in the news release that appeared in several publications last week.

All the attendees at the Holocaust event were Democrats; when Hochul visited Chautauqua Institution four days later, on Sunday, August 14, to address the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, she snubbed Republican state lawmakers Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Senator George Borrello. Both were not invited to the event, which was held in their district. Goodell and Borrello quickly said Hochul’s move was making a solemn event political by not being even-handed and reaching across the aisle to demonstrate a sense of camaraderie and being magnanimous at the same time.

 

Zeldin Deals with Campaign Obstacles

Meanwhile, Hochul’s opponent, Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from Shirley, Suffolk County, has found himself in political trouble recently. There are enough obstacles in New York state for Republicans to win a statewide election but one additional impediment came to light in the past month.

Some unnamed person connected to the New York Republican State Committee submitted photocopied petition signatures to help get Zeldin on the Independence Party line. When the photocopied signatures were discounted, the number of valid signatures fell below the threshold for ballot access. Zeldin, who will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines, was counting on the votes from the Independence line.

Many undecided residents who won’t vote for a candidate on the Republican and Conservative lines, would vote for a candidate on another ballot line. The incompetent petition gatherers who tried to get away with adding photocopied signatures to the pile of signatures submitted to the state Board of Elections puts the Zeldin campaign behind the eight-ball as to how they can attract undecided voters and voters not registered with a party to fill in the oval on the ballot on a political party line they might despise.

When Zeldin was asked by The Jewish Press about the kerfuffle, he remained optimistic, as he needs to be.

“None of the photocopies were made by our team and we weren’t aware of it. We didn’t do it. We learned about it after the fact. We have the Republican Party line and the Conservative Party line and we’re going to win,” Zeldin said. “We’re at one of these moments right now where you can knock on 30 doors in the bluest county. You can knock on doors in the reddest county and find that people are aligned on the issues that matter most to them. I’m hearing New Yorkers talking about crime and the economy.”

Senator Zellnor Myrie, (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn), the chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, filed a complaint with the Albany County District Attorney’s office about the photocopied signatures. Zeldin went on the attack about his opponent having a pay-to-play strategy to get elected and blamed Myrie for not being fair and even-handed.

“The Senator (Myrie) should be filing a complaint about the governor accepting $300,000 from a family and then through a no-bid contract awarding hundreds of millions of dollars. I look forward to the Senator submitting his complaint about another multi-billion-dollar contract to that other donor who hosted multiple fundraisers. I look forward to that complaint from that state Senator on a covid-testing scandal where the administration’s family and friends who were getting private testing at homes. The state Senator and others must be really upset on behalf of those thousands of New Yorkers still demanding justice for a deadly nursing home order and coverup. We believe the New York State Attorney General’s office should open up an investigation.

“This state Senator [Myrie] and others who are allies of Governor Hochul, trying to hold her water, are trying to change the topic because they don’t want to talk about the need to repeal cashless bail, they don’t want to talk about the need to remove DAs like Alvin Bragg, who refuses to enforce the law. They don’t want to talk about the need to enact a tax cut so that New Yorkers can afford to survive here again. Where is the state Senator in demanding answers on the governor’s abuse of state aircraft? That list goes on.”

 

Zeldin Outlines Campaign Platform

Lee Zeldin outlines campaign platform.

Zeldin outlined his platform to contrast his intentions with Hochul’s plans or lack thereof.

“We should cut income taxes across the board. Right now, there are many New Yorkers who are paying the highest income tax rate in the entire country,” Zeldin said. “My goal is to get that rate down to be as low as possible. We have to make this state far more competitive so the people who are thinking of leaving decide to stay. The estate tax should be eliminated. We need to put together a package that will be the largest tax cut in the history of the state. We need to send that message to individuals who are thinking of fleeing the state. You need to send that message to businesses [owners] who are thinking of fleeing the state and they’re thinking about their long-term future here. I am not going to demand that there is one way to provide tax relief in this state. We are going to look at all our options and put together a massive plan. This is a moment in time where we need to save our state. She’s going to lose. I am all in with this race. The issues are on our side. We are going to win this race.”

 

Jewish Federation Commits to Staying Out of Politics

Upon the advice of the Manhattan-based Jewish Federations of North America, Inc. and Subsidiaries, which represents 146 independent Federation chapters and a network of 300 smaller communities across the continent, the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York is not getting involved with national politics.

“I have long maintained that our mission is to build and maintain a strong and UNITED Jewish community, and we have very little to gain by getting involved in politics. Well, I learned this week that not only do we have little to gain, but quite a bit to lose,” wrote Federation President Robert Kovach in his weekly newsletter. “Our national office hosted a webinar on the dangers of a 501(c)3 non-profit getting involved in politics with the most egregious act being the endorsement of a political candidate. Accordingly, we will not be endorsing any candidates. Also, we will not speak disparagingly about any of the candidates. We will not host speaking engagements with candidates.

‘Jews have long been involved in American politics and this article should in no way be seen as an attempt to stifle those activities. In fact, at an absolute minimum, I encourage everyone to vote. Be active; support your candidates; publicize your issues. As an organization, Jewish Federation will be sitting on the sidelines throughout the election season getting ready to work with any and all elected officials for the betterment of our communities.”

 

The Chosen Comedy Festival

Many among the average people on the street feel politics and government are a comedy festival all their own. When The Chosen Comedy Festival was held at the Coney Island Amphitheatre in Brooklyn on Wednesday, August 17, only one comedian had anything to say about politics and that was a brief imitation of Donald Trump.

The festival, which drew a crowd of nearly 4,000, featured several comedians and singers, including Chasidic rapper Nissim Black, Moshe Rubin, and Laivy Miller, the 16-year-old son of singer Matisyahu, a one-time follower of Chabad. The festival was hosted by comedians Bronx native Elon Gold and Tel Aviv native Modi Rosenfeld, who are friends. They and many of the comedians often resorted to vulgar language in their routines during the entertainment festival, which was sponsored by Stand-Up New York, a comedy club located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the Jewish Week, a weekly independent community digital newspaper.

Jewish Comedian-Actor Eric Tabach.

Eric Tabach, 25, has been doing comedy for ten years. Born in Bethesda, Md., to Russian parents, Tabach tells The Jewish Press, “So much of my comedy is dirty. It’s difficult for me to think about what could be considered clean. My family is very dirty. My mom and dad, we’re like a very vulgar family. A lot of my stories about my family turn out to be twisted. It would be a challenge for me to whip up some clean routine.”

Tabach says his first language is Russian because he heard Russian spoken in his household at an early age. Before moving to Philadelphia at age 15 he spent several years living in Moscow when his parents went back to their homeland for professional reasons. His father was a spy for the Russian Navy, he said.

The Chosen Comedy Festival was a benefit for the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund.

“My dad is currently in Ukraine and so it was cool to do this project because The Chosen Comedy Festival is raising funds for Ukraine,” Tabach said. “We actually went to Poland when the war started and raised more than $1 million that we spent immediately on the ground setting up refugee centers and we sent vans to get women and children out. It’s been really cool to be able to do projects rather than just waiting for an audition and waiting to book something. It’s been a meaningful couple of years. Hope to continue doing that.”

Tabach may be cutting back on performing comedy and turning his attention to the art of acting.

“I went to college for economics at New York University for one year and then I dropped out,” Tabach said. “I’m going back to school. I got accepted to Julliard for acting so that’s what I’m going to focus on and recalibrate after covid. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to take my career into my own hands. As an actor a lot of times you can sit back and wait for an opportunity that never presents itself. During covid, I learned how to edit, produce and make videos, so I went viral on YouTube and started working with really big channels like Yes Theory hosting. I got to make a documentary film that got sold to IFC that will be coming out. We won at SXSW, which is amazing.”

SXSW is the abbreviation for South by Southwest. It is an annual conglomeration of film, interactive media, music festivals and conferences that takes place in mid-March in Austin, Texas. 

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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 swnsonline@gmail.com.