By: Gary Tilzer
Many political pundits agree that former Congressman Anthony Weiner helped elect Donald Trump President with classified information containing emails from Secretary of State Clinton to his wife Huma Abedin on Weiner’s computer, found a week before the 2016 election. The same computer Weiner used in his sexting scandal with a minor that led to his criminal conviction. What is often overlooked is that Weiner’s sexting scandal also ended the important Brooklyn tradition of a Jewish Congressional district that started with the election of Congressman Emanuel Celler in 1923.
Celler and later Brooklyn Congressmen Steve Solarz’s foreign policy leadership in the US Congress had a tremendously positive impact on Jews in New York, Israel and worldwide. They started a Brooklyn’s congressional tradition of protecting NY’s Jewish community and the State of Israel. Charles Schumer, also a former Brooklyn Congressman and now the powerful majority leader of the US Senate, was also part of that important Jewish tradition.
Redistricting is All About Political Power:
After Anthony Weiner’s razor thin victory over Melinda R. Katz in 1998, by just 285 votes. A majority of Weiner’s Brooklyn’s congressional district was moved to Queens during the 2002 redistricting, by the powerful Queen Democratic machine, that backed Katz’s for congress. Ten years later during the 2012 redistricting New York State lost two congressional seats because the state’s population growth grew at a far slower rate than the rest of the country. The sexting scandal forced Weiner to resignation in 2011. The Jewish seat was eliminated the next year to protect a senior NY congressional member.
Currently the Brooklyn Jewish Community while expanding in numbers is divided into four of the six Brooklyn congressional districts. Congressman Nadler’s seat is considered a Westside Manhattan district, includes Boro Park, but has less than 20% of its voters in Brooklyn. Congress member Yvette Clarke district includes Crown Heights and Midwood but has a majority of African American voters in her district.
Congress member Nydia Velázquez’ district includes Williamsburg but also drawn to have a majority of Latino voters in her district. New Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis’ Staten Island district also contains most of Brooklyn’s Sephardic Jewish community. The different Brooklyn Jewish community can easily be drawn into one district. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries district goes from Queen’s Howard Beach to Brooklyn’s Fort Green to Coney Island. The inability to restore the Brooklyn Jewish district has been very costly.
The First Brooklyn Jewish Congressman Emanuel Celler Helped Create the Nation of Israel
Congressman Emanuel Celler (1888-1981) rose from peddling wine to running a legal practice before becoming active in politics. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, which cites the American Jewish Historical Society, Emanuel Celler’s service in Congress for over 49 years represents “the second longest term in Congressional history.” His election victory in 1932 brought power to Brooklyn Jewish communities and to Jewish interest worldwide. Congressman Celler played an important role in pushing the White House to support the creation of the Jewish state. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two independent states. Displayed here is Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Celler’s tally sheet, which he used to keep track of the vote; it also includes his handwritten notes quoting from the delegates’ speeches (Exhibit 1). According to the long-time late Manhattan district leader James McManus, Celler worked with the Irish gangs on the westside of Manhattan to supply guns to Israel before it became an independent state.
During World War II, Celler strongly supported help for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe, and as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. In the 1940s, Celler opposed both the isolationists and the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration by forcefully advocating that the United States relax immigration laws on an emergency basis to rescue those fleeing the Holocaust. In 1943, Congress Celler called President Roosevelt’s immigration policy “cold and cruel” and blasted the “glacier-like attitude” of the U.S. State Department. Celler used his congressional position to build bridges between the Afro-American and Jewish communities by ushering through the House the major Civil Rights Movement legislation in the 1960’s.
More Forgotten Brooklyn Jewish History
Few people remember Congressman Steve Solarz’s work a generation ago to bring tens of thousands Soviet and Sephardic Jews to Brooklyn. Both groups are now strong and living the American Dream. When he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, Solarz finagled a seat on the foreign affairs committee with the idea that he could appeal to his largely Jewish district by attending to the needs of Israel. He immediately threw himself into foreign policy issues, visiting leaders of Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria his first month on the job. He soon became a leading voice in the House on foreign affairs.
“Few members of Congress have had a greater impact on areas of U.S. foreign policy relevant to Israel’s security and wellbeing than Congressman Steve Solarz. Indeed, he was among the most powerful voices in pointing out the importance of a secure Israel to U.S. strategic interests in the region and beyond. Congressman Solarz was unrelenting in advocating to Arabs and Israelis alike the need to bridge the divide in the pursuit of peace. It was a pleasure to interact with him as a colleague. It was a joy to read his reflections about it all. proud to have considered him a friend.” said Shimon Peres, past President of Israel.
The contribution of these two congressmen has largely been forgotten in Brooklyn. There is not a single school, community center or street named after the late Congressman Emanuel Celler or late Congressman Steve Solarz in Brooklyn.
About the 2021/22 Redistricting of Brooklyn
More residents left New York State over the last year than residents of any other state, according to estimates released by the US Census Bureau. The official numbers have been delayed due to the CONVERT virus. While states like Florida, Arizona and Texas are gaining in population, New York has been losing locals since 2016. Census data cited by Bloomberg News shows that New York State experienced a net loss of 1.4 million residents between 2010 and 2019. A recent study from the New York Times analyzed cell phone data of NYC’s 8.5 million residents and showed that 420,000 people have fled the Big Apple since March 1st, 2020, many citing the virus, shutdown orders, rise in crime and violent protests as the biggest factors. Since the past census in April 2010, the U.S. population has increased 19.5 million, or 6.3%.
Because of the continuing population loss, NY state is poised to go from 27 members in the House of Representatives to 26, based on the early analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau. The NY delegation has shrunk every decade since 1940’s, when it was at a high of 45 members. As a result of the 2021/22 redistricting, NY state will not only lose clout in congress, but the Jewish community has little or no chance of restoring the Jewish seat in Brooklyn. Congressional districts are redrawn to protect incumbent congress members. During the upcoming 2021/22 redistricting, 27 NY congress members will be lobbying State Senators and Assembly members to get one of the 26 seats allotted to NY in 2022. Two current NY congressional members districts will be combined with current congressional members, forcing them to either retire or run against another incumbent member.
Extra: Possible Loss of An Orthodox Council Seat
There is another redistricting, where there is a possibility the orthodox community can lose a seat in Brooklyn. Currently there are two city council districts occupied by orthodox Jews in Brooklyn: Kalman Yager from the 44th district (Boro Park) and Chaim Deutsch (Midwood, Sheepshead Bay) from the 48th council district. Deutsch cannot run for reelection because of term limits. Yager who has both the democratic and republic party’s endorsement will win reelection easily.
The council redistricting committee in 2023 is widely expected to create an Asian district out of parts of Mark Treyger 47th council district and the Asian areas of the Sunset Park 38th Council District. In 2003 the Treyger district was detached from Sheepshead Bay, Brighton, and Manhattan Beach to protect councilman Domenic Recchia, who was elected in 2001 by splitting the vote with 5 Jewish and Russian-American candidates. The city council redistricting committee is expected to reunite the old Russian district (Southern areas in the 47th, 48th and 46th Assembly Districts) to make room for a new Asian district and still maintain a Russian-American council district in Brooklyn.
If a Russian-American candidate or a candidate who lives in the southern parts of the current Deutsch district, replace him in this year’s election, that new council member can easily win in the new Sheepshead Bay reunited Russian-American district. If that happens the northern part of the Deutsch district, including Midwood where most of the orthodox live is expected to be merged into the growing liberal Flatbush and Windsor Terrace communities, losing it ability to elect a religious candidate in 2023 and beyond.
The Jewish Voice will be covering the redistricting of the Jewish communities in Brooklyn, interviewing elected officials and community leaders for comments.