Hillary courts the Orthodox vote

Sources say Clinton is soliciting support from Zionist activist Dov Hikind.

By Jesse Drucker
Published April 13, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

In an apparent effort to cut into the heart of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's rapidly diminishing New York City base, Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has reached out to a controversial, extremist Orthodox Jewish politician and former Giuliani ally.

A source active in Brooklyn politics says Clinton called Democratic state Assemblyman Dov Hikind on Tuesday in an apparent effort to discuss possible support. For years, Hikind, who represents Brooklyn, has been a latter-day power broker of sorts for numerous New York politicians from both parties -- including Republican Gov. George Pataki and Democratic Comptroller H. Carl McCall -- who seek to court Brooklyn's highly organized Orthodox Jewish voting bloc.

Hikind was once a close ally of Giuliani's. But he turned on the mayor after being indicted in 1997 on federal charges of misappropriating public money. Hikind blamed the indictment on Giuliani's former liaison to the Jewish community, Bruce Teitelbaum, whom Hikind accused of having a vendetta against him. Teitelbaum now runs the mayor's Senate campaign.

Hikind was acquitted of those charges, but his brushes with the law date back to the 1970s. A disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the quasi-terrorist Jewish Defense League, Hikind was arrested several times for JDL-related activities, including an attempt to smoke-bomb the Ugandan Mission to the United Nations. Since becoming an assemblyman, Hikind has offered financial support to some of Israel's most controversial settlers' organizations.

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that Hikind wrote to New York state Conservative Party head Mike Long to discuss finding an alternative to both Clinton and Giuliani. Hikind has said that support for Clinton would depend on her calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel.

Support from Hikind could undercut criticism for Clinton's embrace last year of Yasser Arafat's wife after she accused Israel of gassing Arab children. More importantly, perhaps, it could cut into Giuliani's support within Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, which has long been one of the mayor's most reliable electoral bases.

Neither Hikind nor Clinton's campaign would talk about the discussions between the two camps, and in fact it is unclear if the two actually spoke when the phone call was made on Tuesday. "At this particular point I really don't want to talk about any of this," said Hikind. "There will be a time when I will ... There's been a lot of contact. I'm not going to say anything else."

He added: "All I can say at this point is that the ball is in Hillary's court. She needs to reach out to communities like mine, which have a lot of issues, and she needs to address them. At this point, she has not done that yet. Of course, I'm willing to listen."

Clinton campaign spokeswoman Karen Dunn would not discuss what conversations had taken place or comment on Hikind's background. "All we have to say is that Hillary looks forward to meeting with him," said Dunn.

Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton Religion Rudy Giuliani