As term limits clear a 27-year roadblock to City Council in Crown Heights, more than a dozen candidates have announced they want to take over Councilmember Mary Pinkett’s seat. Now, they’re joined by at least one member of a community not usually represented in the neighborhood’s politics: its Lubavitch Hasidim.
Avrohom Wasserman enters the race with strong ties to the Lubavitch leadership, joining an already crowded field of African American and Caribbean candidates. He is the first Lubavitcher to run for public office in New York City in recent memory. Also strongly considering a run is Devorah Halberstam, who came to international prominence seven years ago when her son Ari was shot by an Arab-American sniper while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Usually, about 1,500 Crown Heights Lubavitchers vote in city elections, out of about 10,000 voters total in that Council district. But this year, many more Hasidim could turn out to show support for one of their own–and with at least 13 candidates running, a united Lubavitch community could win enough votes to end decades of African-American control in the district.
Among Lubavitchers, Wasserman is a heavy hitter: An elected board member of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, the Lubavitchs world headquarters, he also sits on Community Board 9. He spends his days as a project scheduler for Muss Development Corporation, a contractor for the $230 million Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza project.
Halberstam brings her own clout. She has lobbied for anti-terrorism and gun control laws. Her persistence, and some help from Hillary Rodham Clinton, moved the FBI to label the bridge shooting a terrorist act. She has also made inroads with city and state officials: The entrance ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge and a state law battling interstate gun trafficking both bear Ari’s name. On Eastern Parkway, the first Jewish children’s museum in the country is now under construction, built with public and private cash, in memory of her son.
As for how he will deal with neighborhood competition, Wasserman said, “We’ll work it out.”
What hasn’t been worked out yet is what the Lubavitchers’ own political action committee will do. Usually, it follows the lead of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party leader Clarence Norman. But Norman has already thrown his weight behind Leticia James, the party’s treasurer and a onetime staffer to state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assemblymember Al Vann. Other competitors include district leaders William Saunders and James Davis, as well as Errol Louis of the Bogolan Merchants Association and Pete Williams of the National Urban League (who is also a City Limits board member).
Louis, for one, is disappointed that the election will now be as divided as the neighborhood: “It’s a vote of no confidence in the rest of us.”