Thursday, February 25, 2010
US Senator Mort Zuckerman?
Well, if Mort Zuckerman handles a senate race like he handles business and his charitable work on behalf of Jewish causes, I think we will see the very first and very real Zionist in the US Senate.
Zuckerman Run Could Mark New Stage in Politics
While the U.S. Senate is full of Jews (13 at last count), it boasts no alumni of the world of Jewish politics. That could change. According to recent reports, billionaire real estate mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, a prominent Jewish communal figure and veteran of the Jewish political scene, is considering a run for Senate in New York.
A founder of Boston Properties and the owner of a media portfolio that includes the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, Zuckerman came to prominence in the Jewish community during a turbulent term as lay leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a powerful umbrella group on matters pertaining to Israel.
His possible Senate candidacy to replace upstate incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, was reported February 12 in The New York Times and has garnered a measured response from Jews in politics and from Jews in Jewish politics.
“He’s got a four in 10 shot,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a prominent New York political consultant.
“It’s not the craziest idea I ever heard.”
Zuckerman, 72, whose opinion columns and regular television appearances leave a long trail of unvarnished and, perhaps, politically inconvenient opinion, has not confirmed the story, and did not respond to a request for comment.
But according to a report in the New York Times, Zuckerman has approached former New York governor George Pataki and New York State Republican Chairman Edward Cox about a possible run.
While some sitting Jewish senators have strong ties to the Jewish community, none has held such a prominent leadership position in a policy-oriented Jewish organization.
The closest was New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who was a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and, in the mid-1970s, chairman of the precursor organization to what is now known as the Jewish Federations of North America. Neither of those positions, however, is as policy focused or as prominent as the position that Zuckerman held.
“There are lots of people who have been very prominent in Jewish causes who have gone on to be big fundraisers or big donors to politicians,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College, “but not who have run.”
A major philanthropist whose wealth Forbes pegged at $1.5 billion in 2009, Zuckerman came to prominence within the organized Jewish community amid rumors that he would be named to the top lay position at the Presidents Conference in late 1995.
That story was first written in a critical column in this newspaper by liberal commentator Leonard Fein, who called Zuckerman’s background in Jewish communal life negligible.
Fein wrote that Zuckerman was eligible for the position after becoming vice president of a little-known advocacy group called the America-Israel Friendship League just four months earlier, and that that organization had been only part of the Presidents Conference for half a year.
“Ross Perot, the outsider, had and has deeper roots in American politics than Mort Zuckerman does in Jewish politics,” Fein wrote.
Zuckerman’s name was then dropped from the list of probable candidates to lead the Presidents Conference after his 1996 marriage to Marla Prather, a non-Jew, according to a report in the Forward.
A spokesman for Zuckerman denied the story at the time. Zuckerman split with Prather in 2000.
A year later, he was elected to lead the Presidents Conference over protests by six liberal Jewish groups, which were concerned that the right-of-center positions on Israel that he expressed in his U.S. News columns would be seen as official pronouncements of the Jewish community.