zx flux adidas like lack of sensitivity to ethnic politics
I’m beginning to think that a career at Goldman Sachs may not be the best preparation for a career in New Jersey politics. Senate.
Unfamiliar as he was with the complexities of ethnic politics here in the most diverse state in the union, Corzine made a major gaffe when he asked an Italian American contractor whether the guy made “cement shoes.”
When that blew up on him, the man who grew up on a farm in Illinois tried to explain it away by saying that after some research he had deduced his own roots.
“For certain, I’m Italian,” he told members of the press.
Corzine won the Senate seat anyway, but his career in that seat and later as governor was marked by such gaffes.
I’m starting to think Corzine’s fellow Wall Street wiz Phil Murphy, who hails from Massachusetts, is afflicted with the same ignorance of the fault lines of ethnic politics here in New Jersey.
That insight came when I spoke with Alan Steinberg, a former aide with the Bush 43 administration who now writes a column for the Insider NJ site.
In his most recent piece, he noted that Murphy’s running mate, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, had cast a vote last year that could alienate another ethnic voting bloc, Steinberg’s fellow Jews.
In June of last year, Oliver was one of just three members of the Assembly to go against a bill that prohibited the state pension funds from investing in any company that complied with the so called BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) campaign against Israel.
The law establishes a state panel to determine if companies that do not invest in Israel are acting on political motives.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses, as such bills do. In the time honored code of New Jersey politics, that type of bill is thought of by most legislators as a largely symbolic measure aimed at mollifying the religious or ethnic group in question.
But just how bad does voting against it make that group feel? To find out, I called Ian Sugar with the Washington based Israel Project.
“It takes a special effort to oppose that bill and it is a position that is way out of the mainstream,” Sugar said.
He added that his group considers the BDS movement to be “a discrimination movement that calls for the elimination of Israel.”
Similar measures have passed in 22 states,
Sugar told me, and politicians who oppose them have not fared well. He cited the example of a candidate by the name of Daniel Biss who has announced he will run for the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois next year.
Biss, who is Jewish, at first picked as his running mate a Chicago Alderman by the name of Carlos Ramirez Rosa. But it soon came to light that Ramirez Rosa supports the BDS movement. Off the ticket he went.
Steinberg suggested Murphy should do the same with Oliver for voting against the bill.
That won’t happen. But when Gov. Christie held a press conference after an unrelated event in Toms River yesterday, I asked him what he thought should happen. That set him off on a tirade that touched all the bases of ethnic politics.
“The Israelis are our best friends in an important and incredibly dangerous part of the world,” he said. “And those people who support a boycott of Israel are bigots.”
Christie said he was not accusing Oliver personally of being a bigot.
“I don’t know what her motivation was,” he said. “I was not impugning her character but it is a really, really curious vote.
“The guy who picked her to be a statewide official if they win should be asked what did he know and when did he know it.”
I put that question to the Murphy Oliver campaign and got this response from spokesman Dan Bryan:
“Phil’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is strong and without qualification. He has made strengthening New Jersey’s ties with Israel an important part of his agenda, backed by a half dozen visits to Israel for discussions with Israeli business and academic leaders. He has spoken out forcefully about recent incidents of anti Semitism, making it clear that our state will never cave to intolerance. That commitment will not change as governor, including enforcing New Jersey’s anti BDS law, an effort that, as lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver, will fully join.”
Bryan also got in a shot at Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno over her choice for a running mate, Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo. Last month the Politico website reported that the town is under investigation by the federal Division of Civil Rights concerning allegations by an Orthodox Jewish group that the town has stymied efforts to buy property for a worship center.
That could hurt the Republican ticket as well. But somehow I don’t think a zoning dispute in Bergen County counts for quite as much as a zoning dispute in the Mideast.
The voters will have to decide that question. And with the polls tightening up, I suspect we will soon find out whether this Goldman Sachs alum is more skilled than his predecessor at navigating New Jersey’s complex politics.
PLUS: That vote on the anti BDS bill is almost purely symbolic, as I wrote, but what it symbolizes is that Oliver was not thinking of running for statewide office when she made it.