1:00 pm Jun. 4, 2012
If Sunday's joint endorsement of Nydia Velazquez by the pro-Israel heavyweights Chuck Schumer, Shelly Silver and Jerry Nadler was intended to shore up the congresswoman's bona fides with the Jewish community, the point was mostly left implicit.
The event took place in a small suite at the Roosevelt Hotel, just down the hall from the annual Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty breakfast—a must-attend event for local politicians to demonstrate their support for the Jewish community—and it took place just an hour before the annual Israel Day Parade.
Velazquez is running for her 11th term in a redrawn district that includes several Jewish neighborhoods that she's never represented before, and she's facing an opponent, City Councilman Erik Dilan, who has the backing of Brooklyn Democratic boss and has attempted to brand her as anti-Zionist.
Just before the event started, as a couple of cameras set up in the center of the room, the four officials formed a tight huddle in the corner and seemed to be plotting exactly what each of them would say.
When they broke, neither Schumer nor Silver nor Nadler so much as mentioned Israel, though there were a couple of Orthodox supporters conspicuously positioned behind the speakers.
They joked about how far back they go: Nadler and Silver were first elected to the Assembly together in 1976, when Schumer was a sophomore in Albany, and Velazquez and Nadler were both elected to Congress after redistricting shook up the congressional districts 20 years ago.
Schumer said Velazquez is "as fresh and just as vital as the day she came here in 1992. I remember and Jerry remembers, because Steve Solarz ran against her and not us."
"I bore the brunt," Velazquez joked.
Schumer said his nickname for Velazquez was "La Luchadora," the fighter, though he admitted sometimes he calls her "Nyds."
"When you have a cause that you need to get done in the Congress, there is nobody better than having La Luchadora by your side," Schumer said.
Silver, who is now a constituent of hers, called Velazquez his "newly acquired" congresswoman, and mostly talked about her work for federal housing money and on behalf of small businesses.
"I know the fighter that she is and I know that she'll win," he said.
Nadler said she was "always a good friend on every important issue," and specifically cited her support for the Zadroga bill that provided more federal money for the first responders on September 11.
That left it to Velazquez to make her own case on Israel.
She mentioned the fight to free Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox man imprisoned in Bolivia, and then—in the 16th minute of the 17-minute press conference—turned to Israel.
"I can tell you that to me it is vitally important that we recognize the important role of Israel in the Middle East," she said. "Not only in securing its border and recognizing its right to exist but also because it's our strongest ally in the Middle East and a beacon for democracy in the Middle East."
She offered a more strident defense when I asked about a couple of Dilan's specific criticisms, that she hadn't signed on to a 2010 letter calling for tougher sanctions in Iran, and her vote against the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which urged the international to community not to support Hamas (and which Nadler co-sponsored).
"Signing letters is not voting against Israel," she said. "When you take my voting record, you will recognize my deep commitment toward Israel. And moving forward it is clear that I will be working collectively with the people that are here to make sure that we achieve a long-lasting peace for Israel and the people of Israel. And that's what is important."
Nadler stepped to the podium in her defense, but he was interrupted by a NY1 Noticias reporter who asked Velazquez to re-state everything in Spanish.
After the translated remarks, the event quickly fizzled, but Nadler offered to me what he had intended to say from the podium.
"Nydia has been a very strong supporter of Israel," he said. "She has supported foreign aid to Israel, she has supported military aid to Israel, she has supported strong sanctions against Iran. She has been a very strong supporter and Israel is a false issue in this election."
"You want to see an election where it's a legitimate issue, look at Hakeem Jeffries versus Charles Barron. There's a real difference. Here, it's a phony issue."
A short while later, she got some non-verbal support from Schumer, at the start of the parade route. As photographers swarmed to get their shot of the elected officials, Schumer, who had been talking to Mayor Bloomberg and generally enjoys the flashbulb glow, retreated to the second row and ushered the more reserved Velazquez into a prime spot next to the mayor.
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