Vol. 17, No. 17 Aug 26 - Sept. 8, 2004


In the Public Interest

Flagg Seeks Engel's Seat
While much of the fireworks in the race for the 17th Congressional District stems from the charges and countercharges between incumbent Eliot Engel and challenger Kevin McAdams, there's a third candidate in the Democratic primary struggling to be heard. 

Jessica Flagg, a 52-year-old Riverdale resident who was active in Rep. Dennis Kucinich's campaign for president, says she doesn't have as much money as the other candidates but is working hard to get her activist message across. 

Flagg said she was inspired to run during the presidential campaign when "it became evident to me that the Democratic platform was being manipulated by the media. The issues were trivialized and the people who were trying to make this an issue-based campaign were marginalized." 

Paramount among the issues Flagg cares about is the war in Iraq. She believes war is obsolete for a country like America with its massive military, and economic and diplomatic might. "We have to fight the war of ideas and ideals and those kinds of wars don't get fought with bombs and guns," said Flagg, in the kind of exclamatory tone suitable for a stump speech. "Those kinds of wars get fought with imagination and education and humanitarian aid and by delivering a quality of life that allows people to dream."

She supports setting up the West Bank in Israel as a "Peace Zone to be settled by equal numbers of Palestinians and Israelis." 

"Occupying the West Bank for Israel is putting themselves in harm's way forever," said Flagg, who grew up in Babylon, Long Island and lived in England during her high school years. "It's putting out their chin and asking to be hit."  Though she knows this view might be unpopular with many in the district, she says that there is a "significant peace voice in this district." 

Environmental and energy policy is also at the center of her campaign (she calls Bush's performance in this area "criminal") and Flagg, an environmental and management consultant calls, for the kind of single payer universal health care program described in HR 676, a bill supported by 33 House Democrats. Engel is not among them, Flagg said.  Like many Democrats, Flagg believes that the 2000 presidential election was unfair. But she also bluntly states, "The election was a coup d'etat." 

And she blames her fellow Democrats for letting it happen. The Democratic Party was unbelievably absent," she says. ". . . [T]hey gave away our democracy." 

Flagg has lived in the Bronx for only two years. 

"I wouldn't pretend to know the Bronx all that well," she said. But she said she got to know the diverse district that stretches from the north Bronx into Rockland County when she was gathering petition signatures for Kucinich. 

Flagg calls Engel a "decent man" who "stands for good things." But, she says, "he's not out there leading the charge." 

If she loses this year, would she challenge Engel again in 2006? 

"If he were to become a really forceful proponent of the kinds of changes that I'm talking about, I might not feel the necessity to try to run again," she said.  

Bucking Most Bronx Dems, Dinowitz Endorses Kaufman
Local residents familiar with the intricacies of Bronx Democratic politics could be 
forgiven for being a tad confused last week. That's when Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a staunch liberal Democrat, endorsed Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, who is in a tight political battle with Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein to replace Guy Velella as state senator in the 34th District. Klein and Kaufman are Democrats with similar voting records but Kaufman is also running as a Republican and probably will vote to keep Joe Bruno, the bête noire of city Dems, as leader of the Senate. That's why Senate Democrats are pouring much of their campaign resources into this local race: the seat is key to their dreams of wresting control of the legislative body from the Republicans. 

In a more logical universe than politics, Dinowitz, who is nothing if not a strong partisan, might support Klein toward this end. Klein is also the only Bronx assemblyman to come around to Dinowitz' side in opposing the construction of a filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. 

One explanation is that Klein is a member of the borough's regular Democratic 
organization, the longtime nemesis of Dinowitz and other Riverdale Democrats. But even Oliver Koppell, Dinowitz' mentor and standard bearer of Riverdale Dems, appeared to put party over intramural rivalry when he endorsed Klein and even took his remarkable effort at political détente a step further by supporting Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Bronx Democratic boss Jose Rivera, in her bid to replace Klein in the Assembly. 

Dinowitz explains his endorsement of Kaufman this way: "I've worked with both of them in the Assembly for 10 years and I know both of them very well, and I've found that Kaufman is more straightforward. . . . I don't always agree with him but I can trust him."

As for the issue of Kaufman running as a Republican, Dinowitz said that if he thought the Democrats had a chance of taking over the Senate this year, or even in two, four or six years, he might have made a different decision. But, he said, "I don't think that's going to happen."   

And, regarding the filtration issue, Dinowitz said he and Kaufman were upset by a Klein mailer claiming credit for parks funding the borough would benefit from as a result of the filtration plant project, even though Klein now opposes the filtration plant project.

"Look, the filtration plant has to be built," said Klein spokesman Jordan Isenstadt. "If it is indeed built under the Mosholu Golf Course, then the Bronx has been promised $200 million for parks. That money is in the MOU [memorandum of understanding]. Assemblyman Klein thought he would be negligent to not push for [the area] to get necessary improvements to their parklands if the filtration plant is indeed built."

The contents of the MOU -- the document that will delineate which parks will benefit from $243 million in water bond money -- have not been made public yet and the City Council has not yet approved it. But various lists of parks allocations have been circulating, including one Kaufman sent the Norwood News that includes the projects Klein claims credit for in the 34th Senate District. 

Ed. note: The Norwood News coverage area lies almost entirely in the 33rd District. While Guy Velella represented much of Norwood and Bedford Park in the 34th District for many years, redistricting after the 2000 Census resulted in the exclusion of all of the two neighborhoods, except for a single block on Parkside Place in Norwood. The turf was ceded to the 33rd District, now represented by State Senator Efrain Gonzalez.  

Gonzalez Issues Press Release!
Ordinarily, we wouldn't consider a politician issuing a press release blasting his colleagues and the governor for failing to pass a budget very newsworthy  -  ironic maybe, but not newsworthy. But State Senator Efrain Gonzalez' news release made the cut for two reasons. 

First, he has not ever, to our knowledge, criticized the Byzantine ways of the state 
legislature. But maybe this is a hopeful sign of things to come with editorial boards all over the state and the Brennan Center at NYU documenting how completely incompetent New York's legislature is. 

And second, this is the first press release the paper has ever received from the senator. In an interview a few years back, the senator said he liked to communicate with his constituents in less traditional ways, like putting fliers under people's doors.

Maybe the fact that Gonzalez is facing a primary challenge from former state senator Israel Ruiz is getting him to communicate with constituents via the media, too. 

Hey, this is what elections are all about.

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