Vol. 17, No. 24 Dec. 2 - 15, 2004


Koppell Will Face Primary Challenger


Council Member Oliver Koppell, a Democratic favorite son in Riverdale politics for decades, will face a primary challenge next September from someone he has appointed to important community positions. 

Ari Hoffnung, an investment banker and longtime Riverdale community activist, announced his candidacy for the Council last Tuesday. With overlapping bases of support, Hoffnung could become a formidable challenger to the veteran lawmaker. In addition to Riverdale, the 11th District includes Kingsbridge, Norwood and Woodlawn.

“I have the utmost respect for Oliver Koppell,” said Hoffnung who, at 31, is roughly half  Koppell’s age. “But people are really frustrated at his inability to get things done. The district needs an effective advocate.”

With nine months until the primary, Hoffnung is already slamming Koppell for failing to bring money to the district or secure power in the Council. Koppell was taken aback by Hoffnung’s decision to run. 

“I’m just dumbfounded,” said Koppell, who faces his first Council primary since elected in 2001. “I’m surprised on a human level that he would jump up and run against me.”

The soft-spoken but sharp-tongued challenger is steeped in neighborhood work. He serves as the co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council (Hoffnung is an Orthodox Jew), chairs the Parks and Education committees of Community Board 8, and sits on the Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corporation’s board. “My real passion is coming home at night and serving the community,” said Hoffnung, who is married without children. “I’m pretty much at meetings every night of the week.”

Ironically, Hoffnung has Koppell to thank for at least two of his leadership positions. Koppell appointed him to the Community Board and Development Corporation roles, and they have worked together on issues in the past. 

“I’d like to think that when he recommended me to these distinguished positions it was because of my qualifications,” Hoffnung said. “But I was wrong. They were decisive moves so I wouldn’t run against him.”

Koppell said he was disappointed by the “nasty” tone he says Hoffnung has adopted. “He’s someone I regarded as a friend and ally,” he said.

In addition to their Riverdale background and Jewish faith (Koppell is not Orthodox), the candidates are also in the same political club. Hoffnung sits on the executive board of the Riverdale-based Benjamin Franklin Democratic Club, which Koppell has belonged to since he entered politics in the 1960s. Hoffnung says he reached out to the other members and will seek their endorsement.

Koppell had one word for that bold effort: “Foolhardy.” 

The candidates’ policy differences may be few but they are stark on one signature issue — the filtration plant. Koppell is an outspoken critic of siting the plant in Van Cortlandt Park, while Hoffnung supports the proposal. “He doesn’t represent the will of the community,” Koppell said. 

Hoffnung says he would be more effective in advocating for the district given his work bridging “diverse communities,” pointing to his seat on the borough president’s Jewish-Hispanic Leadership Committee. While campaigning on quality-of-life issues, he has not outlined specific proposals yet.

Koppell defended his record, pointing to the $2 million he brought to the district last year. “I don’t think there’s a social service agency in the district we haven’t funded,” he said.

Koppell’s political muscle has suffered, however, from his inability to become chair of any of the Council’s many committees. But Koppell has recently made deliberate efforts to come in from the cold by making overtures to the Bronx County Democratic organization. “That situation is going to change,” said Koppell about the committee appointments, which are doled out by the Council speaker in January.

Hoffnung is taking the race seriously, as is his staff. His campaign manager, Mik Moore, has overseen a number of campaigns, including Assemblyman Jeff Klein’s successful bid for the state Senate. And though he’s realistic about the powers of incumbency, Hoffnung says he’s not going to let Koppell’s campaign funds — already at $60,000 — intimidate him. 

“I’m not going to let that scare me away,” said Hoffnung, who is running his campaign out of his apartment. “I’m a very frugal guy.”

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