7th District Congressional Race: Velazquez Picks Up “Pro-Israel” Endorsements, Hip Hop Challenger Profiled

Velazquez with Silver, Schumer, Nadler and Jewish leaders on Sunday. Photo by Marie Figueroa.

Here’s an update on the campaign in the 7th Congressional District, in which U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez is facing a rare challenge from three opponents. The Democratic Primary will be held June 26th; the newly constituted district includes sections of Queens, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side/Chinatown.

On Sunday, Velazquez picked up the endorsements of three political heavyweights: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer,  Congressman Jerry Nadler and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Although there was little specific talk about the issue, the endorsements were timed, in part, to blunt criticism that Velazquez is “anti-Israel.”

The new district includes heavily Jewish sections of Brooklyn Velazquez (a 20-year House veteran) hasn’t represented before, as well as most of Grand Street on the Lower East Side, Sheldon Silver’s political base.

In a campaign flyer, candidate Erik Dilan (a Brooklyn City Councilman) alleged Velazquez has “the worst voting record on Israel in the New York congressional delegation.”  The flyer noted that she was one of the few members of Congress who did not sign a letter sent to President Obama in 2010 urging sanctions against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons for use against Israel.

Capital NY reported from the endorsement news conference:

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… Neither Schumer nor Silver nor Nadler so much as mentioned Israel, though there were a couple of Orthodox supporters conspicuously positioned behind the speakers… 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.

According to reporter Reid Pillifant, Velazquez was left to make her own case:

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.”

Another Velazquez opponent, George Martinez, got some attention in “The Hill” yesterday.  Martinez is a hip hop artist who says he’s the first Occupy Wall Street activist to make it on the ballot in a Congressional race. Campaign staffers are making the case that Martinez is a serious candidate:

An adjunct professor of politics at Pace University, he is also a cultural ambassador for the State Department… Cecily McMillan, another Occupy activist who serves as Martinez’s deputy campaign manager, said the intention is to make a serious attempt to oust Velazquez. “We are attempting to win,” she emphasized to The Hill… But she also spoke about the longer-term goal of opening up the electoral process by providing a template for how a campaign can be run without going to any great lengths to solicit big-dollar donations. Martinez has eschewed any serious fundraising efforts. The candidate’s initial budget was just $5000, said McMillan. In a nod to both his hip-hop interests and his broader philosophy, Martinez is referring to these efforts to broaden the democratic process under the phrase “Bum Rush the Vote.” The phrase is also the name of his campaign’s Twitter account. “The idea is that George’s campaign is a prototype for Bum Rush the Vote,” McMillan said. “It’s an experiment — we are going to see how far we can get.”

Here’s a look at a hip hop video Martinez produced in support of the Occupy movement:

Recently we sat down with Councilman Dilan for an in-depth discussion. We’ll have that story later this week.

 

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