It’s butcher against minister in a Crown Heights state Assembly race that will test the Tea Party’s ties to the district’s Hasidic Jewish community.
On Tuesday, voters in the 43rd District will choose between Menachem Raitport, a Brooklyn Tea Party-backed butcher from the Hasidic community, and Democratic Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Baptist minister who was recently endorsed by local Jewish leaders.
“People are tired of what’s going on. They want a change,” said Raitport, 43, who is representing the Republican and Conservative parties on the ballot.
Raitport’s campaign was dealt a serious blow when the Crown Heights Political Action Committee (PAC), an influential group of business and civic leaders in the Jewish community, endorsed Camara.
“Mendy [a nickname for Menachem] is an A-one guy,” said Moshe Malamud, a founding member of the PAC. But, he added, “Karim has been our partner, our friend, our advocate since Day One.”
Rabbi Shea Hecht, co-chairman of the PAC, put it more bluntly. “Can Mendy Raitport do anything for us more than Mr. Camara? The answer is no.”
Raitport has lived in Crown Heights for 25 years, and has owned and operated his butcher shop, Crown Kosher, for the last 16 of them. A registered EMT, Raitport has been known to donate kosher meat to needy families and to let others buy on credit.
“For sure I’m voting for Mendy,” said Jack Safire, who lives down the street from Raitport’s shop. “He helps a lot of people.”
Though Raitport helps families during tough times, he’s against what he calls government “handouts.” “Government has made it so that people should rely on them,” Raitport said. “If they’re lazy, I’m sorry, I don’t have to pay for someone to sit on his laurels and collect a check.”
Though many in Crown Heights’s Hasidic community share Raitport’s regard for hard work, as well as his moral opposition to homosexuality and abortion, it’s also true that many local families depend on government services.
“A lot of people are struggling,” said Rabbi Eli Cohen, the executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. “Therefore they’re not totally against having a government safety net.”
Cohen said that demands for government assistance have spiked in the area over the last few years.
“We’re at the bottom end of the economic scale,” said Rabbi Josef Spielman, who runs a food pantry from his home. He said he serves about 350 people on an average day. Large Orthodox families with parents who lack secular college degrees and children who attend religious schools are often the most needy, Spielman said.
Many of Crown Heights’ Jewish leaders see in Camara a seasoned politician who is attuned to their community’s needs ? tax credits for parents with children in religious schools, housing support for large families ? and has the connections and resources to address them.
“He understands how Albany works,” said Hecht. And, he added, “Philosophically, he’s 100 percent with us.”
“I’ve been one of those people who have forged strong relationships with the Jewish community,” said Camara, who sits on the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School’s board of directors.
While Raitport can claim some popularity in his neighborhood, he’s a political novice largely without connections beyond the Jewish community, opponents say.
“He’s a very sweet fellow,” Cohen said. “In a vacuum, a lot of people would like to support his candidacy.”