Relation of Jews, blacks, dominates campaign's talk ON THE POLITICAL SCENE

N.Y. MAYOR'S CONTEST: DYNAMIC IS RACIAL

August 14, 1993|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Stanley Greenberg, selling newspapers and cigarettes in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, has already decided about this city's mayoral campaign.

"Last time, I voted for the schwartze," he says, using the Yiddish word for black and banging the cash register for emphasis. "This time, never again."

Stanley Greenberg is not the only Jewish voter in this neighborhood who has changed his mind about Mayor David N. Dinkins after four years. Just how many of them feel that way may decide whether the black Democratic mayor survives the challenge of Republican Rudolph Giuliani.

Nor is Mr. Greenberg the only voter, Jewish or otherwise, who casts his decision in racial terms. On the contrary, the electorate here seems preoccupied with race and obsessed with the issue of street crime that they see in racial terms.

Sadie Alperwitz, who lives just around the corner from Mr. Greenberg's store, is not atypical. "I can only come here during the day," she insists. "I come here after dark, I'm taking my life in my hands." Then, nodding toward Mr. Greenberg, she adds: "He's closed, anyway. He's afraid they're going to rob him blind."

A half-mile or so away, another Jewish voter has the same concerns.

"I voted Democratic all my life, including last time for David Dinkins," says Martin Melnick, "but I don't think he's going to do the job and get things under control around here. We need to try somebody else, even if he is a Republican."

The relationship between blacks and Jews, two significant voting blocs in city politics, has been deteriorating for years, helped along by the rhetoric of such prominent leaders as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and former Mayor Ed Koch and the histrionics of such news media-manipulating figures as the Rev. Al Sharpton. Now it has reached the point where it seems to dominate the political dialogue in the streets.

Beyond that, the focus on race is so intense that every statement made, every action taken by either the Dinkins or Giuliani campaign is being examined for racist content -- content that is almost inevitably found when the candidates are trying to put together specific combinations of constituencies in a polarized city.

Thus, there are howls of outrage from the Giuliani camp when Jose Torres, a retired prizefighter working in the Dinkins campaign, is quoted as saying groups like the Ku Klux Klan would be empowered and pleased if Mr. Giuliani were elected. And the Dinkins campaign screams foul when a Giuliani campaign official says some black churches won't give Mr. Giuliani a forum because they fear retaliation from City Hall.

The issue that has been most responsible for the polarization, however, was something far more serious than the blundering language of campaign functionaries: the blame for the four days of rioting that erupted in Crown Heights just two years ago after a 7-year-old black child was accidentally killed by a Hasidic driver and, three hours later, a Hasidic student was fatally stabbed by angry blacks.

A report late last month on a state investigation of the rioting exonerated Mr. Dinkins of the most serious charge some militant Jews had brought against him -- that he deliberately withdrew police from the riot area to allow blacks to run amok. But the report pictured the mayor as both slow and ineffectual in his response.

The first poll made after the report showed no change in the close contest between the two major candidates, suggesting perhaps that voters already had factored into their decisions their judgment of Mr. Dinkins' performance on Crown Heights. Bill Lynch, the mayor's burly, bearded campaign manager, points out as well that in the intervening two years since Crown Heights there have been other tense situations that have been handled more successfully and may have "washed away some of the memories."

But the breakdown of figures in two polls made for the Daily News were less encouraging for Mr. Dinkins because they showed significant movement toward polarization, which is the last thing a black candidate needs in a city in which blacks will cast no more than 27 percent or 28 percent of the vote and probably less. While support for Mr. Dinkins among black voters rose from 81 percent to 94 percent, Mr. Giuliani's lead among white voters rose from 62 percent to 69 percent. Among Jewish voters, the Republican's majority rose from 56 percent to 62 percent.

By Mr. Lynch's reckoning, Mr. Dinkins needs about one-third of the Jewish vote, the same share he received four years ago. Toward that end, the mayor made a heavily covered visit to Israel earlier this summer, and his supporters constantly remind Jewish voters that the mayor has a long record of support for their interests.

The preoccupation with crime and the race issue are clearly related in the eyes of many of these Jewish voters. "It's very difficult to separate race from crime and drugs," Mr. Lynch concedes. "Who do they perceive committing the crimes?"

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