McMahon Gets the Full Nelson
"Congrats Gatey" read the comment from "Political Junkie," "You beat Politico.com by 5 hours."
Yes, in being the first to report that Congressman Mike McMahon’s re-election campaign had fired a staffer--spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson--who had compiled and circulated to a reporter a list of Jewish don0ors to the Campaign of one of McMahon’s Republican opponents--Michael Grimm, I’d even beaten Liz Benjamin by over an hour, while the Observer, which broke the original story, did not bother to note this development until the next morning.
Maggie Haberman’s story on Politico is more than a bit skeptical. She notes that the campaign’s Finance Director, who according to Nelson (a source of seemingly questionable credibility, if not sanity) assisted in compiling the list, "apparently is not being rebuked, but it is unlikely the compilation of "Jewish money" was either her or Nelson's brainchild…Nelson was the communications director, but she was not the brain trust of the campaign…”
How does she draw such a conclusion?
Frankly, it is the easy explanation, but put to the test of logic, it doesn’t add up
I think we can rule out innate Jew hatred. McMahon’s Campaign Manager is Jonathan Yedin, a proud Sephardic Jew from the Gravesend area, with extensive connections in the Sephardic and Russian communities. McMahon's campaign consultant is Evan Stavisky, also Jewish and the son of the late State Senator Leonard Stavisky (as well as Leonard's widow Toby, a current State Senator), a long-time crusader against anti-Semitism.
I’m not saying these guys are incapable of sleazy behavior, but I am saying it is extremely unlikely they are capable of this particular sleazy behavior. It is nearly impossible to picture a scenario where an order to compile and circulate such a document came from anyone higher in this campaign than Nelson herself.
Another possible explanation is some deep-seated psychosis. Richard Nixon was a smart pol, and he had some key Jewish aides, but he nonetheless once ordered the compilation of a similar list of Jews, which was then used for nefarious purposes.
Certainly, there are Staten Island politicians who do sometimes give the appearance of having a dangerously dark side, but the sunny, breezy McMahon seems an unlikely candidate for harboring a Dr. Jekyll within his hide.
I think we can also rule this out as some sort of an expression of political principle here. If such a list came from a Sharon Angle or a Charles Barron, it would seem possible to connect it to a disordered belief system whereby such things could be rationalized internally. When Kevin Powell says he favors a two state solution "for the time being," we are seeing a true expression of his underlying beliefs.
On the other hand, for this to be true of Mike McMahon, it would first need to be credibly established that there is something that he really believes in.
I defy anyone to prove such a thing.
So, if this were really the act of someone other than a rogue staffer, the only motivation would seem to be electoral. The only plausible motivation would have been to benefit the candidate.
While I generally assume "the worst" about politicians, "the worst" that I assume is that they are generally actors intent upon the pursuit of their own self interests above all other goals.
In that regard, Mike McMahon has a somewhat mixed record. As City Councilman, Mr. McMahon, sometimes was capable of showing a willingness to take a politically unpopular position for the long-term good, and to display the backbone to aggressively defend such actions.
Two examples come to mind. The first is Congestion Pricing. Mr. McMahon, who, when he cast the sole Staten Island vote for the Mayor’s Congestion Pricing Plan, was a candidate for Staten Island Borough President, loudly defended himself by educating the public to the fact that the absorption of the Verrazano Bridge toll into the fee virtually held the Borough harmless from the plan’s monetary impacts, and then pointing out that the plan would provide revenue for several transportation projects important to the Borough.
Similarly, when Mr. McMahon joined the City Council on January 1, 2002, New York had just been devastated by the first foreign attack upon our mainland since the 1812 war. A large part of Lower Manhattan, and all that it meant for the City's economy, lay in ruins, eviscerating tax revenues, while the costs of coping with the damage ate further gaping holes into the City budget. It was anticipated that there would be a six billion dollar revenue hole to accompany the hole we already had in the ground. The only options were to raise taxes or drastically cut services.
The City attempted to enhance its revenues, but was stymied at every turn by the need for cooperation from Governor George Pataki and Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. There was only one tax increase capable of producing the necessary revenue which the City could enact on its own without their cooperation; it was the property tax. The new Council voted a record-breaking tax increase of 18.5% because it had no choice. Mr. McMahon knew that voting for such an increase was politically risky, but he did it anyway, despite the fact that the two other Councilmen from Staten Island (Republican-Conservative Jimmy Oddo and Republican-Neanderthal Andrew Lanza) behaved like either (take your pick) sniveling, simpering cowards or grass-eating right-wing ideological fanatics.
But, on many other matters, McMahon knew more about trimming and hedging than the average gardener.
Michael McMahon seems always to have been pro-choice, in that he supported abortion’s basic legality, but has also been heard to that say he personally opposes it (though it is unclear what that actually means for a male). Whatever McMahon's rhetorical hedges, he has been even less clear on some of the individual issues a legislator actually faces, and to have been inconsistent when lack of clarity was no longer an option.
Exactly what the parameters of Mr. McMahon’s current stance on abortion is, beyond "pro-choice" and "personally opposed", seems to be a well-guarded secret, and Mr. McMahon’s method of reconciling this dichotomy, something I think intelligent politicos are at least capable of attempting, seems to have been more a matter of splitting the difference than intelligently wrestling with the issue.
Take McMahon’s disgraceful vote on the Council against a bill requiring pharmacies to post information concerning emergency contraception. Those who actually mean it when they say they want abortion to be "safe, legal and rare" look at emergency contraception as a keystone of this concept.
Emergency contraception prevents abortions.
One of these candidate’s slightly less offensive efforts to portray himself as the candidate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, and even his inoffensive (though misguided ) effort to show he was a supporter of tuition tax credits, were circulated only in front of churches or on religiously oriented websites.
No politician cynical enough to deploy such tactics would think of implementing them by circulating such stuff to a general interest and insider oriented publication like the Observer.
Though hardly dominated by Jews, McMahon’s district has significant a Jewish population, so general circulation of such material would be dangerous. Moreover, even if one were intent on targeting such filth, it would be hard to find an audience for it in the 13th Congressional District insular enough to make it worth one’s while.
Anti-Israel Leftists? There is no significant community of leftists in the district’s carefully drawn Brooklyn portion; on Staten Island, if we consider (as I think we should) unions as a separate category, then what passes for "left activists" in the Democratic Party of Staten Island are a small and hardy bunch, but their most visible leader, Roy Moskowitz, has a position on issues relating to Israel slightly to the right of mine. Besides, McMahon already has the support of such folks by default, and to the extent he needs to energize them, this is not the issue to do so.
Black anti-Semites? Blacks are not a huge proportion of this district's population, but they are an important one for the Democrats, Unlike in some areas of Brooklyn, where the juxtaposition of blacks and Jews has led to racially charged tensions, there are no such juxtapositions in Staten Island, or in this district's portions of Brooklyn. Even if there were such tensions, a constituency interested in their exploitation could better be reached through ethnic oriented publications, rather than general interest ones. Anyway, the way Democrats on Staten Island traditionally pull black votes is almost entirely through bread and butter issues, and McMahon is certainly not one to ever defy tradition.
White anti-Semites? Well, they do exist, and probably in moderate numbers. There are areas in both the district’s Boroughs where Orthodox Jews are moving in, and some see them as interlopers. But the people who worry about such things are not easily targeted, as they live amongst other folks. Moreover, they generally tend to the Right, and the candidates in the City who’ve run on these issues (like Gene Berardelli in Sheepshead Bay last year) have generally been far right Republicans who’ve met with both revulsion and a total lack of success (except, when like Councilman Dam Halloran, they are targeting Asians). Given the ideology of this target audience, McMahon is best advised not to attempt to get such people to pay attention to the election anyway. And both John Yedin and Evan Stavisky are keenly aware of this. These are not McMahon's votes.
The only possible target for such trash would be Bay Ridge’s not insignificant Arab community, which witnesses (including Assemblywoman Joan Millman, a Jew, who used to represent the area) have said has some members who sometimes cross the line between being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.
Even there it seems unlikely tactic. The Bay Ridge Arab community is socially conservative and entrepreneurial. They moved to Bay Ridge to live quietly among like-minded folks, and they’ve often tended Republican. While, in recent years, foreign policy issues have moved many of these folks towards the Democrats, this is of limited help to McMahon, who is virulently pro-Israel and not notably dovish on Iraq and Afghanistan (though certainly far more so than his Republican opponents).
Further, while anti-Israel (and a concomitant anti-Jewish) sentiment was once somewhat significant throughout this population, the large number of Christian among the Bay Ridge Arab community have in recent years become far less sympathetic to causes dear to a Palestinian polity where intolerant anti-Christian groups like Hamas have far too much popularity and Christian have become less and less welcome year by year (leaving in droves and decimating once-proud communities like Bethlehem).
I suppose one could prepare such a report for a newspaper circulated only in Arabic, but under the circumstances, it would hardly seem worth the risk, or even the effort.
Perhaps there are some quasi-rational motivations why someone would prepare such a list. It might not be because of the number of Grimm’s Jewish donors, but the type. Grimm has recently attracted attention for attending a service led by Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a somewhat shadowy Kabbalahist, with a following of rich and famous millionaires who go to him for investment advice. Several of Pinto’s followers have donated to Grimm. Many in the Jewish community think Kabbalahists are weird and cultish, and portraying Grimm as hooked up with them might be seem to someone like a good hit, but it would be a hit whose target audience would be amongst certain elements of Jewish media, and would not be accomplished by compiling a general list of Jewish donors and circulating it to the general interest press. At any rate, this does not seem to be the scenario here.
I also suppose the recent and successful fight against converting a former Catholic Church on the Island into a local mosque has shown that religious groups viewed as out of the mainstream (in a way most Jews generally are not) might be seen a ripe target on Staten Island. Still, I don’t recall any Kabbalahists being on the plane that hit the WTC (except perhaps as victims), so I have my doubts.
More likely, if such a list was the doing of someone in the campaign other than Nelson, its probable purpose was to circulate amongst influential Jewish supporters to see who knew whom, in an effort to head off any further contributions; a disgusting practice all to common amongst candidates in both parties, and not restricted in target to Jewish donors.Since I see no real plausible self interest by McMahon in circulating to the press a list of an opponent’s Jewish donors, and no plausible reason beyond self interest to do so, I have to conclude that neither McMahon nor the leadership of his campaign was behind this incident.
However, I do see the outlines of an alternative scenario.
According to the Staten Island Advance, Ms. Nelson is both a former Republican flack and a loose cannon, who earlier this year was caught posting a friendly message on the Facebook page of the Republican opponent of one of the district’s most politically vulnerable Democratic Assemblymembers, an incident for which McMahon drew some uncomfortable flack from fellow Democrats.
Ms. Nelson's previous political service was as spokeswoman for former GOP Borough President Guy V. Molinari (ostensibly, a supporter of Grimm) as well as in the administration of Republican Governor George Pataki.
Such crossover work might seem strange in the current national climate, but it has always been the rage on Staten Island, where two years ago, McMahon emerged, almost by magic, as the consensus candidate for a previously Republican seat, supported openly or covertly by virtually all the important elements of the local political establishment, who also arranged for the simultaneous promotion of McMahon’s wife to a higher judgeship in much the same manner.
One can be certain that Guy Molinari deeply appreciated the Nelson "contract," and now wonders why McMahon ain't being a stand-up guy.
However, like everything else she says or does, a few grains of salt would seem to be in order.
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