Yesterday, Rory Lancman, an assemblyman and rising Jewish Democratic star in Queens, said he would not run against 15-term Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman in a primary in Ackerman’s Queens and Long Island district, which contains a substantial Jewish population.
Lancman had been planning to run against Rep. Bob Turner in a different district, a traditionally Jewish- and Democratic-held one in Queens and Brooklyn that Turner, a Republican, won last September in a special election following Anthony Weiner’s resignation. However, under a prospective plan drawn up to account for New York’s losing two House seats after the 2010 census, that district would be eliminated, and Ackerman’s would be substantially altered.
Turner saw the writing on the wall: Earlier this week, he announced he’s running for Senate.
And yesterday evening, Ackerman, a longtime strong friend of Israel in the House, announced he will not seek re-election. Ackerman told the New York Times that he is confident Democrats will be able to hold his seat. Given the overlap of Ackerman’s new district with the one Lancman wanted to run for, and given its Democratic-friendliness, the door would seem wide open to Lancman.
Lancman’s office declined comment, but a source close to Lancman told Tablet Magazine, “Of course he’s running.”
Among other likely contenders is Mark Weprin, brother of David Weprin, who lost to Turner last September: basically a Jeb Bush figure, assuming George W. Bush were a horrible politician.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant and The Scroll’s New York City politics rabbi, noted that Ackerman’s district had changed substantially, over multiple redistrictings, from when he first won it in a 1983 special election to succeed Democrat Benjamin Rosenthal, who died after two decades in Congress. “At some point, you lose the desire to keep going through this,” Sheinkopf said. (Of redistricting, he noted, “It’s exciting every 10 years, and then it’s not.)
At a hearing yesterday, judges parried mau-mauing from African-American, Latino, and Orthodox Jewish “communities of interest,” each of which wanted a new seat likely to be held by one of its own: the former two in northern Manhattan and the Bronx, the latter in south Brooklyn.
“The judges questioned what characteristics would define a Jewish community of interest,” reports Capital’s Reid Pillifant, “with some supporters arguing that Jews were a distinct ‘race’ that should be protected as if they were governed by the Voting Rights Act, and others simply arguing that they shared a geographical base, values, and interests, that made the community a distinct bloc that shouldn’t be diluted between three districts, as they are in the proposed plan.”
Ron Kampeas takes stock of Ackerman’s career, which concluded with him as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Mideast subcommittee; in 2010, he was probably the most prominent congressman to accept J Street’s endorsement, though he subsequently fell out with the group. In truth, the news is a much bigger deal in India than in Israel: Ackerman co-founded the House Indian-American caucus, represented many Indians and Indian-Americans who live in Flushing, Rego Park, and other Queens neighborhoods, and was known to be attentive to India’s needs and concerns.
“When it comes to Israel and Middle East issues, Rep. Ackerman has been nothing short of sage and indefatigable,” said the National Jewish Democratic Council in a statement. “Just recently, Ackerman played a central role in obtaining the release of Ilan Grapel, a former intern of his who was accused by Egyptian authorities of being a spy for Israel; he took a firm and active stance against the Gaza flotilla; and he wisely pushed back against the unfortunate, partisan ‘appeasement’ rhetoric that some had been using regarding administration policy on Syria.”
And here was the response of a Democratic congressman from Long Island:
Ackerman Won’t Seek Re-Election to Congress [NYT City Room]
How the Courts Changed New York’s Congressional Maps, But Not Much [Capital New York]
Ackerman Won’t Run Again [JTA]
Earlier: NYC Redistricting Shakes Up Jewish Pols
Lancman the Choice to Challenge Turner
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.