Thursday, May 29th, 2008
Curtis Sliwa isn’t Jewish. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate defender of Israel and just about any other Jewish cause. And he’s probably been the guest of honor at more Jewish institution dinners than many a Jewish politician.
Speaking at yeshiva dinner in Brooklyn a couple of years ago, the streetwise Guardian Angels founder and radio host implored the students to be proud of their identity and “never let anyone try to take it away from you.”
So the report today that Sliwa sent a letter to the Staten Island Republican chairman expressing interest in the race to succeed scandal-plagued Rep. Vito Fossella should generate some excitement in the borough’s growing Jewish community.
“I’m sure that you will be able to find a well-known or well-qualified candidate, with a distinguished record of public service,” Sliwa said in a letter to John Friscia yesterday, as reported by the Staten Island Advance. “If however the party is unable to, if you think it would be of help, I might be willing to be considered as a possible candidate.”
There were about 51,000 people living in Jewish households as of the 2002 Jewish Community Study, or about 12 percent of the overall population of New York’s least populous borough. That number has likely increased with an influx of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants, who tend to be conservative voters. The congressional district now held by Fossella also includes part of Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge.
Rabbi Chaim N. Segal of Staten Island’s New Springville Jewish Center , said Sliwa was well-known among the 200 families in his congregation.
“Curtis has been to our shul in good times and not so good times and has always been a friend when we needed one,” said the rabbi. “Everyone judges a candidate on many different things, but from the perspective of a community rabbi he has always been there when we needed him.”
Fossella recently announced he’ll finish his term this year but won’t seek re-election following an arrest for drunk driving, which led to revelations that he has a child with a woman other than his wife, a former military liaison he met on a foreign junket.
The Democrat seeking the seat will most likely be City Councilman Michael McMahon, the Daily News reported.
A New York fixture for three decades, Sliwa is one of the most identifiable New Yorkers, still sporting the red beret and satin Guardian Angels jacket he originated in the 70s when he formed the civilian patrol (some say vigilante) group. He has few negatives, other than his own admission that he fabricated some of the Angels’ exploits in the beginning for the sake of promotion.
During the 1991 Crown Heights riots, Sliwa organized his Angels to ferry besieged Jewish residents from their home to safety in a patrol member’s truck.
In a 1994 interview with The Jewish Week, he told Stewart Ain that as a child he had been influenced by relatives and teachers to fear Jews, but later resolved to fight anti-Semitism, often telling non-Jewish audiences to “knock off the Jew-bashing crap.”