Controversy erupted in the Queens congressional race when a fourth contender jumped into the democratic primary at the last minute—sparking accusations that the party was trying to split the vote with a fake candidate.
News broke Monday that Jeff Gottlieb, a 70-year-old Board of Elections employee and longtime member of the JFK Regular Democratic Club, was gathering signatures to be a part of the primary.
Gottlieb, a former teacher, has long had ties with Queens Democrats.
He made his way into the ranks by working in the offices of democrats like Assemblyman Alan Hevesi, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin and Councilman Joseph Addabbo.
But his sudden entrance into this primary—weeks after other candidates announced their campaigns— provoked cries of sabotage.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman sent off a blistering statement Monday morning accusing Queens County Democrats of encouraging Gottlieb to run with the intent to split the Jewish vote, clearing the way for Assemblywoman Grace Meng, the party’s chosen candidate.
Lancman and Gottlieb are both Jewish.
“The County organization is panicked by the strength of my candidacy,” Lancman said, “but cynically fleecing Jewish voters with a sham candidacy by a longtime party hack is particularly appalling. Voters will rightfully see through this charade, and the party insiders responsible for this hatchet job should be ashamed of their attempt to deny the Jewish community a fair and legitimate election.”
Lancman pointed to the lack of Federal Election Commission filing and a website to back up his claims of a ploy.
Gottlieb’s campaign has since launched a website and pointed out the signatures it’s gathering are very real.
In a TV interview later that day, Lancman called Gottlieb “one of the hackiest hacks in all of hackdom.”
Gottlieb responded on Tuesday with a lengthy press release, turning the fear accusation around on Lancman,
“I am saddened that Assemblyman Lancman has decided to issue vicious political attacks upon learning of my candidacy,” Gottlieb said. “Is Rory really that afraid that his record on issues will be challenged here in the community? I think so, and his actions clearly show his fear.”
Gottlieb said he decided to run because he believes he better represents the district—especially moderate voters—than any candidate in the race.
“I know this race represents an uphill battle, but I couldn’t sit on the sidelines while my community is being overlooked. I intend to speak up for my community’s values and the values that this district holds near and dear to their heart,” Gottlieb said. “In time, people will see that my support and the grassroots effort of our community will match Assemblyman Lancman’s money and his outside-the-community special interest campaign team.”
On Tuesday, Congressman Joe Crowley, chairman of the Queens County Democrats, briefly responded to Lancman’s accusations of a party ploy.
“He’s misinformed. He’s totally misinformed,” Crowley said. He continued to say there was no involvement whatsoever from the party to push Gottlieb into the race.
“What I can tell you is [Lancman] has enjoyed the support of the party in the past,” Crowley said. “All these candidates who are running in this primary have enjoyed the support of the party in the past.”
The party did support Lancman in his Assembly race, but he was passed over when he wanted to run against Bob Turner in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner. He again lost the party’s backing to Grace Meng in the current race to replace Gary Ackerman.
Lancman also aimed his accusations at Meng herself.
Political news blogs began reporting on Tuesday that one of Meng’s consultants, Michael Nussbaum, had encouraged another possible Jewish candidate to run.
City and State reported that Nussbaum urged Matthew Silverstein, a Democratic State Committeeman in Queens to run.
Lancman’s campaign seized the article and called for the resignation of the Meng consultant.
“Today, the Meng campaign has been caught red-handed in one of the most malicious schemes any of us have ever seen: an outrageous ploy to deceive Jewish voters with a fraudulent candidate designed to manipulate the electoral process in her favor. Based on today’s revelations, Grace Meng owes the voters an apology for concocting this sham, and Grace Meng should fire her main campaign operative Michael Nussbaum for his role in perpetrating this fraud,” Lancman’s campaign manager, Mark Benoit said.
Meng spokesman, Michael Tobman, told City and State the conversation was “tongue-in-cheek.”
On Tuesday night, Meng too said the incident was being misunderstood. When asked if she would still work with Nussbaum, Meng said she was still looking into it and wasn’t sure yet.
“I don’t know much about that specific issue,” she said. “I do know that it did come up today. I’ve never spoken to Jeff Gottlieb or his campaign team about running in this race.
When asked if what Nussbaum allegedly did was appropriate, she defended him.
“From what I’ve been told, I think his conversation with Matt Silverstein, for example, was taken out of context,” she said. “That being said there have been many incidents when there have been more than one Asian candidate in various races. So this is an issue that is going to come up again and again in New York City politics”
By Jeremiah Dobruck