Who’s Afraid of Carl Thomas?

A Black-Jewish Alliance Stirs Up Racial Fears in Battle for Crown Heights Seat

While Carl Thomas remains confident about the strong support he has received from Jewish groups in Crown Heights, some of his advisers are studying Yvette Clarke's behind-the-scenes efforts to attract the Jewish vote. In the heated battle for the Brooklyn borough presidency, Clarke reportedly is supporting Councilman Ken Fisher, who is Jewish, against Jeanette Gadson, the current deputy borough president, who is black.

"In turn, Fisher has pledged Hasidic Jewish support for Yvette Clarke in her campaign for the City Council," says one political watchdog, who spoke on condition of anonymity. (Clarke denies that she is backing Fisher. "I haven't given serious consideration to endorsing any candidate in the borough president race," says Clarke. "I am simply trying to get my campaign off the ground.")

Carl Thomas: the fearmongering must stop.
photo: Pete Kuhns
Carl Thomas: the fearmongering must stop.

Some pundits speculate that a deal has been worked out for Fisher to tap Una Clarke for deputy borough president. When incumbent representative Major Owens tried to get Clarke thrown off the ballot in the 11th Congressional District race last year, on the ground that the Jamaican-born politician was not a naturalized citizen, Fisher rushed to her defense. "He supported me under most trying circumstances," elaborates Clarke, who is being forced out of the City Council by term limits. "After nine years in the City Council, I had to prove that I am a U.S. citizen. It would be most ungrateful of me now not to support him." Clarke scoffs at the rumor that she cut a deal with Fisher. "He didn't offer me a job."

Thomas, the first black to be appointed to the board of the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, has thrown his support behind Gadson "on the principle" of electing Brooklyn's first black borough president. "I understand the seminal importance of this watershed in the annals of Brooklyn politics," he says. But there are more twists and turns as Yvette Clarke's mounting political influence holds sway over the Brooklyn Democratic County Organization. Assemblyman Clarence Norman, the county boss, allegedly has promised to back Clarke in an attempt to thwart a Jewish backlash. "I think that Clarence needs Jewish support in Crown Heights if he wants to hold on to power," Thomas asserts. "So it's his loyal Jewish backers who are calling the shots with regard to Yvette and Una Clarke."

Norman, however, is supporting Gadson. "And if I'm supporting Gadson—and none of the other serious candidates are supporting her—why isn't Clarence backing me?" asks Thomas. One politician with close ties to Norman blames the confusion on Fisher.

"Ken Fisher was originally scheduled to run for mayor," he explains. "But when Fisher realized that polls showed that the majority of Brooklynites were unaware of who he was, he pulled back and decided to seek the borough presidency." The insider adds that current borough president Howard Golden was upset with Fisher's decision to drop out of the mayoral race because he'd already thrown his support behind Gadson. Golden's alleged hatred for State Senator Marty Markowitz, a front-runner in the race for borough president, "led him to search for a candidate to run against Markowitz," according to the source. "The race was set between Gadson and Markowitz. By the time Fisher entered the fray, politicians like Norman, who under normal conditions would have supported Fisher, had already locked onto Gadson."

Still, insiders claim that Norman and his cohorts initially tried to derail Gadson's candidacy. "The county was forced to go with Gadson when efforts to have her drop out of the race and defer to Fisher failed," says one Gadson supporter. "An offer was even made to have her keep her old job as deputy borough president if Fisher prevailed in the election. While Norman seems comfortable with Fisher, he is obligated to run a credible race on Gadson's behalf."

Carl Thomas resents the "fearmongering" by some Jewish groups on the anniversary of the Crown Heights riots. "Reverend Sharpton was not responsible for the riots," Thomas declares. "Jews should not be fearful of him. There are those who want to make him the bogeyman of race relations by clouding up our eyes with smoke. But after the smoke clears, we will see that Reverend Sharpton has been responsible for bringing a lot of blacks and Jews together."

Thomas describes as "absurd" the allegation that Sharpton was planning to "celebrate the 'uprising' " in Crown Heights. "The wounds of 1991 run deep on both sides," he says. "It will take an effort by all of us to make sure this never happens again. The fearmongers who try to prolong this tragedy, adding more agony for everybody, will not persevere."

Additional reporting by Brandis Nwegbo and Beth J. Harpaz of the Associated Press

Related article:

"Enter Carl W. Thomas" by Peter Noel

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