Already a City Council candidate in a nearby district, Kalman Yeger was offered late Monday night retiring Councilman David Greenfield’s ballot lines in his Boro Park district, making him the frontrunner to win in the November election.
David Greenfield, a political powerhouse, shocked the district and city establishment early Monday morning with his announcement that he is not running for reelection and will leave political life next year to head the Met Council, one of the city’s largest Jewish social services agencies
Mr. Yeger, a Community Board 14 member and a frequent presence at Greenfield community meetings, formally ended his challenge to Councilman Chaim Deutsch, another Orthodox Jew. He filed a “Certification of Declination” with the New York City Board of Elections, stating that he was declining to accept the support of those who signed his petition days earlier.
The irregular transfer of power was backed by leaders of many of the largest mosdos in the district, which encompasses Boro Park and Flatbush, although several askanim who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were unhappy about the way it was done.
“Why should a guy from Flatbush represent Boro Park?” one activist wondered. “There are people in Boro Park who would possibly like to represent Boro Park.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has been at a political loggerhead with Greenfield for a while, tweeted a statement Tuesday declaring a city council seat “too important to bestow as a gift.”
“When it comes to who will represent our district on the City Council, our neighbors deserve a choice,” Hikind wrote. “It is time for those who genuinely wish to serve our community … to come forward. And may the candidate who our community selects rise to the occasion and do great things with the office.”
A Daily News editorial weighed in as well, calling on Greenfield to “exit with honor” and allow for the democratic process to choose the next councilman.
Greenfield told Hamodia that he was presented with few good options, and when the askanim hear him out they will agree with him. As for the Daily News, he said that they are not familiar with the political makeup of the district.
Representatives of Satmar, Bobov, Ger, Belz and the Sephardic communities were at the meeting Monday night in the home of Mendy Reiner, a local askan. They considered five potential names and ultimately concluded that Yeger would be the best, Greenfield said.
“Considering that the leaders of the mosdos in the Jewish community are stepping behind a candidate,” Greenfield said, “obviously I’m supporting that candidate as well. I think [Yeger] is very well placed to take over. He’s very capable and talented and intelligent in all of the highest traditions of public service.”
The deadline to submit signatures to register on a party line for the September primary passed last Friday. Since Greenfield had been running unopposed on the Democratic and Conservative party lines, with no candidate on the other party lines, the only remaining option to run in November would be to launch a new party or run as an independent.
This week Friday is the deadline to transfer ballot lines; Greenfield formally withdrew his name and transferred his lines to Yeger late Monday.
“What you have to understand,” Greenfield said, addressing the Daily News’ critique, “is that this is not my option — New York state election law basically gives me two options here, neither of which are very good but this is the better one of the two.”
One option is known derisively as the “Bronx option,” after a Bronx district attorney who was planning on leaving for a state judgeship in 2015 maneuvered to first get reelected, then push in his favored successor. The favored candidate ended up winning with 93 percent of the vote.
Another option is to pick a candidate, which Greenfield felt was the best choice.
“The only option that I have that is viable is to do exactly this,” he said. “So I did it as inclusive as I possibly could and that’s the best process that I could come up with considering what the law requires me to do.”
“This is the best of the worst options that we have,” Greenfield acknowledged. “But if people have faith in the work that I have done and have faith in the fact that the most prominent community leaders know Kalman and believe that he would be the best candidate, then I would ask them to support him.”
He added that “there’s going to be an election and I honestly would expect that there are going to be other candidates that are going to run.”
Repeated calls to Yeger were not answered. His voicemail was full and could not accept any messages.
Greenfield, who has been an outspoken voice for his district since winning a special election seven years ago, still had four years left before term limits kicked in. A self-styled “conservative Democrat,” he told Hamodia that he got an offer from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to help people on a much grander scale that he could not refuse.
“I’m excited about the huge potential there,” said Greenfield, who would become the Met Council’s executive director. “The organization is in a very good place. Obviously it is a really important organization — they have a staff of nearly 200 people, they have many JCCs, in literally every single boro across the community, they have a portfolio of affordable housing, they have direct services, and obviously they’re an advocacy group as well.”
The Orthodox community has become a focus of the group’s efforts in recent decades to combat poverty. Greenfield, who replaces current CEO Alan Schoor, is certain to continue that.
“My focus is really to build on the success the Met Council already enjoys and to really take it to the next level,” he added. “But especially to focus on the needy people in our community and try to figure out how we can expand services and, more importantly, how we can help them get out of poverty.”
The group founded in 1972 is not as well-known as its local affiliated JCCs, the Boro Park JCC and COJO in Flatbush.
Greenfield will serve his last day in office on Dec. 31 and will begin his new position the next day. Since his 2010 victory in a special election to fill Felder’s city council seat, Greenfield has emerged as a prominent voice for his district. He is chairman of the Land Use Committee, considered the second most powerful in the council, with oversight over all city lands and zoning issues. He is also a member of the coveted budget negotiating team.
Greenfield used his power to push through community-specific issues such as an increase in afterschool vouchers, Erev Shabbos meters and yeshivah security guards, as well as broader items such as getting streets plowed after snowstorms and easing parking regulations. He has sponsored 27 pieces of legislation that were ultimately signed into law.
He counts three moments as his proudest in the legislature. When anti-Israel protesters interrupted a City Council vote on a resolution commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, his impassioned protest went viral. He also ushered through a law providing security guards for yeshivos and secured funding to renovate every one of the seven parks in his districts.
As for Greenfield, is he through with elected office?
“If you would have asked me three weeks ago, ‘Are you going to be running a nonprofit in the end of the year?’ I would have said, ‘Probably not,’” Greenfield said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future.”