By Yosef Rapaport & Yochonon Donn
In a post-September primary interview with Hamodia, Mr. Ed Cox, chairman of the NY State GOP, marveled at the slow rise of Carl Paladino, noting, “He made some rhetorical mistakes [and as long as] he doesn’t make large mistakes in the future, I think the past will not be as relevant as you might think.”
But with less than three weeks left in the campaign, it seems that Mr. Paladino has stuck to his own known way of doing politics: With almost every news cycle the candidate seems to have been stirring up fresh new rhetorical controversies.
After being roundly condemned by many in the Jewish community and by many of his opponents for his remarks against Albany Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Mr. Paladino has sought to align himself with, and to be seen in the company of, Orthodox Rabbis. On Sunday, with close advisor Rabbi Yehuda Levin at his side, Mr. Paladino toured Jewish points of interest in Brooklyn, including the offices of Hamodia.
Rabbi Levin has been leading a dogged and independent fight against redefinition of marriage and other liberal stances on moral issues, and has often railed against some in the Orthodox establishment for not making this issue a number-one priority. Rabbi Levin has found an ally in Mr. Paladino. Indeed, Rabbi Levin told Hamodia that he was the one who wrote the statements Mr. Paladino read at the various Orthodox venues they visited on Sunday.
But soon enough, some of the words spoken by Mr. Paladino made nationwide headlines. Speaking before a group of Rabbis at the Karlsburg Shul (but not attended by Harav Yechezkel Roth, shlita – as was mistakenly reported in the media), not only did Mr. Paladino, a Catholic, rail against “immoral lifestyles,” but he chided – by name – leading Jewish Orthodox Rabbis of Brooklyn including the Rebbes of Satmar for receiving his opponent, yet not challenging him on “moral issues.”
Mr. Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic opponent, had recently visited several Rebbes in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The issues raised ranged from state aid to yeshivos to religious liberty.
“Will the Rebbes in Boro Park say anything to my opponent about Torah values or will they ignore these important issues like the Rebbes in Williamsburg did? That’s the reason I am visiting distinguished Rabbis and not the Rebbes,” Mr. Paladino railed.
Mr. Paladino went on to accuse some in the Jewish community of attempting to deceive Rebbes into accepting “crumbs” from “extreme politicians [who are] antithetical to the Torah way of life.”
During his visit to Hamodia, Mr. Paladino asked to read his statement to Hamodia staff, which he did; including a request for “blessings and support… to win for us the G-dly values.”
Hamodia contacted Rabbi Moshe Roth, a member of the Karlsburg Beis Din and son of Harav Yechezkel Roth. Rabbi Moshe Roth denied the widely disseminated reports that his father had any connection to the Paladino affair or had endorsed the candidate.
“My father never intended to attend this meeting,” said Rabbi Moshe Roth. “They came to the Karlsburg shul in the hope that he [would] come in and join in endorsing Paladino.”
Rabbi Moshe Roth added, “Politics is something that my father is never involved in and never says an opinion [about]. Even in a case in which all Torah leaders and leaders of Torah institutions would unite behind a single political stand, my father would not join – he just does not mix into politics.”
Rabbi Moshe Roth added that his father Harav Yechezkel Roth was “deeply distressed” by the comments against prominent Boro Park Rabbanim made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino in the Karlsburg beis medrash on Sunday.
The Karlsburger Rav is a leading Posek in Boro Park and the head of the Karlsburger Beis Din; his son related in the name of his father that he asked specifically of Hamodia to publicize his dissatisfaction, using the word “mecha’ah – protest” for the exploitation of his name and the name of his shul in publicizing disparaging remarks about the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita, and Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita – and Paladino’s criticism of the Satmar Rebbes, Harav Aharon Teitelbaum, shlita, and Harav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, shlita.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, joined in condemning Paladino’s statement by issuing an unusually stinging rebuke.
“It is ironic that a candidate seeking to portray himself as ‘the religious values candidate’ – no comment on that – would come into the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community with no direct knowledge of the facts, and recite someone else’s prepared text portraying distinguished Gedolei Yisrael [venerated Jewish leaders] as gullible, ignorant pawns manipulated by ‘power brokers and power seekers.’ Perhaps the one being manipulated here is none other than the candidate himself,” Rabbi Zweibel wrote in an email to Hamodia.
In a telephone conversation with Hamodia yesterday, Rabbi Levin acknowledged that he wrote Paladino’s statement, and that he did not feel it is inappropriate for a non-Jewish candidate to suggest to leading Rabbis what their priorities should be. He claimed that his spiritual mentor, a very prominent Rav who is no longer alive, endorsed his method of publicly criticizing Rabbanim who endorse or honor socially liberal candidates.
“This is what I have been doing for the past 30 years,” said Rabbi Levin, who has campaigned for conservative candidates for many years.
Would those schools that accept vouchers be allowed to discriminate, to choose which students to accept?
No, you can’t do that. Not in the world we live in today. We have to be practical. But obviously, if the school’s base is in Boro Park, then most will be Jewish. If the school is accepting vouchers [it has] to accept everybody.
I believe in school vouchers. I believe in tax credits. In the meantime, while we are fighting to get tax credits and school vouchers, we will support the expansion of the charter school system.
Will the schools that accept vouchers have to have a fixed curriculum?
One of the things I’m going to do is dismember the New York State Board of Education. I’m going to take that policy that they set now, I’m going to take the curriculum that they set, and we’re going to drive back to very simple, broad principles. In other words, in math, this is what you’re expected to accomplish. End of story.
There will be … minimums, and we’re going to let communities decide the specifics of the curriculum and the policies that are set. That I stand very strongly on.
We have people in Albany deciding on our policy and our curriculum who are faceless, who are not accountable to the people today … that’s wrong.
Many of our readers are dependent on Medicaid. How are you going to cut $20 billion out of Medicaid?
I assure you that in cutting, no person legitimately on Medicaid will lose one nickel. I assure you of that. Our Medicaid is so far out of reach right now. We are 100 percent higher per capita than the next-highest state. The fraud, the waste, the abuse of programs… [I prefer programs] such as in-home care for the elderly rather than sending them [to nursing homes] … or to pay a family member to care for the person in the home. Right now, we pay nursing homes $75,000 per person. In-home care can bring that down probably to $25,000. If we save on 25 percent of the patients, [due to] home health care, we save $2.6 billion. This is very doable and has to be done.
But how will you cut $20 billion, when according to Mr. Cox, head of the GOP of NY, cutting fraud and waste will only produce $5 billion in savings?
The federal base for eligibility for Medicaid is 130 percent of poverty level. New York State is the highest in America. It’s at 230 percent on optional benefits. The optionals bring it up from 130 to 230. If we can get that to 190 percent of eligibility, who are we hurting? None of the legitimate people.
I’m not proposing anything definite on the specifics of it. I’m illustrating to you various options that are available to bring Medicaid down. We certainly can do something about a Medicaid system that has emergency benefits that invite every Tom, Dick and Harry in America to come to New York State for their operations … We will bring down that exercise in waste, if you want to call it that, putting the burden on New York taxpayers for people that [don’t live] here. It’s billions of dollars.
You are down 18% in the polls. Do you plan to spend some of your considerable wealth in the last weeks leading up to the election?
In the primary, three days before the primary, we had surged to a point where they said it was 43, 42. We had come up over the period of two months to that point, from 3, I think, to 1.9. We felt that we had a surge. We thought we would win after doing that. We thought we would win by a couple of points because we knew we were surging at that time. We won by 26 points three days later. Now, you tell me about the polls. That right there is a fact.
I think the problem with the polls, according to our pollster, is they don’t know how to gauge the turnout. The turnout is going to be very, very important in the final, as it was in the primary.
Our advertising starts on Monday and goes right through the… [election]. I don’t let the press dictate my strategy. I keep that to myself.