New York City - Agudath Israel: We Are In The Dark For Being Singled Out In Cut Of Funding
New York City - Leaders at Agudath Israel of America, a nonprofit that provides a variety of community services to the Orthodox Jewish community (mostly in Brooklyn) are seething over the dramatic cut in discretionary funding they’re on tap to receive in 2009, dropping from $383,000 to a mere $3,500.
In 2008, Agudath received $33,000 from the Council ($25,000 directed by Councilman Mike Nelson and another $8,000 not from any specific member) plus an additional $350,000 from Mayor Bloomberg’s personal pork pot (as directed by Councilman Simcha Felder).
This year, with the Council slashing its pork by 8 percent and the mayor declining to hand out anything at all, the group was among those that fared very badly. The reason? Well, it depends on who you ask.
“It was very, very rash and very, very hurtful, personally hurtful,” said Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath’s VP of community services, who handles the organization’s lobbying (although he insists he isn’t a lobbyist and isn’t registered). “We’ve always had a respectful relationship with the speaker.”
“I don’t know who to blame. I don’t know why. I haven’t been given an explanation as to why we were singled out.”
There’s some speculation that politics were at play here, although the speaker’s office insists that’s not the case. And it’s true that a wide variety of groups lost funding - from HIV programs to cultural institutions.
Nevertheless, it appears no one went to bat for Agudath, which is unusual, although Felder insisted he tried to intercede on the organization’s behalf.
“I’m not happy at all,” Felder said. “They got cut disproportionately. I don’t think it was fair.”
But some observers suggested that Felder might have been less disposed to fight hard for Agudath this time around, in part because of a fund-raiser held at the home of the organization’s board chairman for Joe Lazar, a candidate for Felder’s Council seat who is running against Felder’s preferred candidate, David Greenfield.
Agudath techincally doesn’t pick political sides, since it’s a nonprofit and doing so would endanger its tax status. But its leaders are fairly politically active. (Case in point: This fund-raiser last year for Councilman Bill de Blasio’s 09 Brooklyn borough president bid).
Another observer pointed out that a former Agudath attorney, Morton Avigdor, is now working on behalf of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is one of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s potential ‘09 mayoral primary rivals, which might disincline Quinn to provide the funding.
But Lefkowitz rejected that theory, saying: “That has nothing to do with it. He hasn’t worked for us for 10 years.”
There’s also the hypothesis that the Orthodox Jewish community is highly unlikely to support a lesbian woman for mayor, so there’s no political reason why Quinn should make them a priority as opposed to, say, the UFT, which was very pleased by the Council’s $129 million restoration of classroom funding in the ‘09 budget.
But, like I noted above, the speaker’s office insists politics didn’t come into play at all when the discretionary cuts came down.
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