Fla. election clouds silver lining: Jews, blacks reunite

NEW YORK — It's widely assumed that the black-Jewish coalition, which fought so many civil rights battles together, is a thing of the past.

But with tens of thousands of blacks, Haitian-Americans and Holocaust survivors in South Florida allegedly disenfranchised in the presidential election, some activists are calling to resurrect the erstwhile bond.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined a handful of Jewish politicians and rabbis in a New York synagogue Wednesday and urged the crowd to "keep your eyes on the prize" and demand an accurate count of the Florida vote.

"These are real people," Jackson bellowed to a mixed audience of about 1,000 Jews and blacks.

"It reminds us of our need to be together. We are inextricably bound," said Jackson, who some Jews will always remember for referring to New York as "Hymietown" during his 1984 presidential campaign.

The event was hosted by the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a Reform congregation renowned for its tradition of social activism. It was organized within 48 hours, as local unions spread the word and brought out many members.

The line-up of speakers included a number of prominent local Jewish politicians and offered an indication of the event's partisan slant: City Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Public Advocate Mark Green, both of whom are expected to run for mayor next year; U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Gary Ackerman; and Charles Rangel, a black congressman and senior leader of the House of Representatives. All are Democrats.

Speakers alternated between anger and frustration, while humoring the crowd with biting jabs at Republicans. Mention of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified Bush as the winner Sunday, drew a chorus of boos. Some in the audience held aloft placards that read "Count Every Vote," but one was less benign: "Bush = Fascist; G.O.P. = Gutless Oppressive Pigs."

Jackson clearly was the headline speaker.

He charged that black Floridians, in particular, were unfairly "targeted." His contention seemed to be supported by an article in Wednesday's New York Times, which said votes by blacks were disqualified at far higher rates than those cast by whites, because of the voting methods used in some heavily black districts. Republicans, Jackson said, "want to discuss chad-ism and not racism."

"This is not about hanging paper, it's about hanging people's right to vote," he said, adding, We must be vigilant about protecting that right."

However, this is a "Jewish issue" as much as it is a "black" issue, Jackson and other speakers said.

Jackson spoke of his visit to a Jewish retirement home, where a distraught elderly woman told him that "she would rather die tonight than have on her record that she voted for Pat Buchanan."