The Israel primary

How Adam Schleifer won over Israel — Steve Israel

Steve Israel weighs in on the race to succeed Rep. Nita Lowey



Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)

Last week, former Rep. Steve Israel announced his endorsement of Adam Schleifer, one of 14 Democrats seeking to succeed longtime Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in New York’s 17th congressional district. Israel, who served with Lowey in the House of Representatives for 16 years, spoke with Jewish Insider about his endorsement and the 2020 race over the weekend.

Readiness: “As the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,  I know that in this environment you can’t take anything for granted and you have to have candidates who are well financed, who are ready to take the reigns immediately at a time of crisis, and who can fulfill Nita Lowey’s extraordinary legacy,” Israel told JI, explaining his pick. Though the former congressman described all the other candidates as extremely talented, “I’ve come to know Adam very well over the past few months and I’ve been incredibly impressed with his work ethic and his vision.” 

Reaching out: Schleifer, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, earned his endorsement. “He just called me out of the blue,” Israel told JI. “I am impressed with candidates who just pick up the phone and introduce themselves, and can make the case that he did. I then met with him. He talked to me about his positions on Israel, which are equivalent to my support for Israel in 16 years in Congress. He talked about his understanding of how you build and sustain the economy, and he talked to me about his understanding of how to get things done in Washington D.C.” Israel said he didn’t commit to backing Schleifer on the spot because he wanted to get to know the candidate better before making an endorsement. “After several months of conversations, I made the decision to endorse him because his talents are so exceptional.” 

In the eyes of a recruiter: Israel said that he gives homework to candidates who reach out for support. “I want to make sure that their policies align with my principles, but also that they are building a campaign infrastructure,” he said. In the case of Schleifer, Israel said that while any candidate in the New York area has to fundraise the resources necessary to win, the former prosecutor fulfilled all of Israel’s requirements to receive an endorsement. 

Filling the void: Israel described Lowey’s decision to retire from Congress as “a devastating loss to her district, to the state of New York and to the country.” As chairwoman of the appropriations committee, Israel said, Lowey is “one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives. She is supremely diligent when it comes to U.S.-Israel relations, and she works harder than many members of Congress,” he said. “So replacing her is going to take somebody with a set of similar skills and work ethics.” 

Off the train: Israel, who is backing former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race, said that criticism of Biden’s absence from the spotlight during the coronavirus outbreak is “unfair.” He explained: “In a national crisis, unless you are the president of the United States… or a governor like Andrew Cuomo who has a substantive official role, it’s hard to break through. It’s hard to get on television because you’re a candidate. And that’s understandable. And the other issue is, if you push too hard to break through, you risk the perception that you’re cheaply politicizing this event in order to benefit your campaign. So any candidate, whether it’s [Sen.] Bernie Sanders or Biden, you have to be careful and appear appropriately in the public view.”

Grading Biden: The former Democratic lawmaker added that Biden “has no choice” but to maintain a limited media presence until the crisis is over. “Right now people are criticizing him for appearing too little,” he said. “The same people might criticize him for appearing too much if he were to try and elbow his way onto the stage. So he’s doing the responsible thing.” Israel also noted that about 80% of the electorate “is already locked in either for or against President Trump. Nothing’s going to change that. This is going to be a love-or-loathe election.” 

Time for action: Israel told JI that his advice to people following the guidance of the federal government and staying home amid the coronavirus crisis is to “find a very specific local problem and help solve it.” Israel himself has partnered with Ben’s Deli and United Way of Long Island to deliver food to medical professionals in hospitals. Israel said he helped raise the funds for the initiative called “Chicken Soup for Health Care Responders,” a program that gives him great satisfaction. “I just feel that I’m not going to be able to battle this virus, but I can do my little part in helping the people who are.” 

Post-Congress bliss: Israel called his current post as director of the new nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University “paradise” because “I’m still deeply involved in policy and politics without having to run for re-election every two years.” 

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