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PAC ATTACK

New super PAC targets NYC councilwoman over positions on police funding and antisemitism

SAFE NYC launches its first ad campaign against Shahana Hanif, even as she is running unopposed

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Council Member Shahana Hanif speaks during a rally before a City Council Oversight hearing at City Hall on March 01, 2023 in New York City.

A new super PAC is targeting a far-left city councilwoman in Brooklyn over her positions on police funding and antisemitism — even as she is now running unopposed in the June 27 primary election.

The recently created group, SAFE NYC, launched its first ad campaign late Tuesday evening in an effort to bring increased scrutiny to Shahana Hanif, a democratic socialist who represents sections of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, among other neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Hanif, 32, has expressed support for defunding the police and was one of just two council members who voted against a resolution to recognize April 29 as “End Jew Hatred Day.” More recently, Hanif spoke out in defense of a CUNY Law School commencement speaker whose remarks about Israel drew accusations of antisemitism.

SAFE NYC is now seeking to highlight those issues in a new ad campaign that includes digital ads, direct mail, a website and, potentially, outdoor advertising, according to a consultant who is leading the effort. The independent expenditure — which will be “in the mid-to-high five figures,” the consultant confirmed — is slated to continue through the final weeks of the primary.

“Shahana Hanif is too extreme to represent us on the New York City Council,” the group’s new website claims in a representative line of attack. “From out-of-touch positions on key issues such as policing, to opposing efforts to combat antisemitism, she has shown us that she is unfit for office.”

A spokesperson for Hanif declined to comment on the ads.

Meanwhile, among a series of digital ads reviewed by Jewish Insider on Tuesday, one asserts that Hanif has “defended hate speech,” alluding to recent social media comments in which she voiced solidarity with Fatima Mohammed, a CUNY Law graduate who called for a “fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism around the world.”

Mohammed, whose remarks stirred an outcry from the Jewish community, “was brave to denounce settler colonial violence, and we must support her,” Hanif, the first Muslim woman elected to the City Council, said last month after CUNY leadership had denounced the commencement address as “hate speech.”

Elsewhere, the website argues that Hanif is “wrong on antisemitism,” referring in part to her vote opposing the “End Jew Hatred” resolution, which was introduced by Inna Vernikov, a Jewish Republican from Brooklyn. “We deserve more from our elected leaders,” the website says. “Let Council Member Shahana Hanif know that fighting antisemitism is a no-brainer.”

Hanif has said she voted against the resolution, which was overwhelmingly approved by the 51-member council, because it had been sponsored by “far-right” Republicans whom she could not support. “They have not stood up for Muslims,” she said on the floor of the City Council in April. “They have not stood up for trans New Yorkers, or anybody.”

The councilwoman has insisted that she continues to “show up” for the Jewish community and has worked to address antisemitism while embracing a “restorative” approach to public safety. A section of her campaign website, for instance, is dedicated to “confronting hate,” including a misspelled reference to rising antisemitic violence in New York City, where hate crimes against Jews have surged in recent years.

“As anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-semetic and Islamophobic and anti-immigrant violence escalates across the city, we need community driven solutions instead of relying on the NYPD, which often escalates harm and violence in our neighborhoods,” the website states. “Shahana will fight to divest from the NYPD, and reinvest our public dollars into programs that address the root causes of racist violence — including quality housing, union jobs and public education.”

The SAFE NYC website and an accompanying digital ad also draw attention to Hanif’s positions on public safety, claiming that her “main priority on the council is defunding the NYPD, even as crime has increased, gun violence is out of control and our streets are less safe than they used to be.” 

In February, Hanif, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus, helped craft a controversial statement of principles calling for a commitment to “do everything we can to reduce the size and scope of the NYPD and the Department of Correction.” The required pledge divided the caucus and ultimately led to a mass exodus of members who said they could not support the proposals, including some moderate incumbents facing challenging reelections.

Hanif, for her part, has no opposition in her primary this month and is expected to win a second term representing a solidly progressive council district. 

Still, the consultant for SAFE NYC, who asked to remain anonymous, said the ad campaign isn’t designed to unseat a safe incumbent. Instead, he clarified, it is geared toward raising awareness of Hanif’s record on issues that will likely be of interest to voters in the district, which includes a sizable Jewish population.

“This effort is to put these council members on message — that their actions have consequences and that other people are paying attention,” he told JI. “We want to say, ‘You’re on notice.’”

SAFE NYC — which stands for Safe, Affordable for Everyone NYC — is backed by a coalition of moderate labor unions, business community leaders and pro-Israel activists seeking direct involvement in local and state politics, the consultant said. He declined to name individual donors, who have yet to be publicly disclosed in campaign filings. 

The group is among a number of local super PACs now engaging in the primaries, though none appear to have embraced SAFE NYC’s strategy of entering a race where the outcome is already all but guaranteed. One moderate super PAC consultant, for instance, told JI that “we would have loved to have gone after” Hanif this cycle. “But because she doesn’t have an opponent, it doesn’t make sense.”

Hanif, who assumed office in 2022, succeeded Brad Lander, a Jewish Democrat and progressive leader who is now the city comptroller. The freshman lawmaker has drawn endorsements from the Working Families Party, Sunrise Movement NYC and the Jewish Vote, among other progressive groups.

It remains to be seen if SAFE NYC will spend in other districts. The super PAC, whose assessment of the primaries has evolved in recent weeks, has not yet made any further decisions with two weeks until the primaries, the consultant said. The group intends to engage in some state legislative races next cycle, he confirmed.

More broadly, he explained, SAFE NYC is planning to operate on a different schedule than most, if not all, super PACs, which typically wind down their independent expenditures after elections have concluded. 

While still in its “nascent stages,” the consultant indicated that SAFE NYC is developing a framework to remain active during the quieter months between elections, as part of a continued effort to defend what he described as “mainstream” Democratic policies on issues such as public safety and affordable housing.
The super PAC had also been planning to spend $400,000 to oppose a democratic socialist in Harlem, Kristin Richardson Jordan, who had drawn three primary challengers. But just days before it was set to unleash a barrage of attack ads including mailers, digital ads and a website, Jordan abruptly withdrew from the race and said she would not seek reelection, effectively forestalling the effort.

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