Brooklyn, NY – A number of prominent community voices are claiming that Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the Priority 7 vouchers as leverage to coerce Orthodox Jewish support for his pick in the recent state attorney general’s race.
As the accusation goes, representatives of the mayor conveyed thinly-veiled threats that the childcare vouchers, which provide after-school respite for low-income families, would be funded past Dec. 31 as long as Orthodox power brokers backed Republican Dan Donovan, the Staten Island attorney general. Mr. Donovan lost to Democrat Eric Schneiderman, a state senator, in a tight race to become the state’s top lawyer.
The Priority 7 voucher program services 2,200 children, most of whom rely on them to get after budget process earlier this year, the program was funded for six months, until Dec. 31. The mayor told community leaders and Council members at that time he would later consider whether to extend funding through the remainder of the school year.
Termination letters went out last week to Priority 7 families, stating that cases will be closed as of Dec. 31. Frustrated askanim say Mr. Bloomberg is using the mid-fiscal year deficit as an excuse but in fact pulled the plug because Donovan’s Jewish support wasn’t enough for him.
The theory that the program’s fate was politically motivated is not boosted by numbers, as per-neighborhood voting statistics aren’t yet available. But post-election talk about crafty arm-twisting from mayoral operatives are surfacing. During the campaign, elaborate pro-Donovan posters written in Yiddish stated that historically, voting for candidates linked to city officials resulted in benefits for the community. Some felt the posters, which contained no other points, were a coded message, given that Donovan ran for a state office not directly associated with city programs.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind made the accusation openly.
“Another deal that was made [involved] a certain person running for office,” he told supporters at an election victory gathering on Nov. 3 in Brooklyn. Mr. Hikind charged that the mayor’s message was, “You better support [Donovan], or you’re not getting the vouchers.”
The very serious assertion was echoed to Hamodia by others, including several askanim who campaigned independently for Donovan in frum neighborhoods of Brooklyn. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
“What kind of chutzpah is this? What kind of approach is this?”
Audio below of Assemblyman Hikind accusing Bloomberg of playing politics with Priority 7 Vouchers.
Mr. Hikind, who endorsed Schneiderman for attorney general, said at his post-election event, using a mixture of English and Yiddish. “To threaten our community for something that we deserve? It’s unbelievable!”
Mayor Bloomberg’s top spokesperson bristled at the assertion.
“This is absolutely, 100% untrue and not how we operate,” City Hall Press Secretary Stu Loeser emailed Hamodia yesterday after being sent an audio tape of Mr. Hikind’s remarks.
There were no claims that Mr. Donovan or his official campaign knew of any alleged funding-for-support demands made by Bloomberg aides. Mr. Donovan’s office said late yesterday that no one was available at the time to answer an inquiry.
On Nov. 3, Mr. Hikind said the Bloomberg Administration has played political games with the Priority 7 program before.
“The last time it was the  election. You had to promise that you will vote for him and then he said he will give the vouchers,” he remarked.
The reference was to the handling of Priority 7 last year. Then, too, City Hall gave Priority 7 half-year funding, to Dec. 31. Close to the November election in which he won a third term, Mr. Bloomberg agreed to second-half funding until June 2010.