with nesanel gantz

By Yossi Krausz

Jack Hidary is the candidate most closely linked to the Orthodox community to ever run for mayor of New York City. But can he win?

probably the candidate with the closest ties to the Orthodox community of anyone who’s ever run for mayor of New York. But what does that mean? And can he win?

The tech guy
Jack Hidary is lithe and neat and he gives off a sense of concentrated energy. That energy led one of us to ask, as we entered the conference room, how much caffeine he’d had that morning. “I only once had caffeine in my life,” he told us, “and it was by mistake. I love chocolate-covered raisins. One day, for a holiday gift, I got what I thought was chocolate-covered raisins. I started eating them and my brother said, ‘Stop eating that, Jack! That’s chocolate-covered espresso beans!’ And I didn’t sleep for 72 hours.” So the energy, it seems, is all natural. He’s expended that energy in his business dealings; that much is clear. A major player in everything from information tech to energy-efficient cars to Google’s prize for the first private company to send a robot to the moon, Hidary hasn’t been sitting quietly. And though he’s friendly enough that we felt easy asking him about his caffeine intake, he’s also a hard-dealing executive. Think of a Syrian Jewish businessman, and you may imagine a real estate tycoon or a retail entrepreneur. Jack Hidary, though, whose family is a mainstay of the Brooklyn and Deal Syrian/ Sephardi communities, followed less of a stereotypical career path. But like most of his community’s youth, born and raised in Brooklyn, he started in yeshivah. “I went to Yeshiva of Flatbush for K through 12,” Hidary told us, after we settled around the conference table. “I felt that I wanted to deepen my studies beyond that, so I did one year at Yeshiva University after that; I was a Max Stern Scholar there. “As you know, Yeshiva of Flatbush is a great school—a very rigorous and intense school. And I also decided to do extra learning, so we had a special series of shiurim in my own community at a beit midrash at 6 a.m. I would go there and learn with my cousins—who are all four to five years older than me. Then they would drive me to high school.” His first foray into business, he told us, laughing, came in his own community. “Actually, my very first business was selling sefarim in high school after Motzaei Shabbat. I set up my table in a strategic position. As you were leaving beit knesset, I was positioned there and you could buy some books. I would take orders then. And I would deliver it and collect payment later.” But he found another field that interested him early on: computers.

he outside of 85 Delancey Street, on the Lower East Side, looked less than impressive. A three-story grayish building, it looked like a good place for a local business, maybe a small-time accountant or insurance broker, to have offices—not as the headquarters for the largescale enterprise we had come to see: the campaign for the future mayor of the most famous city in the world. Looking up at the second floor, where we were heading, we could see a collection of rolled carpets in one window; apparently there was a carpet store somewhere up there. Inside the foyer, we found an elevator in the style of old-time tenement New York, complete with floor buttons that slightly chinged when you fully depressed them and a door that opened and closed in the unsteady manner of a Bowery bum. The tight space inside the elevator was a claustrophobe’s nightmare. And then the door opened and surprisingly, we walked out into a modern office space, with an exposed ceiling, brushed steel fixtures, neo-pop art and stylishly contemporary furniture. Our amazement at the activity we found matched our reaction to the décor. Workers and volunteers rushed from one modular office space to the next. A group coordinating signatures sat huddled in a corner room. And a number of advisors sat around a conference table in a center meeting room with the man we’d come to see, Jack Hidary, who recently entered the race for mayor of New York. The New York mayoral race has become something of a carnival sideshow this year, with scandals and over-the-top personalities dominating news cycles. But it’s also the first election in years with a feeling of a choice. Michael Bloomberg won the last three elections, and dominated the last two. With term limits firmly back in place, Bloomberg’s no longer a contender, and the field is open again in a way it hasn’t really been since Rudolph Giuliani’s first term. What makes Hidary most intriguing to the Jewish community is the fact that, although he is not the only Jew in this race, he’s
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“I was a real geek growing up. I loved computers. I got my first computer, an IBM XT, and had an email address as of about 1981 or 1982. At that time, I don’t think there were more than a few hundred thousand people on the Internet. “I went to camp in Skokie, Illinois, at the Hebrew Theological Seminary Camp. It’s not really a camp. We learned Gemara half the day. Rabbi Chaim Twersky was our rosh yeshivah for the camp. We learned Gemara from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. We had a lunch break and then we did computer science. At 5:30 p.m. we’d take a softball break for 30 minutes, so we could call it a camp. We enjoyed it very much. It was great. “The summer of my junior year, I went to Columbia University to study computer science and I fell in love with Columbia and computers and the whole thing. After my year of Judaic studies in YU, I went to Columbia for four years. “I got my fellowship in neuroscience. Since I’ve been a kid I was always interested in the brain— how it works, etc. The brain is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see in the world because it’s an organ with about 100 billion neurons. It’s just an amazing organ which has so many operations. So I decided to study the brain, and I got this fellowship to study brain scanning Jack Hidary with campaign staffers imaging. “We have a new technology called functional MRI, which is more than just a picture like a CT scan; it’s actually like a movie of the brain. You put someone in and say, ‘Move your finger,’ and you can see which part of the brain makes the finger move. That’s used for studying strokes now and other things like that.” Hidary moved fairly quickly from the geekiness of tech to business applications. “So I did four years there. Then I had the basic idea for my first company, which was very simple: Techies were like cobblers’ children, who have no shoes. They were building stuff for banks, insurance companies, architecture, e-commerce and everyone else, but no one’s building stuff for techies. So I decided to build a company dedicated to the needs of techies. That became EarthWeb. That was my first company.” EarthWeb provided Internet support systems for tech professionals. Soon afterward, Hidary, at the head of EarthWeb, acquired Dice.com, a tech job website. He took the company public and the combined company eventually became one of the fastest growing IT companies. Hidary has been heavily involved in clean-transportation issues

since then. He worked on clean-car initiatives across the country, including in New York City, which led to an increase in high–gasmileage vehicles used as taxis. He described that experience: “In 2005, I realized the taxi drivers were having a hard time because they have to pay for expensive gas. And they were forced by the law in New York City to buy Crown Victorias—which get 11 miles a gallon. I championed a new program with David Yassky—who was a councilman at that time—which we got passed 50-0 by the city council to allow many kinds of taxis, including high-mpg cars. It’s better for air conditions in New York City, and also it’s better for the taxi drivers. It actually affects all New Yorkers because if drivers didn’t get the ability to use those cars, taxi rates would go up. I championed that as a private citizen. We got it passed. And it’s been a very successful program for environment and energy.” He was a co-architect of the national Cash for Clunkers program in 2009, which took low– gas-mileage cars off the streets and gave people money to buy new cars. He also sits on the board of trustees of the X Prize, which rewards high-stakes invention with a cash prize and was involved in the development of the Automotive X Prize, which gave a cash prize to teams that developed commercially viable 100-mpg cars. He’s also worked in other areas that he considers public service, like microfinance. “That’s where low-income individuals who want to start a business and can’t get loans from banks because banks are looking for credit history. It’s a catch-22. They can’t get the loan to start the business and can’t start the business to get the credit history. I worked a lot with an organization called Trickle Up and another organization called Accion. Both these organizations are involved in micro-funding—giving grants and loans to these individuals to help them start their companies.” During the interview, Hidary pointed to both his business experiences and his experiences with public service to show that he’d do well in City Hall. “Guess what,” he said in response to a question about his experience. “Bloomberg didn’t have one day of political experience the day he became Mayor. Not one.”

Jew for mayor
Despite his yeshivah background, Jack Hidary describes himself merely as a cultural Jew. “I identify very much with the culture and history of Judaism. I
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think it’s fantastic. I’m very proud of that.” Still, he maintains strong connections to the Jewish community. “I live in Manhattan, where I’m affiliated with the Safra Synagogue. My family is mostly in Flatbush, on Avenue S. We’re connected to a number of synagogues, including the Sephardic Synagogue, Shaarei Zion and others.” His brother is a rabbi at Shearith Israel synagogue in Manhattan. “The Sephardic community has grown tremendously in terms of numbers—the families are very large. My own family is probably now in excess of 450 people. The family is also prolific in its activities. I don’t think there’s a school in the community that doesn’t have one of our family members—Hidary or Beyda— involved on the board, active, or president of the school… “Gladys Kassen, my cousin, is now president of the Sephardic Center. That’s on the Beyda side. On the Hidary side, the president of the mikveh is my uncle. My uncle is one of the pillars of Mir Yeshiva. And of course, in our own schools, Yeshiva of Flatbush, Magen David we’re very active—Jack I. Hidary, Jack A. Hidary, Bernie Hidary…” We asked him whether he saw his connections to the Jewish community as positive for him in the race. “I think it’s a positive. I don’t think it’s a negative. The beauty of New York City is that people are proud of whatever culture they’re in and they want you to be proud of your culture. “I just spoke to the Malian community. They’re proud of their culture and they like the fact that I’m proud of my culture. I told them about our community center on Ocean Parkway and Ave. S, and they said, ‘We want a center like that!’ Yes, it’s a Jewish center, but it transcends that because every community wants the same thing. They want families coming together…Look at
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the Latino community. They have parades all the time. They’re multi-generational. They want community centers to bring their families together. “The first year of my life, we lived in my grandmother’s house. We lived in a two-story house on Ocean Parkway, with my uncle and aunt on top and us on the bottom. Look at Latino culture. It’s very similar to that. Each of these communities is very strong and proud of its heritage and they want you to be proud of your heritage as well. I think that’s a huge positive. What people do not want is bland vanilla blah, blah, blah. They want something strong and passionate because it takes passion to run New York City. It takes fire in the belly. “I think a religious background is a positive. I think people have a sense of tradition, a sense of history, a sense of belonging, a sense of accounting, a sense of accountability. It’s clear that there’s


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a crisis of integrity in this election now. I think having the family-oriented, traditional background I have is a positive.” On a practical level, the number of “Jewish” issues we were able to pin him down on was few. He didn’t yet have a position on metzitzah b’peh. His position on same-gender marriage was supportive, though he pointed out that he saw no viable candidate who opposed it, in any case. One position he did take with regards to the community was one that no other candidate has taken: As part of a larger educational agenda, he’s willing to push forward school vouchers. “I’m the only candidate who is in favor of vouchers, which I support with the provision that schools that get vouchers need to hire union teachers. Why? Because that’s the only way to get vouchers done. Voucher without that proviso is pie in the sky. But if you go to the UFT [United Federation of Teachers] and say you can have 25,000 more active teachers right now, of course they would want it. It’s a practical way to get it done; plus you’ll get qualified, trained, state-certified teachers in yeshivot. “There’s something called PD—Professional Development for Teachers. That costs between $2,000 to $5,000 per teacher. So I want to invest a lot of money into these UFT teachers so they have the skills they need for the future. Now we can deliver these great, trained teachers to the yeshivot as well. “It’s good for the UFT, it’s good for the yeshivot. And the parents get a voucher of thousands of dollars that will greatly reduce the burden.” Hidary also said that he would advocate for tax breaks for private education. Though he is not married and has no kids (“We’re working on that,” he told us), he said that he understands the stress of providing tuition. “I personally experienced seeing my brothers—who each have four kids—and others around me trying to support a family and send many kids to yeshivah. It’s a huge burden.” He’s been making the rounds of the various Jewish communities in recent weeks. It’s clear that, whatever policies he chooses, Hidary at least understands where the frum community is coming from. After enduring recent battles with Mayor Bloomberg and absorbing some of his less sensitive comments about Orthodox Jews, a mayor who has some sympathy for them may be a draw for many frum voters.









Can he win?
Part of the hubbub going on in the campaign offices was staff overseeing the street petitioning to get Hidary’s name on the ballot. Running as an independent, he wasn’t facing a primary challenge. But it still seemed like he was facing some juggernauts with a small staff. We spoke for a few minutes about his strategy. “We have a lot of ways of reaching people that we didn’t have four years ago. Twelve years ago, when Bloomberg ran, he had to send a video cassette to every home in New York City. We don’t have to do that anymore. We have the ability to reach out and connect with millions of voters very efficiently. “The other campaigns you see going with 1,000 volunteers running around, knocking randomly at people’s doors, bothering them at dinner…we’re not doing that. We’re reaching people far more efficiently—when they’re interested in researching the issues, when they go online to read about the issues, that’s where we’re with them. This is a far more targeted and efficient approach. “We’re starting at the right time. This is the right time for us to enter. It’s the time we can come in and make a very big splash. People have already seen all the other candidates. And that’s why we made such a big splash. Why were we in The New York Times, the Daily News, on TV, online, everywhere? Because it’s exciting for people to have a new choice.”

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But, we insisted, isn’t name recognition everything? Candi- been looking for a choice. dates with ugly personal records were doing well in their citywide “The choice will be super-clear. On November 5, you’ll have races, apparently because voters knew them. How was he going two candidates who want to go back to machine, party politics. to break into the pack? The last time we had that was in the ‘70s, when we basically had “Because of my team of experts I’ll get name recognition. Joe Detroit. Detroit today is a cautionary tale. You’ll have these canTrippi is famous for bringing the Internet to politics.” We’d met didates who want to take us back. Or us. We will be there with a Trippi, a famed Democratic consultant, while we were waiting great campaign, massive name ID, engaged with the voters.” Partially, Hidary is hoping for the primary fight to weaken whofor the interview with Hidary to begin. Trippi seemed almost shy, ever emerges. apparently more candidate-promoting than self-promoting. “He’s the first one to have done that,” Hidary said, “and he’s “The Democrats will go down from seven candidates to one. done it many times since. He ran the Howard Dean campaign in They’ll have a bruising, battering primary process. After the primary they’ll have a the 2008 election [which had great momentum runoff. By the time someuntil Dean’s infamous one gets out there they’ll rant]. have only one month to run in the general “Then I used my tech campaign. The Repubexperience to the people licans will go through in our voter file individuthe same process. And ally. We have direct ways to reach them as individwe’ll be down to a handuals. I can use the Interful of candidates. At that net to get my message to point, it will be a very clear choice between them. This way of reachtwo or three candidates. ing millions of people New Yorkers will have within weeks means we’ll to choose. My name will get that name out there. “Obviously we’ll also be in all the articles. The do TV. Joe Trippi is an press will want to exam(L to R) Yossi Krausz, Jack Hidary, Nesanel Gantz expert. What he did with ine all the few remaining Jerry Brown was amazcandidates and present ing. He used new techthose choices to the city. niques for his TV spots. And at that time we’ll see what happens.” “One thing that separates me from my comWhether his choice of petition is that I brought campaign issues is strong on a world-class team to enough is debatable. He’s help me with my camfocusing on three elements: education, compaign and to help run the munity and economic city. That’s what marks development. He’s plana CEO—someone who ning to foster start-ups recognizes the best team in the outer boroughs and wants them onboard by setting up incubator to really help matters." funds and other finan“In other words: I cial assistance, some of admit I don’t know everything, but I’ll find the right people who do,” one of us com- which can be done directly through the mayor’s office. Those mented. kind of projects may attract some people; it’s hard to know how “Bingo!” many, though. Hidary explained that he’s playing a long game. One major factor in Hidary’s favor has only recently become “This effective way will get us very high name recognition, cer- discussed as a campaign issue: New York City’s coming $2 billion tainly by October 4. And three-quarters of New Yorkers make deficit. Most of the candidates have proposed budgets that would their decisions by October 15. So that’s when it really comes worsen that. Hidary claims that he can get away without that. down to tachlis. By then we’ll have high name identification. We “Machine politics means increased deficit—because they’ve already promised commitments to the special interests— and are guaranteed a slot on November 5. “The press is very intrigued by my candidacy. Why? Why is higher taxes. And by the way we’re already almost at the cap. CNBC and all these big outlets interested? Because people have There’s only $200 million left of additional taxes one could raise.
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We’re almost at the ceiling. And that means they’ll have to lower services. They’ll have to cut cops, teachers, firemen, hospitals, all the city’s services. Voters can choose going back to that type of machine politics that doesn’t work. I think that’s a stark choice. And we’re going to lay that case out over the coming months. “I have to make sure we have the money in the budget. New York City has a $72 billion budget. We already have $105 billion of debt today. We pay $4.6 billion in debt service. If we start racking up deficits of $8-10 billion, which is the program of the other candidates running, then we will need more debt service because S & P will lower our credit rating and there’ll be more interest payments.” That theme is one that he can use well with single issues, like crime. When we asked him how he’d avoid taking the city back to the dark days of the crime-ridden ‘70s, he invoked the city’s fiscal situation. “In the ‘70s, we didn’t have enough money to pay for cops. “The number-one barometer of how we’re doing on crime is if we have enough cops. We won’t have enough cops if we follow the policies of the other candidates. The other candidates want to spend $8-9 billion dollars on various special interests they have ties to. That means less money for cops. That’s why I’m running as an independent. “We already had to decrease from 40,000 cops to 34,000 cops because of the financial crisis of the past five to six years. That’s partly why stop-and-frisk went up—because there are fewer cops on the street. When we had 40,000 cops we had a lot of community policing. In my own community, we had a lot of liaisons to the police. They engaged with us. Now that there are fewer cops it’s more difficult. You can’t spread them out as much and they need to use other tactics.” Challenging the other candidates on the fiscal crisis may indeed be Hidary’s best game plan. “Our biggest challenge in this campaign is not the other candidates. Our biggest challenge is that we really want the voting public to become aware of the impending fiscal crisis that we have and services that will be cut. If people realize that, we win. If people don’t, it may not happen. That’s the crux of this campaign. Our mission is to share these concerns with NYC residents.” As we ended the interview, his staff was hurrying him out the door to an appointment. As he says, he still has a few months’ time to get in front of New Yorkers. But to beat the press for the party candidates, he’ll have to get hustling. For the frum community, choosing Hidary may involve a different calculation than the rest of the city. Would it, after the Bloomberg years, be a good idea to get someone in the office of mayor who knows us well and respects the community? And do we think Jack Hidary can win?

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