Hikind proudly wears maverick label
In Public Service: Democratic Assemblymember has Endorsed GOPers
“I’m not afraid to rock the boat,” Assemblymember Dov Hikind told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in his Borough Park district office.
People in politics probably think that’s an understatement.
Hikind has rocked the boat many times in his political career and wears the mantle of a maverick proudly.
The veteran lawmaker, who has been in office since 1983 representing the 48th Assembly District (Borough Park-Midwood), is a Democrat but has crossed party lines several times to endorse Republicans in important elections. He supported George Pataki’s bid to become governor of New York in 1994, backed Rudy Giuliani for mayor in 1993 and was in George W. Bush’s corner when he ran for president in 2000.
“I can’t be a blind Democrat,” Hikind said.
The Brooklyn Eagle recently sat in Hikind’s district office at 1310 48th St. for a wide ranging interview. The lawmaker appeared game to talk about anything.
He is always looking out for the best interests of his constituents, he said, and if the Democrats are on the wrong side of an important issue, he has no problem siding with Republicans.
Hikind’s district contains one of the largest populations of Orthodox Jews outside Israel and events taking place there are of utmost importance to him and his constituents. “Everyone in Borough Park either has family in Israel or has friends there,” he said. Hikind, who is an Orthodox Jew himself, has frequently visited Israel.
He closely monitors developments in Israel, and he scrutinizes the reaction of American politicians to those developments.
The nuclear arms deal between the U.S. and Iran perfectly illustrates Hikind’s willingness to criticize fellow Democrats when he believes they are wrong.
Hikind, who called it “a defining issue in America,” said the deal is a terrible mistake on the part of the Obama administration and charged that the Iranians will cheat and find a way to build a nuclear weapons arsenal. “You’re dealing with people who are nuts,” he said.
He makes no bones about the fact that he is angry with U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan), who recently announced that he supports the controversial agreement.
Hikind, who thinks it’s a bad deal for the U.S. and will spell disaster for Israel, has been particularly sharp in his criticism of Nadler and other lawmakers, like U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), who are supporters of the agreement
“With the Iran deal, there’s no doubt in my mind with Nader and Gillibrand that if George W. Bush had proposed the identical deal, everyone of these people would be pushing others out of the way to get to the microphone to condemn it,” he said.
Hikind warned that lawmakers who support the U.S.-Iran deal will pay at the polls the next time they run for reelection. “It can’t be business as usual,” he said.
Due to his outspokenness, Hikind has sometimes found himself to be a target.
Hikind said that in his most recent re-election contest, in 2014, his Republican opponent hired a high-profile political consultant and spent more than $1 million trying to unseat him. Hikind cruised to victory anyway, winning 79.2 percent of the vote total. “They threw everything they could at me and I still had no problem,” he said.
Hikind has been speaking out since he was a young firebrand involved with the Jewish Defense League in the 1970s. “I was an activist long before I went into politics. I was involved long before I ran for public office,” he told the Eagle.
He was teaching political science at Baruch College in the early 1980s when someone suggested to him that he consider running for public office. “They said to me, ‘You can do activism as a lawmaker.’ I saw that they might be right,” he recalled.
Hikind ran for the state Assembly seat in Borough Park in November of 1982. He won and took office in January of 1983. He has held onto the seat ever since.
The driving force in his politics, and in his life, is the fact that his parents, Frieda and Mayer Hikind, were Holocaust survivors. “My parents lost brothers, sisters, parents,” he said.
Frieda Hikind used to tell her son harrowing stories about her days as a prisoner in Auschwitz, the most notorious of the concentration camps. One story has stayed with him and haunted him over the years.
As World War II was coming to an end and Allied troops were on the march to liberate Auschwitz, the Nazis were fleeing.
But the Nazis weren’t done tormenting Frieda and the other prisoners. They forced them to march for miles and miles. Then, when they reached an open field, they lined up the prisoners. “My mother thought she was going to be shot and killed right there. She thought she was going to die. But when she opened her eyes, the Germans were gone. They were just gone. My mother said it was as if the earth had swallowed them up,” he said.
Mayer Hikind survived imprisonment in numerous concentration camps.
“All of this defines who I am,” Hikind said.
Mayer Hikind died in 2000. Frieda died in 2013 at the age of 95.
Their son has gone from being a young gun fighting for Jewish causes to being a long-tenured public servant. He has also gone from being an angry young man to a husband, father of three and grandfather of six. But he has not mellowed. There are too many issues to speak out on, he said.
Two recent issues he has been outspoken on are police-public relations and tuition tax credits for non-public school parents.
“Black Lives Matter? All lives matter!” he said, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. “I did not have a problem with stop and frisk. We have to be careful in terms of our policies.”
The current tension between police and the public is partly the fault of politicians, according to Hikind. “Rhetoric by politicians definitely contributed to the atmosphere. Words have power,” he said.
“We need to show every type of support for our police officers,” he added.
Hikind has also been waging a battle on behalf of getting tax credits for parents of non-public school children. So far, the effort has not been successful. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the powerful teachers’ union, opposes it out of a belief that the tax credits will wind up siphoning money out of the public school system.
But Hikind vows to keep fighting.”It’s important to help parents who send their kids to private and religious schools. What’s wrong with giving people a choice?” he asked
A partial victory was won in Albany this year, he said, when the state allocated $250 million to fund extracurricular activities in non-public schools.
“Something good came out of it already,” Hikind said, referring to the fight over tax credits.
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