By: Avi Strauss  | 

Councilman Mark Levine, Subject of “Greedy Jewish Landlords” Campaign Attack, Visits YU to Discuss Social Work Initiative

On May 1, Councilman Mark Levine visited the Wilf Campus to meet with Vice President of Governmental Affairs Phil Goldfeder as well as a group of students. Councilman Levine was recently the subject of a bigoted attack by his opponent in the upcoming democratic primary for his seat, in which candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre accused Levine of being in the pocket of “greedy Jewish landlords” in a video posted to Facebook.

Levine represents the 7th district of New York City, which includes Morningside Heights, West Harlem, and parts of the Upper West Side and Washington Heights.

The councilman was on campus to discuss securing funding for programming coordinated by YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. The program Levine discussed with Goldfeder would create “repair cafes,” where social work students could help “repair” the emotions of local community members in distress.

Levine credited the idea to Dean of Wurzweiler Danielle Wozniak and called the initiative “an exciting model” for social work students to use their training to benefit those in need.

Goldfeder was happy to have the councilman on campus, stating, “Councilman Mark Levine is a great friend and it was a pleasure to have him on campus to meet with faculty, staff and students. Mark is a tireless fighter for every family in his district and across NYC and at YU, we are constantly looking for ways to collaborate and create creative new partnerships to benefit our students and the community.”

Levine said the two were both “political junkies” who met several years ago, and that he was happy to work with Goldfeder during his time at YU.

When asked about the infamous attack, the councilman did not shy away declaring, “it is anti-Semitism of the most classic form,” grouping Lopez-Pierre with “demagogues who try and exploit legitimate concerns of a community, in this case tenants,” while demonizing a minority group.  “Sadly, so often, its Jews exploited for political benefit” he added.

In the video, Lopez-Pierre accused Councilman Levine repeatedly of being in the pockets of “greedy Jewish landlords,” accusing them of “ethnic cleansing” of “Black and Latino people.” Without explaining the connection, Lopez-Pierre tried to tie Levine to Donald Trump, calling on voters to defeat both Levine and Trump on election day by voting for him.

As of printing, Lopez-Pierre’s campaign website simply refers to a fight against “greedy landlords,” conspicuously missing the racial/religious descriptor he seemed fond of using in his video.

His website’s section on his public policy positions contains no description of his stances, simply listing non-clickable titles like “Housing and Tenants Rights” and “Campaign Finance.”

Levine was unequivocal about the need to respond, saying such negative and racially tinged attacks must be stood up to and revealed for the bigotry they display. “We have to label it as anti-Semitism and link it to the anti-Semitism of the past,” he said.

Further, he said he was “heartened by the response of leaders of this community, not just Jewish leaders, but leaders of all backgrounds,” to Lopez-Pierre’s video.

He said his campaign intends to counter his opponent’s hateful rhetoric with a message of tolerance that rejects bigotry of all forms and that he welcomes “good meaning people” interested in joining his campaign “of tolerance, inclusivity, and love.”

In terms of the content of Lopez-Pierre’s attack, Levine stressed that housing issues cannot be made into a “racial or religious issue.”

“It’s tenants who are suffering and we can acknowledge that suffering while rejecting in the strongest terms the branding of any one minority, Jews or any others.”

When asked about what he’s done to relate to different minority groups in his district, Levine emphasized that he is a fluent Spanish-speaker, who speaks more Spanish than English when meeting with constituents. He said that “people just want their problems solved – they don’t care what your last name is, or what your ethnic or religious affiliation is.”

Levine continued by referring to his three and a half years in office, with a record that includes “fighting for tenants, fighting for public education, and fighting for public safety.”

Confidently, he asserted, “anyone can challenge me on that and I know the community will respond.” He was also sure to mention his campaign is taking nothing for granted.

The Democratic primary for city council will be held on September 12.