Jack Hidary, Yeshiva Educated Sephardic Jew, IPO Millionaire, Spanish Speaker, to Run for NYC Mayor; Could Make for Three Way Jewish Race (INTERVIEW)
by Joshua Levitt
New Yorkers will have another chance to elect a Jewish candidate to the mayor’s office to follow Michael Bloomberg, when Sephardic yeshiva graduate, entrepreneur, IPO millionaire and Spanish speaker from Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, Jack Hidary formally announces his candidacy as head of the “Jobs and Education” independent party at a start-up incubator, in Manhattan, on Wednesday.
In an informal interview with The Algemeiner, by the Shabbes table of Chabad-Lubavich HQ’s Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Hidary answered practice questions from the rabbi’s varied guests to prepare for a political campaign starting today, to convince 600,000, or so, New Yorkers that they should give him the city’s top job.
As a young man, Jack Hidary left a neuroscience fellowship at the National Institute of Health to form an early internet marvel with his brother in 1995, spearheaded its IPO in 1998, remade his company into DICE, one of the nation’s top job sites, connecting five million people to work, then plowed profits into new ventures, most since sold. As a successful technologist, he was invited to join those elite non-profit coalitions working to save the world, including the Clinton Global Initiative, World Economic Forum, National Renewable Energy Lab, Google X Labs and the X Prize Foundation.
As a political novice on the local level, Hidary first got involved in the business community by helping small businesses grow and championing new models of education by joining Partnership for NYC, Citizens Budget Commission, and ABNY. He was a board member of Trickle Up which helps thousands of entrepreneurs start small businesses each year and launched, as well as funding education programs and many, smaller community projects.
In 2005 Hidary entered the political trenches with then-City Councilor David Yassky to push through City Hall a plan to buy high-MPG hybrid taxis with the aim of saving drivers gas money while improving the quality of NYC air. Encouraged by a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg in 2008 (see photo) and welcomed into social and philanthropic circles where his ideas to improve quality of life for New Yorkers might be adopted, Hidary says he recognized this year as his opportunity to achieve elected office, in what could be a big year for Jews seeking political office in New York.
If Anthony Weiner, the Jewish Congressman who resigned after covering up a “sexting” escapade, wins the crowded Democratic primary, the two Jews could face-off in a three-way contest including the Republican candidate, possibly former NY transportation chief Joe Lhota, Jewish on his mother’s side, but raised Catholic, and well-regarded by the Jewish community.
Questions of religion and, more precisely, morality, have already taken hold of New York City’s election debate, as Weiner’s tears of repentance were echoed by Eliot Spitzer, the former Jewish Governor of New York who resigned after being caught as “client #9” in a prostitution sting, and the latest candidate for the City Comptroller position, after filing just in time for last week’s deadline.
(Spitzer is running in the Democratic Primary against Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President, also Jewish, from New York City’s Upper West Side who, as far as the media is aware, is neither a “sexter” nor whoremonger. The only scandal there, is that Stringer, a life-long local politician with a modest war chest, has already been outshined by Spitzer’s national stature and reach, plus tremendous family wealth, which seem to overshadow the poor choices of his personal life, already digested by voters through a loosely fictionalized CBS drama, “The Good Wife,” about the wife and family of a governor who steps down after being caught with prostitutes.)
The fact that two candidates emerging from job-losing sex scandals will both be on the ballot this year, and both are Jewish, has dominated newspaper headlines in New York. Of note was the cover of the Jewish-owned The New York Observer newspaper which carried the headline: “The Boxer Rebellion: Disgraced Duo Transforms the Election Cycle,” with a questionable caricature of the two pols; note the long noses and bulge in Weiner’s boxer briefs.
“If you want to be a leader like Moses, and you can’t even check off the first Ten Commandments, then you’ve got a lot of work to do,” was one refrain The Algemeiner overheard at the table on the question of adultery.
Religious New Yorkers, especially, have expressed their doubts about post-scandal Weiner, who was seen trying to shore up what would have probably been widespread support from the Jewish community, before his adulterous behavior, in a photo op with the grand Borough Park rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Leib Rabinovich, the Rebbe of Munkach.
The entrance of Hidary, 44, never married, a practicing, Orthodox Jew, a graduate of the Yeshiva of Flatbush, Queens – “with 12 years of Jewish education,” Murray, his younger brother, business partner, and campaign manager, as well as fellow Yeshiva grad, philanthropist, classical musician and photographer, notes – could quickly change the tone of the debate, and add depth to the discussion about what values are important for New York City.
The first articles written about Hidary’s possible candidacy compared him to Mayor Bloomberg, because of the obvious similarities: their wealth, Jewish background and even physical similarities (see photo). But while Bloomberg’s swagger grew from years as a bond trader for the legendary Salomon Brothers on Wall Street and then from Bloomberg LP, a multi-billion dollar media company that started with a computer for bond traders called a Bloomberg machine, Hidary’s humility and tone still reflect his yeshivish roots and family business approach to life.
And while Bloomberg was sometimes ridiculed for his big idea solutions (ban trans fat foods, ban Big Gulp sodas, double the price of cigarettes) most have helped the city. As an internet entrepreneur, rather than look at what can be legislated out of our lives, Hidary takes this generation’s approach: how can we make life easier in our city by letting www.nyc.gov and smart phones make the once impossible seem obvious.
“Street parking has improved, somewhat, in that we no longer use quarters, instead we can pay with tickets with machines, but couldn’t it be done so much better?” Hidary asks. “What if I said you could pay by smartphone, that would be easier. But the problem raises more questions. Why is it that in Midtown, in the middle of the day, the meter costs the same as out in front of your house, in the middle of the night? Why don’t we fix that, too? Because we have the technology. How? What if prices were higher where demand was higher, like in Midtown at midday, and lower, or even free, in residential neighborhoods at night? We could make that happen.”
Other campaign ideas can be traced back to his experience at Yeshiva of Flatbush and what parochial schools mean for families:
“As an alum from a non-public school, I know the financial burdens to keep the doors open are greater than ever, as today’s computers and technology simply cost more than old fashioned pencils and paper. At some private schools, technology costs are 25% of their budget. What if we develop public-private partnerships? Why? Because what we’ve seen on everything from playgrounds to community centers, is that public finances can build those assets, and private users can pay in a fee-for-service model during off hours, one building could be used all day. For example, what if a yeshiva didn’t have to build a mega computer lab? But one was built by the city next to the school, the students used it during the school day, the school paid for their time, and other people used it in the evening. Or, in cases like in our city’s local public schools, where students and activities are over by mid-afternoon, private groups could use that space for classes in the evenings.”
His point is that fixed assets are hard to come by, but technology increases the ability for people to coordinate and come together to form old fashioned communities, albeit in unconventional ways, to make the most efficient and complete use of the city’s resources.
While certainly not yet well-known across the city’s five boroughs, within his community, the Hidarys are regarded as long-time New Yorkers. His great-grandparents came to Ellis Island as Jewish immigrants from Syria; his great-grandfather, Moses Hidary, worked as both a barber and teacher. In the 1920’s and 30’s, grandfather and namesake, Jack Hidary was peddling tablecloths, which became the basis of a textiles business that is now 70 years old and continues to thrive in the garment district.
The first Jack Hidary moved the family to Brooklyn and co-founded the Ocean Parkway Sephardic community near Coney Island that thrives there today.
The neighborhood approach and entrepreneur detail extends to his political campaign. Campaign manager and strategist Murray Hidary explains that even though there may be 8.3 million New Yorkers, only about 1.2 million are expected to vote in the election. In 2009, Bloomberg was re-elected by defeating Bill Thompson (who is also running in the Democratic primary this year) with only about 50,000 votes; 585,000 versus 534,000.
The Jewish community is one of the strongest voting blocks in New York, with about 400,000 expected to turn out, and most of those in Brooklyn. The Sephardic community there brings a solid 70,000 votes.
The Manhattan based, entrepreneurial, internet-focused, upwardly mobile contingent, where Jack Hidary is also expected to attract supporters, carries another 200,000 votes.
His other secret weapon to become Mayor is his Spanish speaking bonafides, valuable for addressing New York City’s 850,000 registered Latino voters. Hidary’s grandmother was from Colombia, and he speaks the language fluently — “and we’re not talking ‘Bloomberg Spanish’ here, either,” brother Murray noted, for the record, (which The Algemeiner, also a fluent Spanish speaker, thought was just hilarious, as if the Mayor’s company would want to trademark his infamous gringo accent!)
Humor aside, Jack Hidary is serious business; the guy is a contender. Me parecia honorable, simpatico, serio, de muy buena familia, muy trabajador. As the campaign gets underway, he is about to enter what will probably be the most intense few months, ever, in his shoot-for-the-stars and do it, life. On Wednesday, Jack Hidary begins a race to win the honor and responsibility to run New York City, and possibly become its next Jewish mayor.