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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Capitol Hill News

Election Day 2011 was over and done with when a direct-mail piece, which appeared to come from an elected official, landed this month in the Barry household’s mailbox. It was addressed to our family’s one registered Democrat.

With Mrs. Barry’s permission, I often review the correspondence Democrats send to Democrats. This mailer was issued and paid for by Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D-Roslyn) campaign committee, and it was well done. But I believe the piece was prepared with an eye toward the upcoming Congressional redistricting fight, rather than Election Day 2012. I’ll have more on that later.

Rep. Ackerman, who represents New York’s 5th Congressional District (CD), which covers northwestern Nassau and northeastern Queens, built the pamphlet around a Nov. 3 article in The Hill.  The story’s headline read: “Ackerman on his rescue mission: If this ain’t official business…what is?” The 1,200-plus word article detailed Rep. Ackerman’s efforts to secure the release of Ilan Grapel, a 28-year-old American-Israeli citizen who was jailed in Egypt this summer, with Egypt having arrested Grapel “amid allegations of inciting civil unrest” in Egypt, the article stated.  Moreover, Grapel had once interned in Rep. Ackerman’s office, and his mother. Irene Grapel, resides in New York’s 5th CD.

Rep. Ackerman’s advisors correctly surmised the mailer’s headline, and its two photos, might be read. The images are golden. An exuberant Grapel greeting Rep. Ackerman on the tarmac immediately after his release from prison is one of them.  The other is even better for a congressman wanting to highlight his close ties to the Israeli government: The picture depicts Rep. Ackerman seated around a table with Grapel, Grapel’s mother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.

I asked Rep. Ackerman’s office to comment on the mailing and they quickly responded with the following statement:

“This was a mailing highlighting one of the congressman’s many achievements. It was mailed and paid for by the campaign committee (as indicated), and not at taxpayer’s expense. In the reprint from a congressional newspaper, The Hill, constituents got to see how a Washington insiders’ newspaper gave unique focus to this very successful high profile mission.”

Fair enough.  But let me offer another reason Rep. Ackerman’s campaign took this step almost a year before Election Day 2012. The state Legislature, consisting of a Democrat-controlled Assembly and a GOP-majority Senate, must reduce to 27 from 29 the total number of U.S. House seats statewide in 2012 because of the 2010 U.S. Census results. New York’s population grew over the past decade, although not as much as in other states.  One of the House seats slated for extinction will likely be from upstate, and the other from downstate.

The conventional wisdom held that former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Queens/ Brooklyn CD would be eliminated in 2012.  Yet when Rep. Bob Turner (R-Rockaway Point) scored an upset victory this fall in the 9th CD amid charges the Obama administration’s policies were insufficiently pro-Israel, that scenario changed. The bottom line: Albany could draw a new downstate Congressional map forcing a Turner-Ackerman face-off. Given the outcome of 2011’s special election in New York’s 9th CD, Rep. Ackerman decided to make a pre-emptive strike.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: