New Jersey Jewish News
Kean accuses Menendez of “pandering” to the Jewish community
Republican senatorial candidate Thomas H. Kean is accusing Sen. Robert Menendez of “pandering” for votes in the Jewish community after the Democratic candidate appeared to retract an implied endorsement of Joseph Lieberman.
At a candidates forum Wednesday night at a synagogue in Livingston, sponsored by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, Menendez was read a question submitted by an audience member, asking why he supported Democratic candidate Ned Lamont and not Lieberman in his independent bid for the Connecticut senate seat.
“I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman,” said Menendez, in a statement captured on audiotape by an NJ Jewish News reporter.
Menendez then repeated the assertion: “I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman, so I don’t know where the questioner gets their question. The reality is I am privileged to serve with Joe Lieberman. I think he is a tremendous United States Senator and certainly I supported him when he was running in his primary. So the answer is Joe Lieberman is a great United States Senator and I wish him luck and hope he returns.”
The next day, however, a spokesman for Menendez called a New York Times reporter to clarify the statement.
“What he was meaning to say is that he has enjoyed working with Senator Lieberman and looks forward to serving with him should he be re-elected,” spokesman Matthew Miller said, according to the Times. “But his official endorsement is for Lamont, and he supports the party.”
Kean called a press conference Friday with a news release saying Menendez is “guilty of pandering for votes in North Jersey's Jewish community.”
The Kean release also quotes an Aug. 9 news release from Menendez declaring his support for Lamont. "Joe Lieberman is a good friend and an excellent Senator who has served his country with dignity,” Menendez says in the original release. “He ran a hard-fought campaign, but the voters of Connecticut have spoken and I support their decision. I fully support Ned Lamont's candidacy."
Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the Menendez campaign, told New Jersey Jewish News that Menendez “has endorsed the nominee of his party, and that endorsement stands.”
Miller also sought to clarify Menendez’s remarks at the candidates forum.
“Menendez endorsed Lieberman in the primary over Ned Lamont,” he said. “What he meant the other night was he has great respect for Joe Lieberman. He thinks Lieberman has been a tremendous senator, and should he be reelected he will welcome him back to the Senate.
Miller was asked about Kean’s charge of “pandering.”
“It is absolutely wrong, and what you would expect from a desperate campaign that is sinking in the polls and has a candidate with no record of support in the Jewish community and who was largely unknown in the community until right before the election,” Miller said.
Lamont’s victory in the Democratic primary over Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew known for his firm support for Israel, presented a quandary for some Jewish Democrats. While most Democratic Party officials have endorsed Lamont, and polls say the majority of Jewish voters share Lamont’s opposition to the war in Iraq, some reliably Democratic Jewish donors have contributed to Lieberman’s independent bid.
Kean, who followed Menendez at the candidates forum, also brought up the Lieberman-Lamont campaign, immediately after responding to a question about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We need individuals who are going to reach across the partisan island to get things done,” said Kean. “I anticipate that Joe Lieberman is going to win the general election. Joe Lieberman is exactly the type of individual on issues like homeland security and creating opportunity that we can work across the aisle to find the proper solutions to the issues facing us. I support Joe Lieberman for the United States Senate in Connecticut. I think he is the right individual to be a leader, and I look forward to serving with Joe Lieberman.”
After scattered applause, Kean added: “And by the way, to close out, my opponent supports Ned Lamont, by the way.”
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