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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 30, 2012 On Capitol Hill, Ackerman served it]00L sharp wit, stubborn candor By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- When Rep. Gary Ackerman decided to retire, he did it in the same manner that he served in Congress for the past three decades: on his own terms. The veteran New York Dem- ocrat had insisted for weeks that he would run again, so the announcement of his retire- ment came as quite a surprise. Redistricting had left him with a viable district--albeit one that shifted his current district straddling the Queens- Nassau County border deeper into Queens--and until right before his announcement he was determined to maintain an open Democratic primary field. His office's statement an- nouncing his retirement seemed to suggest that the reason he didn't bow out sooner was that he wanted to prove he was not leaving scared. "On the eve of the Fed- eral Circuit Court's approval of Congressional district lines that were seen to be extraordi- narily favorable to Ackerman, and with the primary-free backing of the Democratic Party virtually assured, Acker- man has informed his family, staff, friends and party leaders that he will not seeka 16th term of office," "said the statement from his office on March 16, a day before the court published its approval. His closest colleagues were taken by surprise. "I had just spoken to him last week about the new districts, about the machinations," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told JTA. "He was sounding like a can- didate for re-election." Walking out proud was im- portant forAckerman who, as- sociates say, had beea spooked by a major fundraising push against him in the 2010 elec- tions, after he had accepted the endorsement of J Street, the liberal pro:Israel group. Ackerman handily won that race with 63 percent of the vote, but he told associates that the amount he spent to push back against charges he was weak on Israel was many times the $20,000 he received from J Street. In January 2011, Ackerman cut offJ Street when the group said it could not oppose a pro- posed U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for its settle- ment policy. "The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the U.N. Se- curity Councilis not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help,"he said in a statement severing ties with J Street. "It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open- minded aboutwhat constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out." In fact, J Street had not en- dorsed the resolution, but had explained why itwas not taking a positio n. But Ackerman's characteristically sharp turn of phrase garnered more atten- tion than the missed nuance. Ackerman in a conference call with reporters March 20 said the pushback for his associatie with J Street did not unsettle him and that his excoriation of the group was a product of his own tendency to dress down friends. He said he still liked the group. "I took them rather severely to task--they had made a huge mistake. Friends do not let friends drive drunk, but that does not mean you don't like them," he said, borrowing an analogy that J Street's leaders have used to defend their own criticisms of Israeli policies. Ackerman first entered the public eye in 1969 when the then-teacher sued the Board of Education forpaternityleave-- the first father to do so. He then dabbled in newspapering for a while, and in 1979 ran for the NewYorkstate Senate. in 1983 he won a special election and launched his congressional career. He was a dapper presence, sporting awhite carnation and wearing light-colored suits--a standout in Congress' sea of navy blues and blacks. His annual springtime fundrais- ers in Washington, catered by a Queens di, were held in rooftops and gardens to live klezmer accompaniment within viewing distance of the Capitol. Ackerman did not ignore his constituents. He mustered all his influence as a senior Democrat on the House For- U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), right, greets llan Grapel, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who had been a former Ackerman intern, on Oct. 27, 2011, following the latter's release from imprisonment in Egypt. eign Affairs Committee to free Ilan Grapel, a former intern in his office whose parents live in his district, after the dual U.S.-Israeli citizen was held in Egypt as a spy in the wake of the chaos following last year's revolution. Ackerman traveled to Israel to greet the freed Gra- pel and accompanied him back home to New York. Ackerman held seats on the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees, but his influence was probably most felt on the latter, where he ascended to senior Democrat on its Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, chairing it from 2007 to 2011. It was during those years that Ackerman departed from Washington conventions that blamed the Palestinians pri- marily for the breakdown of the Middle East peace process. He repeatedly wondered aloud whether the Bush administra- tion and by extension Israel had done enough to bolster Mahmoud Abbas after he be- came the PalestinianAuthority prime minister in 2003 and soughtsupport in his turf battle with Yasser Arafat. At first, Ackerman's criti- cisms of Israel were delivered gingerly--an unapologetic partisan, he was happier blaming President George W. Bush for the Palestinian- Israeli impasse than the parties themselves. But eventually he grew bolder, raising eyebrows in 2009 when he said that Pai- estinian terrorists and Israeli hardliners were not equivalent "but they are all part of the same destructive fabric." At the hearing he convened in February of that year, he de- scribed "downward pressure" that "comes from terrorism and the march of settlements. It comes from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms. It comes in daily images of destruction and the constant reiteration 'that they only understand the language of force.'" Ackerman said on March 20 that he was most touched by a comment by an Israeli in the wake of his retirementmthat he had"broken hearts" in Israel with his announcement. Regarding his criticism of Israel, the veteran lawmaker repeated what he had said about J Street: Friendship is meaningless without honesty. "If one goes into this busi- ness, you can't go along to get along, you have to call the shots as you see them," Ackerman said. "Otherwise you're not necessary. Sometimes it pains friends to hear that." His willingness to depart from pro-Israel conventions and his position as the Middle East subcommittee chairman placed him, in 2007, in a posi- tion to make history. Ackerman led an effort t9 ask the Bush administration to increase assistance to the Palestin- ians from the increments of $20 million they occasionally received in U.S. assistance to $400 million a year. Condolee.zza Rice, then the PAGE 23A Office of Gary Ackerman Gary Ackerman, who recently announced he would not run again for Congress, meets in 2010 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. secretary of state, had solicited the request, recognizing that she needed congressional back- ing. Ackerman's role was none- theless critical. The American Israel PublicAffairs Committee backed the hike, in part because the request came froma Jewish pro-Israel leader on the Hill: AIPAC's support for the added money for the Palestinians lost the lobby the support of one of its major benefactors, the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Testimonials to Ackerman came in from congressional leaders and from President Obama. "He was a leader in the fight to pass Wall Street reform and helped strengthen the bonds between the United States and our allies, particularly Israel;" Obama said in a statement. "Gary's unique enthusiasmwill be greatly missed in the hails of Congress, but I am confident he will continue to serve the people of New York for years to come." The Wall Street crisis engen- dered a popular YouTube mo- ment for Ackerman. In 2009, he lambasted the Securities and Exchange Commission officials who had failed to detect the fraud that helped unravel the U.S. economy. "Your value to us is use- less," he said at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee. "Your value to the American people is worthless. Your contribution to this pro- ceeding is zero." Nobody was spared Acker- man's anger if he thought they deserved it. He never me t an Egyptian official with- out excoriating the officially sanctioned anti-Semitism in what had been that country's state-controlled media under longtime President Hosni Mubarak. The unwillingness to abide evasiveness wag a product of his Queensworking-class Jewish upbringing, said Engel, who shared a similar background in the Bronx. "Gary never forgot his roots," Engel said. "He didn't grow up in privilege." Three Democratic elected officials already have an- nounced that they will run for the now-open Queens congressional seat: City Coun- cilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Assemblywoman Grace Meng. More candidates may still enter the race. Lancman, who is Jewish and had considered running for the seat, hadvisitedwithAckerman only a few hours before his re- tirement to promise he would not challenge tiim. Meng has garnered the support of the Queens Democratic Party and could benefit from the district's large Asian population. Asked if he would en- dorse an Asian candidate, Ackerman--who had earlier recalled his mother's pride in his election--said he was not going to endorse anyone at this stage but added, "It's important for a community to have its heroes." The Eulogizer: Co-founder of Astroland, , 00Isketball coach, U.S. Holocaustmuseum !cI00er By Alan D. Abbey JERUSALEM (JTA)--The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Jerome Albert, 74, co- founder of Coney Island's Astroland Jerome Albert, who devel- oped and operated Astroland in Brooklyn's Coney Island amusement park with his father in the mid-1960s, died March 15 at 74 in New York. Astroland, developed in the optimistic early days of space exploration and the 1963-'64 New York World's Fair, included rides such as the John Glenn Sky Ride, named for the first American to orbit the earth (it had blue space capsules); Astroland Rocket, which used film of space flight to simulate a trip to the moon; and Deep Sea Diving Bells, which were submerged into a water tank that held dolphins. Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, described Astroland as "the salvation of Coney Is- land" in his 2011 book "Coney Island and Astroland." "Astroland became the anchor for Coney Island, the glue that held it together while many businesses gave up," he wrote. The park, which charg(d no admission fee, also sponsored air "shows, parachute-team jumps, concerts and fire- works. Albert and his father, Dewey, took over and restored Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster, a classic wooden coaster that is now a New York City landmark. In 2006, Albert's wife sold the property to a developer, but he failed and Astroland was closed. Albert, a Brooklyn native, received the Mayor's Human- itarian Award from Rudolph Giuliani for his charitable and community work. Marty Biegel, 90, Los An- geles basketball coach Marty Biegel, a Los Angeles high school basketball coach whose work at a changing school during a time of racial tension was lauded for unit- ing players and students, died March 13 at 90. Biegel, who taught history in Los Angeles schools for three decades, took over the basketball team at Fairfax High in 1969 when it was "a mostly white, Jewish school near Hollywood that was strong in academics, not sports," the Los Ange- les Times wrote. African Americans from surround- ing neighborhoods attended the school when the school district boundaries were redrawn. "In the gym, the Orthodox Jewish coach would gaze heavenward as he celebrated his new African-American athletes, players who could go to the basket with either hand and leap high above the rim," the Los Angeles Times wrote. "We're winners! We can take anyb0dy!" he said in 2008. The team's victories "became a unifying symbol of change," the paper said. Famed UCLA coach John Wooden said in 2008 that Biegel "knew you don't win games just with talent. You have to bring people together." Morris Julius Biegel, a New York City native, attended the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship and served in the Marine Corps during World War II. He. graduated from Hunter Col- lege in New York in 1951 and moved to California in 1955. Biegel later officiated col- lege and NBA games. He was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. Albert Abramson, 94, U.S. Holocaust museum backer Developer Albert Abramson, who helped bring about the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, died March 6 at 94. Abramon, a major Wash- ington-area commercial real estate developer, "joined the drive to create an American memorial to the Holocaust in the mid-1980s, when the ven- ture was seen to be stalling. "The aging and deaths of survivors of Hitler's hor- ror created a special sense of urgency," The New York Times said. Michael Berenbaum, the museum's former project director, said in a Washing- ton Jewish Week article that Abramson had "complained that the museum's leaders had so far produced only 'talk, talk, talk.' " Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.