A Campaign Trail Lined With Words Friendly to Each Audience

3:31 p.m. | Updated The Democratic mayoral candidates gathered in Midwood, Brooklyn, Tuesday night for a debate sponsored by the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, in which most remarks hewed to a single informal commandment: Say nothing that might conceivably discomfort your audience.

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Michael Powell on government and politics.

An unsafe circumcision practice? The use of public money to buy textbooks for Orthodox yeshivas and to repair churches and synagogues in Hurricane Sandy-affected neighborhoods?

Defend a jailed spy? Reinstate a public child care voucher program that overwhelmingly benefited Orthodox Jewish parents?

All good!

Anthony D. Weiner, our reality show entrant in the mayoral sweepstakes, was asked about Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to regulate the practice of metzitzah b’peh, in which a mohel, after circumcising a baby, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it.

The city’s health department found that since 2000, 12 babies circumcised in this fashion contracted herpes and 2 died. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed the practice “not safe.” And in 2005, the leader of leading rabbinical council for Conservative Jews endorsed regulation of the practice.

Whatever. Mr. Weiner represented this neighborhood in Congress and has an internal divining rod on questions of politics. Presumably, no one knows better what his audience wants to hear.

“I believe that there is a liberal elitist condescension when it comes to the religious community,” Mr. Weiner said. “This is thousands of years of tradition.”

Comptroller John Liu chimed in. “I say, let’s leave it to the rabbis. Let’s not have city government interfere with something that has worked for thousands of year.”

All of this is historically true. As is this: For thousands of years it was considered religious good form for widows to throw themselves on funeral pyres in India, and so-called female circumcision is still practiced in many parts of the world. And by no means do all Orthodox Jewish families opt for that circumcision practice.

History, we might agree, is a strange mistress.

Mayoral debates often devolve into pander fests. Debates sponsored by organized labor rarely feature candidates talking vigorously of the inconvenient fact that the city almost certainly cannot afford retroactive pay raises for city workers — an issue of great importance to labor as every contract in the city has long since expired. Challenge tenure at a debate sponsored by the union that represents teachers? Maybe tomorrow.

At a debate on public housing, every candidate present agreed that the city should assume the $100 million cost of police and sanitation for the projects. This is salutary, but prompts the question of how to pay for it. On the Upper East Side, most of the candidates agree that a garbage transfer station there is not such a great idea.

It was nonetheless impressive to watch the yoga-like contortions on Tuesday night.

There were a few exceptions. Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, supported the policy imposed by the Bloomberg administration to require parental consent forms for the circumcision practice. She also said she would not promise to use public money to buy textbooks for yeshivas. Nor would she push to use federal money to help synagogues and churches rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And she spoke out on gay rights.

Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, mumbled a can’t-we-all-get-along sentence or two on circumcision, urging the city to sit down with community leaders. Which again prompts the question: And then what?

Mr. de Blasio seemed to be in favor of spending public money to buy textbooks for yeshivas.

Every candidate favored reinstating vouchers for after-school child care, which the mayor wiped out a few years back. That 12-year-old, $16 million program theoretically had been open to needy families of all creeds for use at schools and day care centers. But from the start, it was tailored for Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Borough Park and Williamsburg.

As my colleague Julie Bosman pointed out a few years ago, of the nearly 100 after-school programs, an overwhelming majority were run out of yeshivas in Brooklyn. (A handful were in secular day care centers in the Bronx and Manhattan.)

Orthodox leaders have argued that their families often get by on one income, since mothers typically stay home and care for the children. And most pay private-school tuition, since they send their children to yeshivas.

All of which is no doubt true, and also a religious and lifestyle decision. We might have expected a nuanced discussion on Tuesday night. Or not.

“Those vouchers were lost at a certain point,” said former City Comptroller William Thompson. “We need to fix it and bring them back.”

Yes, said Ms. Quinn. Me, too, said Mr. de Blasio. That’s true, said Mr. Weiner. Right-o, said another Democratic candidate, the Rev. Erik Salgado.

The evening ended as Mr. Weiner, without being asked, noted his support for Jonathan Pollard, who worked in Naval Intelligence and was convicted of passing classified information to Israel, and for the owner of a kosher factory who was convicted of hiring underage workers, not to mention bank fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

And then there was the question of Israel. “When I had the opportunity to stand up for Eretz Israel I did, at the top of my lungs,” Mr. Weiner said. This term is usually taken to mean that Israel extends to the borders with Jordan, meaning no Palestinian state.

Mr. Weiner ended by saying that he could not “promise you that milk and honey will flow through the streets of Flatbush.”

Given the spirit of this evening, that registered as a disappointment.

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On the Subway, Dioramas of Manhattan Life

Dear Diary:

Hurricane Sandy left the new South Ferry subway station in ruins. With a timetable of years before it’s back in operation, the M.T.A. had the wherewithal to reopen the old South Ferry, where approaching No. 1 trains scream as they tentatively round the bend, so that those waiting instinctively reach for their ears. Indicative of its antiquated design, the platform accommodates only the train’s first five cars. Station by station, riders move up one car to the next, while the train heads downtown — a bygone ritual revisited.

On a recent Saturday night, on my way home from work, I hurried down into the Times Square station at 12:05 a.m., just as the No. 1 train arrived. Boarding at the rear, I jumped from car to car, dropping in on a series of dioramas of life in Manhattan.

The various scenes included: Two model types, discussing a gig that paid $700. A reveler sleeping it off, tilting toward the tourist a seat away, and snapping out of it just short of resting his head on his shoulder — again and again. A minstrel, acoustic guitar on lap, who spontaneously burst into song. College girls sitting opposite one another, one anonymous inside her hoodie, the other, feet up on the pole, exhibiting her knee-high boots, both furiously texting. Two people asking directions to the World Trade Center, while the sports fan they engaged mistakenly directed them to the Barclays Center, until a woman intervened.

And, finally, a group whose tense expressions bore the anxiety of arriving at South Ferry in time to make the 12:30 boat.


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Long Ago, a Pilot Landed on an Uptown Street. That’s Where the Bar Was.

Surprise airplane landings always make headlines. Who will forget Capt. Chesley Sullenberger steering a US Airways jetliner onto the Hudson River in 2009? Then there was a Long Island man who touched down on Rockaway Beach in 2011 and, more recently, a stunt pilot who coasted down safely onto a Suffolk County road.

But the remarkable drunken landings of Tommy Fitz have all but slipped into oblivion. The pilot, Thomas Fitzpatrick, turned a barroom bet into a feat of aeronautic wonder by stealing a plane from a New Jersey airport and landing it on St. Nicholas Avenue in northern Manhattan, in front of the bar where he had been drinking.

As if that were not stupefying enough, the man did nearly the exact same thing two years later. Both landings were pulled off in incredibly narrow landing areas, in the dark – and after a night of drinking in Washington Heights taverns and with a well-lubricated pilot at the controls. Both times ended with Mr. Fitzpatrick charged with wrongdoing.

The first of his flights was around 3 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1956, when Mr. Fitzpatrick, then 26, took a single-engine plane from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey and took off without lights or radio contact and landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street.

The New York Times called it a “fine landing” and reported that it had been widely called “a feat of aeronautics.”

The second flight was on Oct. 4, 1958, just before 1 a.m.

Again he took a plane from Teterboro and this time landed on Amsterdam and 187th Street in front of a Yeshiva University building after having “come down like a marauder from the skies,” in the words of Ruben Levy, the magistrate at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s ensuing arraignment. Newspapers reported that Mr. Fitzpatrick jumped out of the landed plane wearing a gray suit and fled, but later turned himself in.

Mr. Fitzpatrick told the police that he had pulled off the second flight after a bar patron refused to believe he had done the first one.

That first flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick admitted, was the result of a barroom bet, according to articles in The New York Times. (He died in 2009 at age 79.)

“The story goes, he had made a bet with someone in the bar that he could be back in the Heights from New Jersey in 15 minutes,” said Jim Clarke, 68, who had lived near the first landing spot and recalls seeing the plane in the street.

“Supposedly, he planned on landing on the field at George Washington High School but it wasn’t lit up at night, so he had to land on St. Nicholas instead,” said Mr. Clarke, who now lives in Chatham, N.J.

After the first flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick was arraigned on grand larceny charges, which were dropped after the plane’s owner declined to sign a complaint. He was also charged with violating the city’s administrative code, which prohibits landing a plane on the street. Mr. Fitzpatrick was only fined $100.

But after the second landing, a judge, John A. Mullen, sentenced him to six months in jail for bringing a stolen item into the city. The judge told him, “Had you been properly jolted then, it’s possible this would not have occurred a second time.”

Sam Garcia, 68, who as a child saw the plane resting on 191st Street, said, “If it happened today, they would call him a terrorist, and locked him up and thrown away the key.”

Mr. Garcia, who now lives in Puerto Rico, said, “I thought maybe they had trucked it in, as a practical joke, because there was no way a man had landed in that narrow street.”

After the second flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick told the police that he had held a pilot’s license but that it had been suspended after the first flight and he had never renewed it because “I did not want to fly again.”

A Washington Heights native, Mr. Fitzpatrick was living in New Jersey at the time of the flights, but still hung around with friends who were regulars in the bars, recalled Fred Hartling, 76, who remembered Mr. Fitzpatrick from the neighborhood.

Mr. Fitzpatrick was a good friend of Mr. Hartling’s older brother Pat, Mr. Hartling said.

Mr. Fitzpatrick was a charismatic, adventurous type who would “butter up my mother” to let him sleep over at the Hartlings’ apartment or convince her to let Pat go out to the bars, he said.

“Tommy had a crazy side,” he said. “The whole group of them, my brother’s friends, were a wild bunch.”

According to an obituary about Mr. Fitzpatrick published in a New Jersey newspaper, he was a Marine during the Korean War and received a Purple Heart. He worked as a steamfitter for 51 years, it said, had three sons and lived in Washington Township, N.J. He remained married for 51 years to his wife, Helen, who, when contacted recently, hung up on a reporter who asked about the flights.

Mr. Hartling, now a retired logistics engineer living in Charlottesville, Va., said Mr. Fitzpatrick “pulled off a miracle” by landing the plane.

It “landed on a street with lampposts and cars parked on both sides,” he said. “It was a wonder – you had to be a great flier to put that thing down so close to everything.’’


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated in some references the surname of the pilot who twice landed stolen planes on New York streets. He is Thomas Fitzpatrick, not Fitzgerald.

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