BOROUGH PARK — Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind defended dressing up as a black basketball player for a Purim party at his house Sunday night, complete with an afro and blackface, after an onslaught of criticism from fellow officials and the Anti-Defamation League.
The Orthodox Jewish Assemblyman said he hadn't intended to offend anyone and blamed political correctness for the hubbub after he donned the costume to celebrate the Jewish holiday, which was first reported by the Observer's Politicker blog.
"No one thought that the black part of my disguise was racial in the sense of, 'Boy that is funny.' Nobody thought that until the media and some people made a big deal out of it," Hikind said at a hastily called press conference outside of his home in Brooklyn Monday.
"Never for a split second did i think to myself, 'Oh my God, somebody’s going to think this is not sensitive,'" he said. "It never crossed my mind."
An unapologetic Hikind said that, despite the outcry, he had no intention of apologizing.
"I’m not here to bow down and say, 'Oh my God I have sinned, please forgive me,'" he said. "I’m not doing that... We have to learn to smile and not take things to heart so much."
Hikind's costume decision was slammed by a slew of Jewish and black politicians, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which questioned Hikind's judgment.
"Assemblyman Dov Hikind showed terrible judgment in attending a Purim party in blackface. If blacks got dressed up as Hasidim, it would be seen as equally inappropriate," said Abraham Foxman, the group's national director, in a statement.
He said that there are "many myriad costumes available to Jewish kids and adults during Purim," but that blackface should never be among them.
"This is especially true for a politician living in an environment where ridicule and prejudice of African-Americans has a long and sad history," he said. "Public displays of racism are offensive, particularly when the perpetrators are elected officials, who should be role models and have the public trust."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Speaker described Hikind's actions as "inappropriate and offensive."
Brooklyn City Councilman David Greenfield said that he "should've known better."
"I strongly condemn Assemblyman Hikind's tasteless attempt at humor and suggest my opponents stop begging for his endorsement," Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese said in a statement.
"In a city as diverse as New York, there's no place for this kind of behavior, especially from an elected official. Given the history of black face, Dov should know better," he said.
Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron, who has frequently traded barbs with Hikind, went farther, telling the Daily News the costume was "racist" and describing Hikind's response as “a bunch of crap."
“If he wanted to find somebody who [looked] strange, wild and crazy, he should look in the mirror. He didn’t have to pick on us," he told the paper.
The ADL had previously come to the defense of controversial fashion designer John Galliano, who has made anti-semitic comments and drew jeers when he headed to Fashion Week earlier this month dressed as a Hasidic Jew, replete with a long coat, homburg-style hat and what appear to be peyos — long sidelocks grown to demonstrate faith.
Hikind had been less forgiving.
"If it was just anyone else, I wouldn't know what to say. But considering who this guy is, considering his background and what he’s said in the past, let him explain it to all of us: Are you mocking us?” he asked at the time, according to The Post.
But Hikind defended his own costume Monday, calling the mounting criticism "absurd."
"It's Purim! People dress up!" the assemblyman tweeted and wrote in a statement posted on his website.
"Yes, I wore a costume on Purim and hosted a party. Most of the people who attended also wore costumes. Everywhere that Purim was being celebrated, people wore costumes," he wrote.
"I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim — or for that matter understands me — would have a problem with this. This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body."
At the press conference, he explained that every year, he hires a makeup artist to do the family's makeup and this year, he decided to dress as a black basketball player, a look that included sunglasses and an orange jersey.
"I told her...I said, 'Look, I'm going to be wearing this and this — this year, I want to be black,'" he said. "The goal was not to be recognizable."
He told a WCBS 880 reporter that it “never crossed my mind for a second” that the costume might be offensive.
"If I was black, on Purim I would have made my face look like I was white," he said.