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City Councilwoman-Elect Laurie Cumbo Apologizes for 'Knockout' Comments

By Colby Hamilton | December 10, 2013 12:41pm | Updated on December 10, 2013 12:51pm
 Laurie Cumbo was elected to the City Council representing Crown Heights.
Laurie Cumbo was elected to the City Council representing Crown Heights.
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Facebook/Laurie Cumbo

FORT GREENE — Councilwoman-elect Laurie Cumbo sent out a statement on Tuesday apologizing for comments she made last week in which she said a string of alleged "knockout" attacks in Crown Heights were partially the result of strained relations between blacks and Jews.

“I sincerely apologize to all of my constituents for any pain that I have caused by what I wrote. It was the opposite of my intention,” Cumbo said in an email sent to supporters Tuesday morning. “I understand now that my words did not convey what was in my heart, which is a profound desire to bring our diverse communities closer together.”

Cumbo said she met with Jewish community leaders after her comments, written in a Dec. 3 letter that was emailed to her supporters and posted to her Facebook page, sparked outrage in both the Jewish and African-American communities.

In the letter, Cumbo said her black constituents had told her they felt threatened by the Jewish community's growth in Crown Heights — and she said that tension could have contributed to several recent attacks on Jewish Brooklyn residents, which police said they are investigating as potential anti-Semitic hate crimes.

"Many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes," Cumbo wrote in the 1,200-word letter.

"I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains. While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success."

The Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday that her remarks "evoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes."

"We welcome Ms. Cumbo's apology," said Evan R. Bernstein, ADL regional director. "We are encouraged by her desire to build bridges in the community and to work to promote positive relations between all backgrounds in her council district."

Chanina Sperlin, an influential rabbi in Crown Heights who stood at Cumbo's side late last month in a community discussion that she cited in her letter, said Tuesday that he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody is human,” Sperlin said by phone. He previously said that he disagreed strongly with Cumbo's comments.

Cumbo’s soon-to-be colleague, Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield, said she had reached out to him in the past week to express how sorry she was about her earlier statements.

“In her campaign, she showed a genuine interest in working with all of the communities she represents, including the Jewish community,” Greenfield said. “I believe Laurie has the potential to be a great council member and I look forward to working with her to bridge the gap between the communities in her district.”

In her apology, Cumbo said her intentions in writing the letter had been to “build bridges and bring people together” — but was sorry that it did the opposite.

“My intent was to stimulate dialogue on an important issue, but in repeating stereotypes, part of what I wrote emphasized the divisions between people, instead of bringing them together,” she wrote.

Cumbo posted her letter a week after making similar comments to the newspaper Jewish Week in a story published on Nov. 26.