CROWN HEIGHTS — For Menachem Raitport, known as Mendy to friends, being the underdog is nothing new.
The longtime Crown Heights resident, Shomrim patrol volunteer, father of eight and local butcher has run for state office twice before on the Republican and Conservative party lines in the heart of Democratic Brooklyn. Both times, he never came close to winning, garnering about 6 percent of the vote in the race for the 20th Senate District last fall and just over 7 percent in 2010 for the 43rd Assembly District, according to records.
But now, in his second try for the 43rd seat and third state-level race, he’s running with no challenger on the Democratic line. Due to a filing error last month, the three Democrats vying for the seat vacated by Karim Camara this spring were forced to run on third party lines.
“In a way, it gives me a better chance,” Raitport said of the ballot mix-up in an interview with DNAinfo New York from his Kingston Avenue butcher shop, Crown Kosher Meat Market, the day before Passover.
In between filling orders for whole turkeys and split chickens, Raitport shared his views on bike lanes, subsidized housing, taxes and what “Republican” really means — and why voters should choose him in the special election for the district’s Assembly seat, set for May 5.
The 43rd Assembly District covers southern Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and parts of East Flatbush.
DNAinfo: If you win, what do you hope to bring to Albany as an assemblyman?
Raitport: “First of all, it’s not a matter of what I bring to Albany. It’s what I can bring back to the people of this community. When I say ‘this community,’ that means the entire 43rd district, because we’re one people here. When people say, ‘oh, race’ … color is only skin deep. A person is defined by their actions, what they make of themselves.”
“Too many times people come in and say ‘Oh, we’re going to help the neighborhood, we’re going to help the neighborhood’ and they forget. They know that when I go to do something, I stay with what I’m doing.”
What are your priorities for the 43rd District?
“I want this place to survive, I want this community to survive, I want this neighborhood to survive, I want New York to survive. It’s dying. Most jobs are moving out of New York. I would like to start classes, job training, real life training. What causes most kids to go to crime? Lack of self-respect, looking for an easy buck. And for someone who has a nice job, a normal job and they take pride in what they’re doing — then they don’t go to crime, they don’t go to drugs because they’re busy being proud of what they’re doing.”
“I want to bring back for this neighborhood, for this city, pride. Pride to be an American. That’s something we lost and the only way to do it is to start it here.”
On increased development and the need for housing:
“You want to put up buildings? No problem. Half of it has to be preserved for lower- and middle-income housing and you want to put the penthouse for luxury — fine. But don’t forget the little people.”
“Another very important factor: they must build underground parking for every single apartment … I’ve spent too many hours and too much gas just driving around looking for a parking space.”
“There has to be subsidized housing. There’s nothing to talk about. The little people can’t be pushed out.”
On neighborhood transportation:
“First thing we need to do is have the ability to drive. They put bus lanes [and] forget about cars. Cars can’t drive, you get a ticket. They put bike lanes, forget about driving … It used to take me, from Crown Heights to Boro Park, 15 minutes to go. Now, if I get there in 45 minutes, I’m happy because of the bus lanes, the bicycle lanes. Last time I checked, the people who drive cars are the ones paying taxes to fix the roads, not the bicyclists. I have nothing wrong with bicyclists, [but] there’s a park for that. You want to share the road with the car, no problem. Don’t destroy the whole street for a bicycle lane.”
On what ‘Republican’ really means:
“People have a misconception. They say ‘Oh, you’re a Republican, you’re conservative, that means you’re going to cut food stamps, you’re going to cut subsidized housing, you’re going to cut this.’ That’s wrong. America has to help those who cannot help themselves. That’s what this country was built on, that’s what makes it great. The thing I don’t like is fraud and I don’t like people cheating and I don’t like people taking advantage.”
“I believe very strongly in helping the downtrodden.”