The debate over who should lead the 46th City Council District has reached the Internet, but not in a way that anyone would have thought.
Although they have yet to hold a public debate, City Councilmember Lew Fidler and Republican challenger Gene Berardelli have been hashing out their differences and trading barbs in web postings sparked by TheFidler.com, a disparaging website dedicated to the incumbent, filled with allegations of misconduct, silly mocked-up photos of Fidler, as well as a “Whack a Lew” game, where you get to punch, kick, tazer and take a bat to the two-term legislator.
Is this what political debate has descended to?
Members of the Berardelli campaign think so, claiming that the TheFidler.com “presents another side to an argument.”
“I hope that those who log on see that there’s more to Councilman Fidler than what he says,” explained Berardelli, a Republican who hopes to unseat Fidler in next month’s general election. The mostly Democratic 46th District covers a wide swath of southern Brooklyn, including Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Canarsie. “I’m looking to present two sides of an argument and get rid of the spin.”
Berardelli, who freely admits that the website is “satirical, snarky and filled with crass humor,” said that all of the articles found there are cited and that Fidler had responded to them when they were first written. The articles include allegations that the councilman funds “one of the city’s largest non-profit patronage operations in the city” and that “he helped facilitate the sub prime mortgage meltdown” during his work as a real-estate lawyer.
But probably the most surprising allegation on the site -- the one that prompted a cyberspace response by Fidler himself -- was that how Fidler was allegedly in the pocket of a Marine Park Jewish Political Action Committee, who the website claims wants to “change the face of Marine Park” -- a statement that Fidler and others say is anti-Semitic.
“We all know and accept that over time, communities change. But, not every neighborhood is being forced to accept change forced by a political action committee advocating one community group over another,” read the post, which was written by TheFidler.com staffers. “We here at TheFidler.com don’t think we’d be comfortable with a group influencing politicians and giving money to support their forced agenda when it comes to a community divided. A real advocate would support both sides and fight for the whole community without prejudice. But Lew took the road more traveled.”
“Frankly, posting the articles without the truth attached to it is utterly irresponsible,” he wrote under the name “Lew From Brooklyn.”
“Disseminating in this manner is almost beneath contempt. I am sure that encouraging someone to ‘whack me’ on line will give some people a silly pleasure, but I doubt that my wife or kids will appreciate it.”
Thus began a back-and-forth between Fidler and Berardelli (writing as “Gene B.”) and supporters for each that amounted to 74 postings on Sheepsheadbites.com at last count.
During the back-and-forth, Fidler asked Berardelli if he had a defense for the Marine Park post “which comes with strong anti-Semitic undertones.”
“Marine Park is a community divided? Says who?” Fidler wrote. “Change the face of Marine Park? How? By running a charitable organization that feeds hungry families?”
“Is it so disgusting to say that there is a division between the Marine Park civic organizations?” Berardelli fired back noting stories from the Jewish Press and Yeshiva World on the subject. “I know many residents in Marine Park have spoken to me and others about divergent agendas in Marine Park. Opinions on zoning being one of them. Is it so disgusting to say that you support that organization and its PAC?”
Since the posting, Berardelli, a resident of Plumb Beach, said that he has shrugged off the anti-Semitic allegations.
“It’s not every day you get called a bigot, but I restrained my anger pretty well,” he said. “[Fidler] is trying to attack the messenger instead of responding to the message and the message is that he chose to side with a special interest group over the community.”
Fidler said that the website and the Marine Park posting was “deliberately insightful” and “quite frankly beneath contempt.”
“[The post] has clear anti-Semitic undertones and every Jewish person who has read it feels the same way,” he said. “Gene says that these articles are opinion pieces and that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions, but that’s not an excuse for posting something that’s beneath the level of dignity for a public debate.”
Fidler said that he will continue to run a “fully positive campaign” as November 3 approaches.
“I’m going to leave the gutter to Berardelli,” he said.