Advocates of the controversial Education Investment Tax Credit have launched a political action committee called “Defeat Bichotte PAC” targeting Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte over her opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax credit proposal—and over recent remarks she made about the Orthodox Jewish community.
Using the website DefeatBichotte.com and the Twitter handle @DefeatBichotte, the PAC requests donations in the amount of $25, $100, $500 or $1,000 in order to “ensure the defeat of Rep. [sic] Rodneyse Bichotte,” who was elected to the Assembly last year. It specifically attacks her for her opposition to the EITC, which would incentivize donations to private and public schools—and enjoys strong support from Mr. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and from religious educational institutions.
“This legislation is crucial to Jewish and Catholic families of New York. The bill also would provide important support for arts, music, after school, and tutoring in public schools,” the site reads.
Teachers unions and public school advocates have claimed the EITC is a backdoor voucher program that would deprive the state of considerable revenue.
Ms. Bichotte is of Haitian descent, and her district is heavily Caribbean American, though it has a sizeable Orthodox Jewish community. Her predecessor, Rhoda Jacobs, was a Jewish woman who represented the area for more than 30 years before retiring in 2014.
Ms. Bichotte attracted ire after she criticized elements of the Jewish community in a radio interview for pressuring her to support the bill, which Ms. Jacobs opposed, as did Jewish former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The DefeatBichotte.com site quotes from the interview at length.
“And it’s not like the majority of Jews in the district have voted for me or supported me. Okay! Why should I listen to people who are not even going to support me, why should I listen to people who didn’t put the same standard on a Jewish woman and a Jewish man, and putting a different standard on a black woman,” the site quotes Ms. Bichotte.
Ms. Bichotte publicly apologized for her remarks earlier this week, and told the Observer her comments were taken out of context. She added that she supports a tax credit for religious schools, but not as framed in the governor’s proposal, which has passed the State Senate.
There is no evidence on the site or the Twitter account as to who precisely is behind the PAC, though the treasurer is listed as a Michelle Enriquez-Zamora, described as “a Brooklyn native, who does community outreach to Christian youth in New York City.”
The assemblywoman told the Observer she believes that residents of the Rockland County town of East Ramapo are the real architects of the PAC. Ms. Bichotte has supported a bill that would appoint a monitor to regulate the activity of the town’s Orthodox Jewish-controlled school board, which has diverted resources away from the mostly black and Hispanic public school system into private yeshivas.
Defenders of the board have blamed the situation on formulas that limit state aid to the district due to the relatively low numbers of students enrolled in public schools, despite legal mandates that the district pay for textbooks and transportation at private learning institutions.
“It’s a small group,” Ms. Bichotte said, adding that she believes that the PAC has no real foothold in her district, and will ultimately harm the EITC’s cause. “Scare tactics are not going to help, they are just going to divide. And it’s going to push some people who are in support of some parts of the bill away.”
Brooklyn State Senator Martin Golden, a Catholic Republican supporter of the EITC, said in an interview on the “Jewish View” television show that supporters of the tax credit should pursue “the nuclear option” of removing legislators who vote against it.