Markowitz issues apology over controversial 2015 email

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Steve Markowitz. (Photo from the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County)
Steve Markowitz. (Photo from the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County)

Steve Markowitz, the chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, has issued an apology for an email sent in 2015 during that year’s Village of Great Neck mayoral race after it resurfaced in the 2019 mayoral contest and led some to believe he is anti-Orthodox.

Markowitz said in a letter Saturday that he had a strong record of friendship with the Orthodox community and did not recall sending a divisive email calling on supporters to tell people the election was about “rightwing Orthodox groups” trying to “take over the village.”

Markowitz said his record could be seen in his service as president of Temple Israel, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and his 10 years as a Zoning Board of Appeals member. Any “hostile public statements attributed to him,” he went on to say, were “absolutely untrue.”

In a previous interview, Markowitz claimed he had not written the email.

“My conscience is clear but, nevertheless, I accept responsibility for the email in question from four years ago and offer my sincere apology to all those offended by it,” Markowitz said Monday. “I hope those who are leading the charge against me will accept my apology and that we will all now focus on ending the divisiveness and bringing our community – Jews and non-Jews – back together.”

In the letter, he also agreed that “the words and sentiment are not acceptable and are divisive.”

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a Jewish activist, had accused Markowitz of “anti-religious animus” during the 2019 Village of Great Neck electoral campaign in an email exchange and wanting to bring a “wedge between the Persians, Orthodox and the Chinese” because the “Democrats are losing Great Neck.”

This email from 2015, with names and email addresses redacted, was forwarded to the Great Neck News on Friday.
This email from 2015, with names and email addresses redacted, was forwarded to the Great Neck News on Friday.

The apology follows the resurfacing of the original 2015 email and two replies, which were forwarded over to the Great Neck News last Friday. One of the respondents suggested they stay away from “hate speech” and “scare tactics” and instead focus on issues.

Preceding that was a screenshot of the email, described by some as “the smoking gun” in late June.

“Markowitz has admitted his error, however reluctantly. Nonetheless, it must be accepted,” Wiesenfeld said via email. “It was important that the record be set straight and it has been. As far as I am concerned, the case is closed.”

Markowitz had thrown his support behind mayoral candidate James Wu, as well as trustee hopefuls Julia Shields and Harold Citron, in a bid to unseat Mayor Pedram Bral and incumbent trustees Annie Mendelson and Steven Hope.

Bral’s team ultimately beat Wu by a more than two-to-one margin on June 18.

Even after the 2019 election, Markowitz faced calls to resign as chairman of the Holocaust memorial center. Wiesenfeld, in an email sent to administrators of the center with a letter from Robert Spitalnick, who once ran for library trustee, alleged Markowitz attacked candidates “based on their religion or ethnicity.”

The 2019 campaign was a divisive one.

One flier tried to suggest “the sad truth behind Wu’s campaign” reflected Asians trying to expel Jewish people from Great Neck,” for example, and a letter supposedly written by “Mandy Lee” alleged a Wu supporter said “We must slap Jews now.” Someone suggested opening crab restaurants, which would be off limits to Jews who observe certain dietary laws.

A woman named Mandy Lee then said someone falsely used her name to submit the letter, which she said had a clear goal of “trying to divide our community by providing false information and persuade voters.”

Local Asian civic groups like the Northshore Asian Civic Association and the Great Neck Chinese Association also condemned the letter. NACA in particular said that such discussions never occurred in Wu’s campaign group.

“We want to make ourselves very clear: The racial remarks are repulsive and fabricated with distorted details,” NACA said. “NACA has zero tolerance for such racial divide and moral ambiguity.”

Markowitz said there were no comments indicating any bias against the Orthodox community during the 2019 mayoral campaign, but instead “comments and false internet postings hostile to Chinese and African-American residents”  were circulated.

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