No sooner has Rosalynn Carter's limousine pulled away from the curb than the telephone is ringing inside the cramped, crackerbox clubhouse of the Stars and Stripes Democratic Club in Brooklyn, and the local congressman and the local club president are lining up to give their reports.
"Yeah, Meade, it went fantastic," Frank J. Santo, the club president, says into the phone to his boss, Meade Esposito, who runs the Democratic organization in Brooklyn. "It went like clockwork. Everyone applauded and she seemed real pleased."
Santo passes the phone to Rep. Leo C. Zeferetti, who has been waiting his turn to report.
"Yeah, Meade, it was great. I talked to her in private. Told her everything that's being done. Just what you said. She said it was great."
At the other end of the phone, Esposito says he too is pleased.Zeferetti's conservative, old district of Irish-Italian-Polish Roman Catholics will hold for President Carter, against the candidacy of Irish Roman Catholic Edward M. Kennedy. In fact, it will be big for Carter. And for a moment that is a pleasant respite for a Catholic Brooklyn boss who finds himself spending most of his time these days trying to solve a Southern Baptist's Jewish problem.
On Tuesday, New York and Connecticut vote in presidential primaries, and for Democrats 336 delegates are at stake, 282 of them in New York, which is where the fight between the two candidates is primarily taking place. President Carter is conceded to have a decided edge in each state. But there is one thing that looms as a major unknown: just how angry the Jewish voters of New York are with Carter over the controversy that will not go away about the U.S. vote in favor of the anti-Israel resolution in the U.N. Security Council.
In Florida, the Jewish voters, who are primarily of New York origin, voted for Kennedy over Carter by 53 to 37 percent, but they are just a fraction of the state's voting population, and Carter carried the state overwhelmingly.
In Illinois, last Tuesday, it was Carter who won the votes of the Jews by almost 2 to 1, as he buried Kennedy on primary day.
But the last surviving son of a once seemingly invincible political family insists he will not give up, and so he is making what may be his last real stand in New York, where the Democratic primary vote is one-third Jewish, a statistic that could be a political problem for the president.
Strategists in the Carter and Kennedy camps say the key question about how the Jews will vote in New Ork, as it was elsewhere, comes down to the decision the voters must make over whether their negative feelings toward Kennedy on matters of personal honesty and morality will outweigh their anger with the administration over the vote at the United Nations.
Carter campaign officials say their polling in New York shows that New Yorkers do not have quite as strong a negative reaction to Kennedy on the question of personal honesty and morality as did voters in Illinois, even though these still remain high negative factors for Kennedy even in New York.
Just how broad-based Carter's Jewish problem is, no one is certain. Louis Harris has done a poll for The New York Daily News that shows Carter crushing Kennedy throughout the state by 61 to 34 percent. But this poll has puzzled the politicians in the Carter and Kennedy camps, as well as the city ward polls, because it shows only 5 percent of the people saying they are not sure how they will vote.
The politicians feel that many more voters are undecided and that most of the undecided are Jewish, still furious over the U.N. vote and not molified by the explanations of the president and his officials, nor by the well-timed announcement just before the New York primary that Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat will come to Washington for talks in about a month.
The Kennedy campaign, according to coordinator John English, has a poll that shows Carter beating Kennedy by a margin narrower than that shown by Lou Harris -- but with 21 percent of the voters saying they are undecided, with most of these being Jewish.
This is the sort of thing that has been of concern to Esposito, the old boss in Brooklyn, who has been out early for Carter and has said he is concerned because his King's County has the largest Jewish population in the state.
Delegates will be apportioned in New York according to congressional districts, and the 13th District in Brooklyn, which is overwhelmingly Jewish, is viewed by the Kennedy camp as an area of major strength and by Esposito as a major problem. Esposito says he felt this months before the U.N. vote, which is why he had a talk at the time with Rep. Stephen Solarz, 40 years old and a liberal representative of that district in Congress.
"This kid Solarz came to me and I converted him for Carter," Esposito says with all of the modesty he can muster. "I convinced him to go. He won't get hurt at all, and that's what I told him.We run things the old-fashioned way here in Brooklyn. We run it by the feudal system here. It's the only way it works."
On Friday, Esposito became concerned that the Solarz endorsement wasn't going to be enough to hold the Jewish vote in that district for Carter, and so he convened a meeting of 40 of the most prominent political operatives in Brooklyn, rabbis from the synagogues in the county. They met in a Hebrew school at Avenue J and Utica, and, as Esposito recalls it, he urged them to look at the matter of the administration's position on Israel from another perspective.
"I put it on a personal basis to them," Esposito said. "I said I'd intercede with them at the White House."
Another source in the meeting recalls that Esposito's pitch was along the lines that Carter's going to get the nomination anyway and that they should not make the president angry with the Jewish constituency, but should instead work to have influence with the president.
"Some of the rabbis were adamant," this source said. "They couldn't even understand how Meade could ask them to do it. Some had already been telling their congregations that the best way to handle this thing is to just stay away from the polls to show dissatisfaction."
But after Esposito explained the political realities to the rabbis, most of those present said they would try to talk to their congregations to urge them to vote for Carter after all, this source added. Some were talking about getting out a hurried letter to their congregations.
But no political maneuver is without pitfalls, and while Esposito was talking with the rabbis and saying that he believed Carter's explanation that the U.N. vote was really not a reflection of U.S. policy, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance was in Washington telling a House committee that in fact the U.N. resolution did not violate American policy.
Vance was saying that the administration regretted its vote not because of concern over the policy but because of concern that it would upset the present negotiations on self-rule for Palestinians. And today, this was reported in a front page article in The New York Times.
And this caused Esposito to remark in an interview: "We've got a democratic system that is too permissive sometimes -- you know what I mean? . . . I mean, what is going on?I'm a street guy, and I've always been a street guy. These Carter people, they're all right, but sometimes they are a little naive. Some of them still have white spots around their mouth because they haven't been weaned."
So Esposito and his associates, and the Carter campaign managers and their workers, were spending most of the weekend worrying about just how the Jews in New York will decide to vote on election day.
The Carter forces hold a commanding lead in upstate New York. This is true in the rural areas. And it is true, though not quite so extensively, in the urban areas. Perhaps nowhere upstate is Carter's urban strength stronger than in Albany, where Mayor Erastus Corning has been presiding over the well-oiled machine ever since he was elected to office in 1946, and he has been churning his machine for Carter for weeks.
Not long ago, the Carter officials had asked Corning for a list of all those officials in Albany who were endorsing the president. A few days later, a copy of the Albany directory of city officials and employes arrived in the mail at the Carter headquarters.
Carter campaign official Jerry Weiss called Corning in Albany to try to straighten out the obvious error. "Mr. Mayor, there must be some mistake," he said. "All I asked for is the list of officials who are endorsing the president." To which the mayor replied: "Oh no, there is no mistake, that directory is your endorsement list."
Carter has gotten himself into a commanding lead in New York by lining up most of the leading Democratic politicians in the state, including Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Edward Koch and former mayor Abraham Beame.All of this neutralized Gov. Hugh Carey, who is widely believed to be leaning toward Kennedy in his heart but who apparently did not want to be left hanging by his heartstrings on election day. a