NEW YORK -- Maybe nobody ever told Jerry Brown one established formula for political success in New York: pander to the Jewish vote.
The former California governor did just the opposite yesterday, telling members of the Jewish Community Relations Council here exactly what they didn't want to hear: "My first pick for vice president, if I'm nominated, will be Rev. [Jesse L.] Jackson."
Mr. Brown offered the remark without being asked and started to defend his choice as a means of healing racial divisions in the country. But one listener, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, interrupted and berated him on the spot. He told Mr. Brown that by picking Mr. Jackson, "you disqualify yourself" from support of the Jewish community.
Mr. Hikind was promptly led out, and a leader of the council apologized for the assemblyman's "rudeness." However, others also expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Brown's decision to choose the man who in 1984 outraged New York Jews by referring to the city as "Hymietown."
Charlotte Jacobson, a representative of Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization, said there wasn't "any question that the Jewish community wants to have wonderful relations with the black community" and "we are not opposed to a black vice president" -- but not the one Mr. Brown was proposing.
Mr. Brown stuck to his guns. He had decided on Mr. Jackson, he said, "because I believe the No. 1 goal in managing the survival of a free society is healing the division between black and white. We must do that. I believe that Reverend Jackson, with his leadership and his experience, has the capability to that, working within the Democratic Party."
As Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary approaches, Mr. Brown has been vying with Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas for Jewish support, which is estimated to make up as much as 30 percent of the vote in primary balloting here. The latest poll by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion, based on data collected last week, indicated that Mr. Clinton was drawing 46 percent of Jewish Democratic voters, to only 20 percent for Mr. Brown.
The Californian's remarks yesterday are only likely to set him back further with Jewish voters, many of whom view Mr. Jackson as hostile to Israel and supportive of the creation of a new Palestinian state. But the remarks could help him with black voters, and the same poll indicates he needs help. Among black Democrats surveyed, Mr. Clinton drew 42 percent to Mr. Brown's 21 percent.
On several earlier occasions, Mr. Brown has said he wanted Mr. Jackson as his running mate. The most recent was Wednesday, when he joined a downtown Manhattan rally with Mr. Jackson, put a hand on Mr. Jackson's shoulder and proclaimed the two of them "a winning coalition." Mr. Jackson replied cryptically that if "the nominee of the party" offered his name and it was ratified by the convention, "I shall be honored to serve."
Attempting to sell an unpopular commodity to the Jewish leaders yesterday, Mr. Brown told them: "Look, folks, we are facing the potential unraveling of the American social fabric."
He cited as evidence the existence of 6 million children without parents and acquired immune deficiency syndrome's becoming the largest cause of death among black children under age 4. "We have a problem here, and the hatred and bitterness and, yes, the rise of anti-Semitism, we've got to deal with that," he said.
Mr. Brown tried to reassure his audience that if elected, he -- and not Mr. Jackson -- would be making the presidential decisions. "What happens if you die?" someone called out. Other questions were shouted before he could reply. Instead, he called Assemblyman Hikind's outburst "a graphic demonstration of the split within the community and within the society. That split is real. I understand it. . . . We have an American community that is split, with blacks on one side -- "
But listeners interrupted Mr. Brown again, telling him that he was wrong about the split and that their complaint was with Mr. Jackson, not with the black community generally.
Mr. Brown insisted he understood what his critics were saying. "I don't agree with everything Reverend Jackson says; he doesn't agree with everything I say," he said. "But the question is, how do we pull America together, black and white, Jewish and gentile, Latino and Anglo, in a way that we can be a country that believes in equality and social justice?"
Shortly afterward, Mr. Brown encountered more questions about his choice for running mate from TV talk-show host Phil Donahue. He again defended his decision, saying that Mr. Jackson had "a tremendous record" and that "the Democratic Party has to heal itself. We might as well get it out in the open and deal with it."