"Shmuley, Shmuley," he said. "The people of the ninth district have to know."
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of books including "Kosher Sex" and "Kosher Adultery," star of the reality television show "Shalom in the Home" and spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson, is running for Congress in New Jersey's 9th District.
Boteach, whose website touts him as "America's Rabbi," is campaigning on a platform of what he calls Jewish values. They focus on strengthening the family through tax-deductible marriage counseling and tax credits for businesses that close on their religious day of rest.
"I really began to feel the arena that most required an infusion of Jewish values is politics," Boteach said.
Boteach, a Republican, is running against incumbent Democrat Bill Pascrell. Pascrell survived a tough primary battle in June, defeating fellow Democrat Rep. Steve Rothman. The district was redrawn after the 2010 Census.
With Michael Jackson (Photo: Getty Images)
The district leans heavily Democratic, and political observers all but hand the race to Pascrell. But it is attracting national attention after a report in The Wall Street Journal that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife donated $500,000 to a super PAC that supports Boteach. Campaign finance records show the Adelsons each donated $10,000, the maximum amount allowed under law, to Boteach's campaign in April.
If the primary was a street fight, the campaign is more of a low-budget Hollywood affair orchestrated by Boteach. He touted his marriage counseling proposal in a news conference with former reality television star Jon Gosselin. He gets most of his points across in published columns and YouTube videos. In one, he urges constituents to "vote for the man with the beard," pointing out great figures in history who sported facial hair, including Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway and Jesus.
In video series called "Where's Bill?" Boteach carries around a suit on a hanger that's meant to be Pascrell and asks it questions. In another clip, Boteach asks random people and a fluffy white dog if they are one of Pascrell's political consultants.
Pascrell refused to address Boteach's videos during an interview at his campaign office in Rutherford.
'I want to make things better'
The National Republican Campaign Committee named Boteach, 45, one of its Young Guns, a program that sets fundraising and other benchmarks for congressional candidates.
"People say this is a sacrificial lamb candidacy," Boteach said. "What we have shown is we can garner consistent national attention, thank God. I'm one of the most focused-on challengers in the country."
Pascrell, a member of the Ways and Means Committee and former mayor of Paterson, said he wants to continue his work in Congress and focus on issues including the foreclosure crisis, veteran's affairs and shrinking of the middle class.
"Look, I'm 75 years of age. This is not a career move for me. I've been in the congress for 16 years. I want to make things better. You might not agree with my votes or you may not agree with where I stand on certain issues but you will have to accept, hopefully, that I did my best and I worked hard every day," Pascrell said. "And if you can't say that, get out of the way."
Pascrell's supporters are galvanized, said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science at Montclair State University. Parties are putting money into redrawn districts that are longshots to see "if anything sticks," Harrison said, and part of the Republican support in the 9th might be intended to woo more conservative Jewish voters.
Boteach said the idea of values undergirds his thoughts on the issues. He wants to reduce the payroll tax to support small businesses and opposes the federal health care law. He believes that government "should be out of the marriage business completely" and said he wouldn't overturn Roe v. Wade. But he hedged when asked whether he is in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
"That's a good question and I don't know if my answer will be as good, because that's a direct question," Boteach said.
Boteach is staunchly pro-Israel. One of his daughters is a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. He has hammered Pascrell for his association with Mohammad Qatanani, imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County. The government has sought to deport Qatanani, alleging he is a member of Hamas, and appealed an immigration judge's ruling granting him legal permanent residence. Pascrell supports Qatanani's bid to stay in the country.
Pascrell said Boteach is distracting from the issues.
"I have a job to do. And nobody, nobody is going to get in my way, even if they accuse me of hanging out with terrorists, even if they accuse me of hanging out with the wrong people, even if they accuse me of anything," he said. "They don't know what they're up for. Case closed."
Boteach said he was galvanized to run for office after renovations started on an estate owned by the Libyan government in anticipation for Col. Muammar Gaddafi's visit to the United Nations in 2009. The property abuts Boteach's.
Boteach was involved in a successful charge to keep Gaddafi out of Englewood and has since battled to fight the estate's tax-exempt status.
Boteach said he believes one thing: He will win the race.
"Who would reject me? You know?" Boteach asked. "Because the people around here they're wise and they have good judgment and good taste and they're obviously going to vote for me."