The politics of race—mayoral candidate Rudi Giuliani realized after the September 12 primary that to win as a Republican in a Democratic town like New York, he would have to get a large chunk of liberal and centrist Jews to desert David Dinkins’ ticket. As soon as the primary was over, therefore, the Giuliani campaign started raising the black menace, taking an ad in the daily Yiddish newspaper linking Dinkins with the dread Jesse Jackson. And, as a special coup, Giuliani and his chief adviser Roger Ailes named as honorary chairman of the Giuliani campaign the famed Jewish stand-up comic Jackie Mason. The thinking was twofold: to “humanize” the grim and pale Republican Torquemada, and to capture Jewish votes by elevating one of their own.

But, oy, what a floperoo! What Giuliani did not realize is that if you take that same Jackie Mason who did so well on Broadway in 1987 with his racial and ethnic one-liners, and put him into the highly-charged atmosphere of modern politics, an explosion might well occur. Nor did he realize that Mason had once been affiliated with Rabbi Kahane’s ultra-militant Jewish Defense League. Hence his surprise when Mason, candid as always, proceeded to deliver himself of a series of anti-Dinkins and anti-black blasts: “Jews will vote for any black, however incompetent, out of a sense of guilt”; “Dinkins looks like a black model without a job”; and “Jews help blacks a lot, but who ever heard of a black giving a Jew a quarter?”

Crash! The sky fell in. Jews, blacks, and everyone else—even Ed Koch!—denounced Jackie Mason. Given a press conference the next day and a chance to apologize, Mason made things worse by reiterating his deeply felt position. Giuliani promptly fired the miscreant, and Mason was at last shanghaied into another press conference where he duly apologized for (you guessed it) his “insensitivity.” Just as it seemed, however, as if Giuliani might escape this awkward incident without undue damage, bingo! our intrepid media, hot on the scent, came out with a haymaker. For Newsweek disclosed that, at a meeting attended by Giuliani, Mason, and several Newsweek editors a few weeks earlier. Mason had delivered himself of similarly anti-Dinkins and anti-black remarks, and that Giuliani, far from leaping up and slapping Mason in the face, had actually laughed!, albeit “nervously,” and, of course, had gone ahead with naming him as his honorary chairman. Mason was reported to have said Dinkins was “a fancy schvartze with a mustache,” and “full of s–t by nature.” Giuliani tried to explain that he had not really heard or understood the fast-talking Mason, and had only been polite, but Newsweek retorted that there were only about six people in the small room, and besides, Rudi had laughed.

Somehow, of all the epithets, it was the schvartze tag that stuck, the charge being that schvartze is a terribly derogatory term for blacks. But is it? Technically, the answer is no. In some areas, Yiddish is a language of infinite subtlety. For example, there are a large number of nuanced terms for the English phrase, “a clumsy oaf” You can say schlemiehl, schmendrik, shmeggegi, or schlimazl, each having its own delicate shade of meaning. (An old Jewish joke goes, “A schlemiehl is the sort of waiter who is habitually dropping hot soup down a customer’s neck; a schlimazl is the sort of customer who gets his neck poured on.”) But whereas English has many words for blacks, there is only one word for black in Yiddish, and that word is schvartze.

So, technically, schvartze can hardly be a derogatory term, only descriptive. The problem, however, is that Jews in New York have been accustomed, when in the presence of blacks, to refer to them as schvartzes in the confident but sometimes naive assumption that the schvartzes remain blissfully ignorant of this Yiddish term. Thus, in the presence of one’s black maid, “How’s the schvartze doing?” Or, walking down a crowded New York street, “Hmm, I see that the schvartzes are out in force tonight.” It seems, wonder of wonders! that after several decades, the schvartzes caught on to this innocent custom, and were not very thrilled by it.

Giuliani has not been alone with his race problems. As was revealed in mid-October, on David Dinkins’ paid staff was an infamous black militant named Sonny Carson. Carson heads an organization called the Campaign to Honor Black Heroes, an outfit with no address or telephone, and few members. The committee surfaced in late August after the allegedly racist murder of a black youth named Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, a largely white neighborhood in Brooklyn. Carson and the young toughs who constitute the committee marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on August 31 to protest the murder, and received the desired TV footage, including the injury of many police and the arrest of 44 of Carson’s colleagues.

The Dinkins people say that they paid Carson and his committee $9,500 for their valiant efforts in bringing out the black vote in Brooklyn on primary day. Dinkins’s critics question Carson’s electioneering prowess, and point out that his protest marches ended abruptly: in other words, the money was a payoff to keep Carson’s goons quiet for the remainder of the campaign.

Critics have also dug up some allegedly anti-Semitic statements Carson made in 1968, and a 1974 conviction for kidnapping and attempted murder. When Carson proceeded to call a press conference to tell his side of the story, he came flanked by his young goons, who sported leather jackets and gloves with studded knuckles. Thundering that the charge of anti-Semitism was absurd, Carson clarified that his position is that he hates all whites, with no discrimination as to creed or religion. Capping even this, Carson explained that he could not possibly be anti-Semitic, since, as everyone knows, “we [the blacks] are the true descendants of Abraham. How can we be anti-ourselves?”

Whatever else he is, David Dinkins is not quick on the uptake. Asked about Carson’s press conference, Dinkins declared, in the great befuddled understatement of the campaign, that “He’s apparently a person who doesn’t like white people.” A few hours later, however, Dinkins rallied, reading a prepared statement denouncing Carson’s bigotry and intolerance, which he has fought all his life, blah-blah-blah. Had I But Known.

With the help of Carson and new questions about Dinkins’ tax returns, Giuliani’s fortunes have risen, as two Daily News/ABC polls (one taken on October 15, the other one a week later on October 22) make clear. On October 15, Dinkins led by the seemingly insurmountable 53 percent to 34 percent. Only one week later, Dinkins led by a mere 45 to 41 percent. The most striking and critical change occurred, as might be expected, among liberal and centrist Jews. Whereas Jews voted for Dinkins by 46 to 36 percent in the first poll, on October 22 Jews chose Giuliani by 44 to 26 percent.

And so the race is even as we go to press.