In what might be described as a delayed reversal of fortune, Dan Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who served as the Democrats’ lead counsel in the first Trump impeachment trial, is now riding a wave of momentum as a frontrunner in the highly competitive race for an open House seat in Lower Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, his bête noire, former President Donald Trump — who, despite Goldman’s best efforts, was ultimately acquitted of two impeachment charges in February 2020 — is facing a mounting list of criminal inquiries, culminating last week in a high-profile FBI raid at his Palm Beach residence.
But even as Trump’s legal and political future remains in question, Goldman, 46, suggested that the former president, who continues to stoke false allegations of election fraud as he weighs a possible comeback campaign, is merely the symptom of a growing extremism that Goldman hopes to counter if he makes it to Congress.
“Republicans are descending into an unforeseen and unpredicted place of complete anti-democratic demagoguery,” Goldman said in an interview with Jewish Insider at an outdoor café in Tribeca, the Manhattan neighborhood where he lives with his wife and five children. “Where we are today is far worse than where we were two years ago, and that genuinely scares me for our country and for our democratic institutions and the rule of law.”
Those concerns, among others, have fueled Goldman’s first campaign for federal office, which he announced in June following the delayed finalization of New York’s reconfigured congressional map.
With less than a week remaining until next Tuesday’s primary, Goldman has recently emerged as the frontrunner in the race, where he is among a dozen Democrats jockeying to represent the newly drawn 10th Congressional District. On Saturday, he snagged a coveted endorsement from The New York Times — a major coup for the neophyte candidate, who had been polling neck-and-neck with two local elected officials running to his left. The newspaper’s imprimatur may resonate with conventionally liberal Times readers in Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, among other neighborhoods in the district.
Still, the qualities that appealed to the Times — which praised Goldman’s “uncommon experience” while citing his “knowledge of congressional oversight and the rule of law” — had also been expected to weaken his standing in deep-red Borough Park, an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn where Trump pulled in more than 80% of the vote in the 2020 election.
Political observers had speculated at the beginning of the race that Goldman’s high-profile role as a Trump prosecutor — coupled with his gig as a legal commentator for MSNBC — might be a liability in Borough Park rather than a selling point. But Goldman, who is himself Jewish, persisted in courting the Orthodox community, retaining local operatives and meeting for discussions with Jewish community leaders earlier than most candidates in the race, according to Ezra Friedlander, a Democratic consultant who lives in the neighborhood.
Goldman’s efforts paid off on Tuesday, when he notched a big endorsement from a coalition of 25 Hasidic leaders in the district, effectively consolidating support within the sizable Orthodox community, which could prove decisive. Turnout is predicted to be lower than usual in the late-summer primary, for which early voting began on Saturday.
“There is only one candidate who has the qualifications and understanding to represent the Boro Park residents in Washington,” the Jewish leaders wrote, according to a translation from the original Yiddish by Hamodia, a newspaper covering the Orthodox community in New York City. “It is critically important for our community to have a representative in Washington who will stand on our side and represent our interests with devotion and understanding.”
The announcement followed a separate endorsement on Monday from Simcha Eichenstein, an influential state assemblymember in Borough Park. Eichenstein, who did not respond to a request for comment from JI, told Hamodia that he had “gotten to know” Goldman “quite well” in recent months, describing him as “a rising star” who “keenly understands the needs of our community.”
Mordy Getz, a Hasidic businessman in Borough Park whose Judaica store, Eichler’s, is a well-trodden campaign stop for political candidates on the stump, met Goldman in July, and found he was attuned to “the needs of mom-and-pop stores and small businesses that comprise the majority of Boro Park businesses,” he wrote in a recent WhatsApp exchange.
“He seems like a real mensch and a candidate who understands the needs of the community,” Getz said. “Although it may seem challenging to overcome his role in Trump’s impeachment in a community with a majority of Trump supporters, I think the recent news about Trump helps leadership realize that working with Trump opponents is inevitable.”
Alexander Rapaport, who lives in Borough Park and is the founder of Masbia, a network of local soup kitchens, has found Goldman’s amiable if somewhat improbable alliance with Orthodox leadership “amusing,” he said bluntly in an interview with JI. “They’re going to wind up voting for the person who was in charge of Trump’s first impeachment.”
But Rapaport, who has hosted listening sessions with several of the leading candidates in the race, suggested that Goldman also shares common values with Orthodox voters that extend beyond politics. “His family is somewhat traditional, which will probably mean something to some people, so to speak,” said Rapaport, who is in the process of arranging a meeting with Goldman at his home in Borough Park this week.
“My wife is Modern Orthodox and went to yeshiva,” said Goldman, who also sends one of his children to a Chabad school in Soho. “We keep kosher at home. When I tell them that, the Borough Park crowd knows that I understand more about them than most candidates do.”
Goldman says he grew up as an “observant secular Jew,” and now attends a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan that is different from his wife’s. “We go to separate shuls on the High Holidays,” he explained. “We’ve made it work in true American-Jewish fashion.”
The 10th District race carries something of an added resonance for Jewish voters who fear that New York City, which is home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, is at risk of losing its last Jewish member of Congress this cycle. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who had previously represented the 10th before the lines were redrawn, was forced into a high-profile primary battle with a fellow Democrat, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), in a neighboring district situated entirely within Manhattan.
Goldman is among four Jewish candidates in the primary, including former Rep. Liz Holtzman (D-NY), former Legal Aid attorney Maud Maron and businessman Brian Robinson, who touts a more conservative platform that has appealed to some Orthodox voters. Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out of the race last month, had also been drawing on his extensive relationships with Jewish leaders in Borough Park during his time as a candidate. His departure from the race, insiders speculated, likely helped clear a path for Goldman, who built his relationships from scratch.
De Blasio turned heads in June when he said he no longer supported AIPAC over the efforts of an affiliated super PAC, United Democracy Project, that has targeted a number of far-left candidates in recent primary elections.
Goldman, on the other hand, holds a rosier view of the pro-Israel lobbying group, not least because he first met his wife, Corinne, during an AIPAC Young Leadership event at Chelsea Piers in Lower Manhattan, 10 years ago this summer. “I joke all the time that she routinely went to that event and it was the first time I went,” he said. “I always tease her: ‘I don’t know why you had so much trouble. I was one-for-one.’”
Pivoting to a more serious note, Goldman recalled that the event had featured what he described as an informative presentation on Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, which was then a fledgling technology. “I remember it very vividly,” he recalled. “I had heard of the Iron Dome before, but I didn’t have a detailed, intricate understanding of it, and I was really blown away by both the technology and the added security that it provided to Israel.”
Goldman, who visited Israel with his family in high school but has not returned since, said he was “very concerned” about a “growing call” for conditions on U.S. military and security assistance to Israel, which some of his opponents in the race have backed. Still, he also acknowledged “real concerns” about Israeli settlement expansion as well as proposed annexation of areas in the West Bank. “It makes a possible resolution much more difficult to achieve, and so I do have problems with that aspect of Israel’s aggression,” he said, but quickly changed his wording. “I shouldn’t say aggression. Israel’s policy.”
“One of the parts of my platform that is very important both to me and, I think, to the country, is my view on Israel,” Goldman told JI. “I am pro-Israel. I believe strongly in maintaining a Jewish, democratic state. I think the only way to do that is a two-state solution.”
Notwithstanding his reputation as a Trump antagonist, Goldman offered his praise for the Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab nations in a series of agreements brokered by the Trump administration. “It was one of the very few things that the Trump administration did right,” he allowed. “I think that continued normalization of relationships among the nations in the Middle East is very good and is very helpful to Israel’s security.”
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel emerged as a predictably contentious issue in the race after one leading candidate, state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, expressed her support for BDS in an interview with JI last month.
Niou, who has vacillated on her position in subsequent interviews as well as a recent candidate questionnaire, said she views the movement through the prism of free speech rights and rejected accusations that BDS is antisemitic because it singles out the Jewish state for punishment.
Brian Cunningham, a Democratic state assemblymember, withdrew his endorsement of Niou’s campaign after she backed BDS. Earlier this month, he threw his support behind Goldman instead.
During a candidate forum in late July at Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue in Park Slope, Goldman pushed back against Niou’s comments on BDS . “It is anti-Zionist, it is antisemitic,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd. “And let’s make something really clear: It’s not a First Amendment issue.”
“There’s a real concern that the Democratic Party is drifting away from Israel among a lot of Jewish constituents that I’ve spoken to,” Goldman said in the interview with JI. “I didn’t think that as much of the reaction to my candidacy would have been about my Jewishness and Israel as it has been. I found it interesting, the degree to which so many people are focused on this at this period of time. It is something that, I think, really does concern a lot of Jewish Democrats.”
Most pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC, have stayed out of the race. On Tuesday, however, Goldman earned a “primary approval” rating from the liberal advocacy group J Street, according to a spokesperson for his campaign.
The primary has become increasingly acrimonious in recent days, as Goldman has established himself as the candidate to beat. Shortly after the Times issued its endorsement this weekend, Niou joined forces with a Democratic rival, freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), to accuse Goldman of using his considerable wealth to promote his campaign.
“Conservative Democrat Dan Goldman cannot be allowed to purchase this congressional seat,” Jones alleged, “certainly not in one of the most progressive congressional districts in the country and not at a time when our democracy is in crisis.”
Goldman is an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune whose net worth is estimated to be somewhere between $64 million and $253 million, which would make him one of the wealthiest members of Congress. He has given his campaign at least $4 million, which he has used to fund an aggressive TV ad campaign, while raising about $1.5 million from individual donors including Charles Bronfman, Jonathan Durst and Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Meanwhile, Jones — who recently moved to Brooklyn from the Hudson Valley, where he had been facing a potentially bruising matchup with a veteran Democratic incumbent — has pulled in more than $3.5 million.
In a joint press conference at City Hall on Monday, Jones and Niou took turns denouncing Goldman for supporting policies that they characterized as out of sync with voter sentiment, highlighting his opposition to Medicare for All while alluding to a controversial remark in which he said he “would not object to” a state law barring abortion after the point of fetal viability. He has since walked back the comment.
Another leading candidate who is occupying a progressive lane, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, did not attend the event, though she has also been critical of Goldman.
In the most recent independent polling on the race, Goldman led the pack with 22% of the vote. Niou came in second at 17%, while Rivera and Jones were tied at 13%. State Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon was in the single digits and 17% of voters undecided.
Thanks in part to his frequent MSNBC appearances, Goldman was already a somewhat familiar face among traditionally liberal voters in brownstone Brooklyn when he entered the race more than two months ago. “I’ve been getting recognized more than I thought I would,” he told JI in June, a couple of weeks into his campaign. “A lot of MSNBC-watchers in the district.”
Goldman, who has lived in Lower Manhattan for 16 years, argues that his somewhat more moderate views are well-aligned with the district. “It’s a good match between really engaged, smart voters, and my unique set of skills and experience,” he said. “I am hoping that I can use some of the same creativity that we used to prove our impeachment case on the side of legislation and the discourse to actually change the narrative and get something done.”
By way of example, Goldman said he hoped to draw on his extensive legal experience to mount congressional investigations of the National Rifle Association as well as gun manufacturers amid an increase in deadly mass shootings.
“I think there needs to be a congressional investigation of the NRA to understand what exactly they know about where their money is going and how their money is potentially impacting the marketing or advertising or sales of assault weapons,” he said. “There needs to be an investigation into the gun manufacturers to see what they know about this and how they use various marketing or advertising tactics to increase the likelihood of these mass shootings. That stuff is not being done, and I think that exposing the NRA and the gun manufacturers for what their role is in this, if any, is a different way of doing things and might bring about, I think, more progress.”
He also hopes to “re-examine” federal hate crime laws as attacks against Jews, Asian-Americans and other minorities have increased in New York City and across the country. He said he would consider adding “sentencing enhancements” for crimes that include racial, ethnic or religious motivation.
“But I don’t think that is to the exclusion of using the megaphone that you have in Congress to draw attention to the serious uptick not only in antisemitic incidents but especially in Asian hate crimes and other racial hate crimes that, frankly, are directly connected to the rise of Donald Trump,” Goldman argued. “These domestic violent extremists, this bogus great replacement theory nonsense — it’s not a coincidence that there’s a rise in that as there’s a rise in all of this racial and religious discriminatory speech and action.”
Goldman cast himself as a “practical” and “pragmatic” choice, suggesting that it is his left-leaning opponents who are out of touch with the district. “I’ll put it this way,” he explained. “There are a number of candidates in this race who have previously advocated for defunding the police, at least one of whom refuses to denounce BDS, and who have taken other very far-left positions — and I think that voters are going to have a pretty clear choice between people of those views and me.”
The former prosecutor said he is “very strongly” in favor of increased funding for mental health and domestic violence services to offset the burden of policing. “But that is not in lieu of funding for the police itself to crack down on crime,” Goldman clarified. “They have to do what they’re well-trained to do, which is not to answer 9-11 calls for domestic violence disputes.”
“When Dan sees injustice or what he sees as bad public policy, it bothers him,” Elie Honig, a senior legal analyst for CNN and a former federal prosecutor who worked with Goldman as an assistant U.S. attorney in an organized crime unit of the Southern District of New York. “Dan generally cares about the public good.”
Goldman was born and raised in Washington. D.C., studied at Yale University as an undergraduate and received his law degree from Stanford in 2005. Afterward, he served under former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump in 2017. Goldman, who specialized in prosecuting mobsters and white collar criminals, worked as a paid legal commentator on cable news before joining the impeachment inquiry.
Last year, Goldman briefly ran for New York attorney general but suspended his campaign when Letitia James, a Democrat, announced she would seek reelection. “I wanted to be in the arena,” he said of his short-lived campaign. “I wanted to be involved in the critical fights of our time, and I felt like the attorney general has great authority to be able to legally address a lot of the same issues.”
Otherwise, Goldman said he had never considered running for political office until now.
“This is the time where citizens need to stand up and engage, and I do feel like I have experience in Washington effectively accomplishing something, even if it didn’t ultimately yield in Donald Trump’s removal,” he reasoned. “I felt like we set the discourse and changed the discourse and we established that he did abuse his power for his own personal interest. But I also have an outsider’s perspective on how things are operating in Washington, where far too often the same old playbook is being used.”