Friends Not Foes
DYKER HEIGHTS — One supported Donald Trump while the other was in Joe Biden’s corner. Yet Jerry Kassar and Joe Bova have never let their political differences interfere with the friendship they’ve enjoyed for decades.
That’s easier said than done.
For not only are they members of their respective political parties, they are leaders in their parties.
Kassar is the chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. Bova is on the executive committee of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and is the male district leader for the 49th Assembly District. A district leader is a neighborhood level political party boss. Each political party in each assembly district has a male and female leader. The 49th A.D. includes sections of Bensonhurst, Sunset Park and Dyker Heights, where Bova lives.
Kassar, who also lives in Dyker Heights, said he and Bova have never had an argument — ever, even during the Trump-Biden presidential race that split the country in two. They talked to each other about the election but those discussions never got heated.
“You can have civil discourse. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Kassar said.
“We all want the same things,” Bova said. “In politics, the difference is the road you want to take to get there.”
In a way, politics is the thing that unites them. Both men cut their teeth working on political campaigns at the street level — going door-to-door with candidates to meet voters, raising funds, proofreading campaign literature — so they have that in common.
What they also have in common is their strong Catholic faith.
Bova is a lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Bensonhurst. He has been a Eucharistic minister there since 1978 and is the former president of the Holy Name Society. His wife Janet has taught religious education for many years. Bova is also a former president of the Cathedral Club of Brooklyn.
Kassar is a parishioner of St. Ephrem Church in Dyker Heights, attending Mass every week with his wife Janet and contributing to the parish financially.
“We are men of faith,” Bova said.
“It’s a common bond. The Catholic Church is large and diverse,” Kassar said.
The men have known each other since the 1980s. “We were both active civically and politically,” Jerry said.
Kassar was president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association. He is still a member of the association’s executive board. At the time, Bova was chairman of Brooklyn Community Board 10. The two men would run into each other at community and church functions like the Bay Ridge Community Council President’s Luncheon and Cathedral Club dinners.
“And we certainly saw each other at Dyker Civic Association candidates’ debates,” Kassar said.
One place they were sure to run into each other was outside polling sites on Election Day when both would be doing last minute campaigning on behalf of their candidates.
“We were two young guys who liked politics,” Bova said.
They got to know one another and forged a friendship.
Kassar feels they both came up in an era when political leaders put community first, before politics. “They cared about the community and wanted to make it better. Politics was the vehicle for getting that done,” he said.
Bova agrees. “Politics was more civil back then. You didn’t have the hate that you have today,” he said.
There was one time when Bova and Kassar were on the same side. The Brooklyn Conservative Party, which Kassar chaired at the time, endorsed Bova when he ran in a special election for a State Senate seat against Republican Robert DiCarlo in 1993.
The Brooklyn Conservative Party has endorsed Democrats in certain races. DiCarlo won the election to fill the state senate seat vacated by Republican Christopher Mega who became a judge on the New York State Court of Claims.
But the heat of that campaign brought Kassar and Bova closer. “You get to know the character of the person. Our friendship was solidified,” Kassar said.
“We would talk every day. We enjoyed our conversations. We share many of the same values,” Jerry said.
Summing up their friendship, Bova said, “He’s my William F. Buckley and I’m his Allard Lowenstein.”
Buckley (1925-2008) was an icon of the Conservative movement in the U.S. and was the founder of National Review magazine. He was a close friend of Allard Lowenstein (1929-1980) a Liberal Democrat who started a “Dump Johnson ” movement in 1968 to convince the Democratic Party not to re-nominate Democratic President Lyndon Johnson for another term. Lowenstein objected to Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War. Johnson later announced that he would not run for re-election.