Candidates reaching out for Jewish support as campaign builds momentum; potential Weiner bid is an x-factor.
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson has Jewish friends in Borough Park and Manhattan. Christine Quinn is likely to find some backing from chasidim who respect her positions on crime and her support for nonprofit groups and city services.
And a Staten Island Evangelical pastor named Eric Salgado is winning some Jewish friends by supporting a controversial circumcision practice.
With six months to go until New York elects a new mayor, the campaigns for the Democrat and Republican nominations have yet to gather serious momentum. But some of the candidates are busy presenting their pro-Jewish bona fides and cementing the relationships they hope will boost their prospects this fall.
It will be the first time in a dozen years that no incumbent is seeking re-election, and the first time in 20 years that no Jewish candidate is vying for the job.
That could change if Anthony Weiner jumps into the fray, as many consider likely given his extensive campaign war chest and his drive to rehabilitate his image after the humiliating sexting scandal that drove him from Congress two years ago.
Weiner has developed an extensive policy platform, which he calls “Keys To The City,” and has done a series of print and TV interviews: at the same time, critics have been dishing dirt against him — and in one case organizing a protest against one of his policies — demonstrating that some see him as a viable candidate.
Already in the fray for the Democrat nod are Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Council President Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller Bill Thompson. Another longshot, in addition to Salgado, is former Brooklyn Councilman Sal Albanese.
On the Republican side, former deputy mayor and former MTA chairman Joseph Lhota is the best known candidate, vying against supermarket mogul John Catsimitidis and George McDonald, founder of a nonprofit that helps formerly homeless people get back on their feet. Running as an independent is Adolfo Carrion, the former Bronx borough president.
It’s a race with virtually no issues of specific concern to the Jewish community, other than perhaps the city’s efforts to dissuade fervently Orthodox Jews from using the controversial and risky metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) circumcision procedure. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is now requiring parents to sign consent forms before a brit using the technique is performed.
Democrat Liu has come out in favor of ending the city’s interference in the practice, and so has Salgado, which earned him the support of Joseph Hayon, an Orthodox activist and former Republican candidate for Assembly in Brooklyn. According to the blog Brooklyn Independent GOP Fountainhead, Hayon hosted a Jewish event for Salgado that was attended by several rabbis as well as Romi Cohn, a top mohel and proponent of metzitzah b’peh.
A lawsuit to stop the informed-consent decree is of interest primarily to ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose leaders brought the challenge. For other Jews, the legal battle will likely fall into the larger question of the city’s role in safeguarding public health beyond the era of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has worked to regulate smoking, disclosure of calories at restaurants and the sale of large sodas, and more.
Another concern to many Jewish leaders will be the future of member-item funding for local organizations from Council members, which have come under fire in some circles. De Blasio and Albanese have called for the process to be eliminated, saying it is fertile ground for corruption.
“Time after time, the discretionary funding system has led to bribery, political blackmail and a boatload of big legal bills paid for by taxpayers,” he said at a press conference recently. “New York doesn’t need an appropriations process that aids and abets corruption and political gamesmanship in order to invest in our city’s priorities and worthwhile projects. We can do better.”
Thompson so far appears to have developed the broadest constituency among Jews, with strong ties to the Orthodox community of Brooklyn he has long courted and nurtured in his political career. On Sunday, the former board of education president and 2009 Democrat nominee for mayor attended Agudath Israel of America’s annual dinner. (All the major candidates were invited.)
“Thompson has a track record of being there, answering the phone, responding to issues, showing up even when it’s unpopular,” said Chaskel Bennett, a Flatbush businessman, member of Agudah’s board and Thompson supporter.
And with Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York Board of Regents and a well-known philanthropist in the Jewish community, as his campaign chair, announced two weeks ago, Thompson stands to gain inroads in other boroughs and non-Orthodox communities as well. Thompson has also hired Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who worked on Bloomberg’s successful 2009 campaign and has a key understanding of the Jewish vote (recently earning rabbinical ordination from an Orthodox rabbi in Israel).
Sources say Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who campaigns vigorously in the Orthodox community for candidates he endorses (but does not always deliver a majority of its votes), is currently torn between backing Thompson, as he did in 2009, or de Blasio, who represented part of Hikind’s district in the City Council.
Bennett noted that Thompson declined to backtrack from his criticism of the controversial February event sponsored by Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department advocating economic measures against Israel.
When asked about his view of that event at a forum last week sponsored by the Arab American Association of New York, Thompson stood by his denunciation of the event, while others said politicians shouldn’t interfere with academic freedom. “If you look at Brooklyn College, that wasn’t a question of freedom of speech, it was a question of should the college political science department be sponsoring a forum that, in that case, that pushed hate,” he said, according to the blog Mondoweiss, which reported that Thompson was booed for his response.
De Blasio also criticized the Brooklyn College event.
Because Quinn, as the frontrunner, has and may well continue to control the purse strings of discretionary funding, she may do particularly well with Jewish voters who rely on city services, such as the poor, recent immigrants aand the elderly.
The 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, released last year, shows that the total number of Jewish households living in poverty rose 22 percent from 103,000 a decade ago to 130,000, and the Orthodox make up 42 percent of the Jewish poor.
The number of Jewish senior citizens who live alone rose from 21,000 a decade ago to 29,000.
Another area of key concern in Jewish communities will be crime, an area on which they have tended to vote more conservatively.
“The issues for Jews are the same as for most other communities, especially the middle class,” said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Issues of keeping the neighborhoods safe and affordable housing and making sure New York grows economically, the Jewish community is really no different than any other community in that.
Political consultant Ezra Friedlander, who is supporting Quinn but not working for her campaign, noted that the speaker recently said that, if elected, she’d favor retaining Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, despite the current controversy over the department’s stop-and-frisk policy, its impact on minority communities and the debate on whether it actually reduces crime.
Friedlander said Kelly is popular in Orthodox neighborhoods where residents worry about typical crime as well as rising anti-Semitism and the threat of terrorism.
“When she publicly came out and said she would retain Ray Kelly, a chasidic rebbe came over to me and said he will support Quinn just because of that,” said Friedlander.
Weiner, for his part, polled in second place citywide after Quinn in two recent surveys even without being in the race. But it seems unlikely he will match or exceed his 2005 second place showing in the mayoral primary now that questions about his judgment and honesty — he lied to the media for a week about his Twitter account being hacked — have come to define his public image.
“Public office requires a certain level of good judgment, operating from the moral high ground said Ester Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia. “You don’t want to begin with people knowing you already failed that very low bar. It will be an uphill battle for him, to say the least.”
Cynthia Darrison, a political consultant who is not representing any candidate for mayor, said Quinn, Thompson and de Blasio seem to be in the best position for winning Jewish votes.
“Bill Thompson has longstanding relationships with the Jewish community, and having Merryl Tisch as his campaign chair certainly gives him credentials with a wider group of people,” she said Tuesday. “Bill de Blasio when he was in the City Council represented parts of Borough Park, and he established a good relationship through that. Quinn has been involved in the broader Jewish community over the years as speaker.”
In the Republican field, only Catsimitidis seems to be making a concerted play for Jewish votes, with his campaign reaching out to Jewish media, including The Jewish Week.
“I saw Joe Lhota at one Jewish event and we exchanged cards, but that was the last I heard of him,” said radio host Zev Brenner of Talkline Communications, which is aimed at Orthodox listeners. “The Democrats, I get contacted by them all the time. They’d be on weekly if I would let them. The Republicans are almost invisible, except for Catsimitidis.”