How far we’ve come from the 70s, when we had back-to-back Jewish mayors, Abe Beame and Ed Koch. And the 80s, when we had one Jewish mayor, Koch, the whole time.
And the 2000s, when we had another Jewish mayor (a sorta Republican) for three terms in Mike Bloomberg. When you think about it, Rudy Giuliani and David Dinkins can be seen as aberrations through the 1990s to 2002 – 12 years out of nearly 40 in which Jewish senior citizens ran the city.
But the times are a-changing. As we noted back in 2009, when a slew of Jewish candidates failed to get elected to citywide office, good luck and a winning coalition have been eluding members of the Tribe.
The last Jewish Democrats elected citywide were Alan Hevesi as comptroller and Mark Green as public advocate, both in 1997. Fortunes have shifted for both: The former is in jail for corruption and the latter went on to lose successive races for other offices, including mayor in the nail-bitingly close race of 2001 against Michael Bloomberg, in which we were guaranteed a Jewish mayor.
Now — with the decision of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to run for comptroller instead of mayor — unless Bloomberg somehow finagles a fourth term, a Jewish chief exec isn’t likely in the cards for 2014, as the Times took note today.
It’s tempting to extrapolate that this means Jewish political power is on the wane. But that would be overstating the matter. Jews remain high-turnout and heavily courted voters and those who are able contribute heavily to campaigns.
Jewish candidates often play the Jewish card in campaigns. But outside of neighborhood races New York Jewish voters have never made a priority of electing one of their own, but rather have focused on making sure their concerns were addressed by whomever is in charge. Bloomberg, for example, has certainly been a mayor who is incidentally Jewish rather than The Jewish Mayor, having alienated many of the Orthodox who voted for him in droves with his stand against the arguably dangerous MBP bris practice.
“Bloomberg ran as a business manager who happened to be Jewish, just as Giuliani didn’t run as an Italian candidate, he ran on a law and order campaign,” says sociologist William Helmreich of the CUNY Graduate School.
“We are, in a sense, in a post racial, post-ethnic era. Candidates are not chosen as much today for ethnic considerations.”
An exception, he said, might be for recent immigrant popuations who identify with one of their own, such as Asians and Comptroller John Liu, a likely mayoral contender.
Since Jews don’t aspire to a political first, “nobody gives a s–t about not running one of their own,” Helmreich said. “They care whether the person running is competent. There is no Jewish seat to be held.”
The fact that no Jewish candidate other than longshot newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who is seeking the Republican nomination, is in the mix is coincidental and not necessarily meaningful, Helmreich insists.
Though Jewish representation in New York’s House delegation is shrinking with the loss of Anthony Weiner and Gary Ackerman, Jews are still numerous in the City Council and the statehouse. If anything, the lack of Jewish candidates for higher office in New York seems to stem from local officials being pretty comfortable and popular in their current jobs.
Had Scott Stringer been elected mayor, we could have seen a milestone of sorts: The first Jewish family living in Gracie Mansion. (Stringer and his wife, Elyse, have a son who turns 1 next month.)
Abe Beame’s kids were adults when he served and Ed Koch was and remains a bachelor. Bloomberg’s daughters are also grown, and he never moved into the mansion.
It would have been cute to see a mezuzah hung on that East Side door for the first time. But unless Anthony Weiner decides to brave the jokes and wage an uphill battle to win that residence for his partially Jewish family, we’ll have to wait until 2017 at the earliest to see that happen.