Tuesday’s primary elections will amount to a test of voting power for the city’s Jewish community, as always. But even if turnout is at its highest, the community’s vote may be less pivotal than usual.
That’s because there appears to be no clear favorite candidate in the mayoral race among Jews, and an expected large turnout by African Americans could make the Jewish vote a smaller share of the electoral pie.
Based on previous turnout numbers, Jewish participation in this week’s primary elections may be as high as 32 percent, or as low as 20 percent. This year, participation in general is expected to be extremely high because it is the first race for mayor in 12 years with no incumbent, and the crowded Democratic primary has proven fluid, with no foregone conclusion about who will win, reducing any sense that voting is futile.
The current frontrunner, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, was considered a long shot as recently as several months ago when Council Speaker Christine Quinn topped the polls. Anthony Weiner also enjoyed a brief moment at the top of the polls before more revelations about his sexting knocked him down to lower numbers.
Non-Hispanic black residents amount to roughly 2.5 million people, or a quarter of the city’s population, a figure that has declined 5.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to census data compiled by the city; the Jewish population is at 1.1 million, an increase of 10 percent in the same decade, according to UJA-Federation’s New York Jewish population study.
“The question is whether voting behavior has kept pace with Jewish population growth,” said David Pollock, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Turnout among African-American voters is expected to be particularly high in the Democratic primary for mayor, and not only because there is one black candidate in the race, William C. Thompson, and another with a biracial family (de Blasio).
The predominance of the controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk tactic, which overwhelmingly affects minorities, as an issue in the campaign could also turn out more voters, as could a general trend among blacks toward greater participation in the political process. Jewish voters, particularly in heavily Orthodox, poor and immigrant communities, have struggled to increase rates at voter registration and voting.
In the days before the Aug. 16 deadline for voter registration, Masbia, which operates three kosher soup kitchens, handed out registration forms with meals.
“Jews, even now, vote in large percentages, but they do not vote in the same percentages they used to,” said Maurice Carroll, director the Quinnipiac University polling institute.
“Black voters over the years have become more politically attuned. For president, for governor, and everything else, the black vote is going up. Electing a black president convinces black voters that, hey, we’re in this, too.”
With stop-and-frisk perhaps the most salient issue in the race, Carroll said de Blasio could benefit most because, while all the candidates want the tactic altered, he is “the anti-Bloomberg.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg has adamantly opposed any change to the policing strategy, even after a federal court judge ruled it unconstitutional and called for a monitor and the City Council acted to rein in the tactic. Taxing the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for more public programs, as de Blasio wants to do, may also resonate well with minority communities, Carroll said.
Among Jews, there is no citywide issue uniting the community. The haredi and chasidic communities are concerned about circumcision regulation and more aid to yeshivas, but most other Jews are more focused on citywide issues.
“The Jewish vote won’t elect anybody because everybody will get a piece of it,” said Carroll.
Thompson, the former city comptroller and 2009 Democrat nominee, seems to have the most organized Jewish support, including representatives in the city’s three most heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Borough Park, where voters tend to be united.
On Sunday, Thompson was to campaign in Crown Heights with Jewish supporters and former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican who won heavy support from Jews statewide in his campaigns for Capitol Hill and is remembered well for his support of Soviet Jews and reparations for Holocaust survivors.
Other key Thompson supporters include Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Borough Park and Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, who recently gathered Orthodox leaders at her Manhattan home for a meet-and-greet with Thompson’s wife, Elsie McCabe Thompson, a source told The Jewish Week.
Thompson and his father, William Thompson Sr., have a long history of working with Jewish political operatives. But there are also Jewish activists working for de Blasio, Quinn and Weiner.
The polling in de Blasio’s favor — he garnered 43 percent of likely voters in a poll this week, which would mean he would avoid a runoff — may influence some Jewish votes in his favor for several reasons. One is because of the general rule that people tend to want their vote to count and be part of a winning bandwagon; a more practical consideration is that groups who rely on a good relationship with City Hall to keep social service funds flowing to community organizations will want a strong showing for the winner in their election districts.
But Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chairman of Community Board 9 in Crown Heights, who is supporting Thompson, said people in his neighborhood are not influenced by polls.
“No Orthodox Jews that I ever met has been polled,” he said. “That’s all hype.”
Pollock, said 26 percent of the primary turnout was the recent low-water mark for Jews, in the 1989 race between Democrats Ed Koch and David Dinkins, in which Dinkins prevailed.
Pollock said he believes pollsters are underestimating the likely Jewish turnout in his race, with some estimates placing it at 15 to 17 percent of likely voters. But he conceded that “the Jewish population has increased lately but decreased as a portion of the general population. Other groups are growing faster than the Jews. My standard rule is that Jews have to run faster to stand still.”
To make up a potent one third of the electorate, Pollock said, “they have to turn out in disproportionate numbers so the clout of the Jewish community is maintained.”
He added that while in the past there were political contrasts between Manhattan “limousine liberals and outer-borough Jews,” today it is a dichotomy of “unaffiliated Jews vs. the Orthodox, with the Russian community as an important third component.”
Democrat political consultant Basil Smikle said he sees African-American voters energized by the fact that all the candidates have reached out to them aggressively and mounted strong operations to get out the vote in black communities.
“For the first time in as long as I can remember, the pivotal candidates didn’t seem to have taken those votes for granted,” he said. “They are spending a lot of money. There are also important down-ballot races in communities of color.”
Smikle added that the key candidates all have a “history of engagement over the last 10-12 years, and they are known to African-American voters.”