New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio jumped on a plane last month to make a 48-hour solidarity trip to Israel amid the wave of Palestinian knife, car and shooting attacks.
In January, he made a similar solidarity trip to Paris to pay his respects at the kosher supermarket where four Jews were killed in a terrorist attack.
He has called for an end to anti-Semitism in Europe; attended the wedding of the grandson of a chasidic leader; addressed a meeting of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.; met Avigdor Lieberman when he was Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, and fulfilled a campaign pledge to black-hat and chasidic Jews to rescind regulations that might have limited a controversial form of circumcision.
Despite all of that, new polling numbers show de Blasio’s support among Jews — who elected him with 53 percent of their vote — to be among the lowest in the city at just 28 percent. In fact, his support in the black community — which elected him with a whopping 96 percent of their votes — is now down to 57 percent.
“These numbers are distressing for him,” said Ester Fuchs, a professor of public policy at Columbia University, who noted that de Blasio needs the white vote should he seek reelection.
Jews represented nearly one-fifth of the vote in the 2013 mayoral election, and these latest opinion polls conducted by The New York Times and Siena College between Oct. 29 and Nov. 11 is setting off alarm bells in the de Blasio camp. It revealed that whites and Jews had virtually identical unfavorable opinions of the mayor’s performance in handling issues facing the city.
For instance, 64 percent disapprove of the way he has handled the upsurge in homelessness, 60 percent said he does not have strong qualities of leadership and 55 percent do not have confidence in his ability to handle a crisis.
“The poll is an accurate snapshot of [opinions] now,” Fuchs said. “It found that 62 percent of whites, 51 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks think the mayor has ‘gotten off on the wrong track.’ The question is whether he [de Blasio] can change that direction.”
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant, said he is convinced de Blasio, a progressive Democrat, can turn things around.
“Don’t count him out,” he said. “There’s a long way to go until 2017. He can do it with better management, less crime and bringing things under control with a stronger hand. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen him with [former Mayor Michael] Bloomberg, which is one way to bring back alienated Jewish voters.”
He was referring to a rare joint appearance of the two men to celebrate the planting of more than 1 million trees in the city, an initiative begun by Bloomberg and continued by de Blasio.
Aides to the two men have been quoted as saying the mayor reached out to Bloomberg as part of a fence-mending effort. The rift between the two men was seen as a political liability at a time when de Blasio’s conflicts with Gov. Andrew Cuomo have hurt his ability to get some of his initiatives accomplished.
It is also important, Sheinkopf said, for de Blasio to be able to “control the discussion.” He said the mayor did just that last week by holding a news conference in Times Square with Police Commissioner William Bratton shortly after 11 p.m. to ensure local TV coverage and reassure city residents that they were working to keep the city safe from the radical Islamist terrorists who have attacked Europe.
“Making people feel safe trumps Rikers’ being out of control and increased crime in the schools,” Sheinkopf added. “He has to show that he has things under control. The New York ethos of the mayor is that he is out there all the time protecting them and that he does not turn off the lights at Gracie Mansion until the people are safe. His mandate to get reelected is to prove that things are under control and that he is a strong manager.”
Another Jewish public relations consultant, Ezra Friedlander, discounted the poll, saying: “It takes time for New Yorkers to get accustomed to their new mayor. Obviously he is dramatically different than Bloomberg, [Ed] Koch and [Rudolph] Giuliani. They have totally different personalities. Even Moses could not satisfy all the Jews — we’re a difficult people to please.”
He insisted that de Blasio remains “very popular in the Jewish community — across the board, including the Orthodox.
Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, who worked as de Blasio’s liaison to the Jewish community when he was a councilman from 2002 to 2005, said de Blasio’s introduction of universal pre-kindergarten “especially benefited the Orthodox Jewish community — it is a very big help to a lot of people.”
Rabbi Silber, now executive director of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, said de Blasio is also fondly remembered for his work in representing much of Boro Park when he was in the City Council.
Leon Goldenberg, a longtime friend of de Blasio and a trustee of the Agudath Israel of America, accompanied de Blasio on his trip last month to Israel. He agreed that the mayor has strong support in the Orthodox community and that the trip to Israel simply burnished his image.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former aide to both Koch and former New York Gov. George Pataki, was less positive about de Blasio, asserting that there is a perception that “Bratton is keeping the city together after having to deviate from [former police commissioner Ray] Kelly’s stop-and-frisk-policy,” a move that Wiesenfeld believes has caused New Yorkers to feel less safe.
Although de Blasio is a progressive Democrat, he is also being criticized from the left for failing to make good on election promises. “[The] promises of his progressive agenda are yet to be fulfilled,” said Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
She said education and affordable housing are just two of the areas that must still be addressed.
“Low-income communities are threatened today as they were under Bloomberg and Giuliani,” Kent said.
“The issue is not just about building new housing with a certain percentage for low-income families. The issue is that affordable housing is no longer affordable. What he is building is a drop in the bucket to what we are losing. … The commercial to residential rezoning is causing a huge uptick in prices for houses. Areas like Harlem are being priced out of range for low income people.”