At the culmination of Bill de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” mayoral campaign, there was also a tale of two Jewish communities, it seems.
One, an apparent combination of unabashed liberals, fans of his past Jewish outreach and pragmatic voters who value good ties with City Hall, embraced his candidacy, giving him the highest percentage of the Jewish vote for any Democrat since Ed Koch in the 1980s.
The other, a combination of socially conservative Orthodox and the affluent who oppose higher taxes, turned up its collective nose, supporting Republican Joe Lhota in droves and giving de Blasio the lowest percentage of the Jewish vote of any victorious mayoral candidate since 2001.
While nearly three-quarters of Jews backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his last two races, evidently pleased with his mix of competent stewardship and liberal social policy positions, just 53 percent helped boost de Blasio’s campaign, according to an exit poll by Edison Research; 44 percent pulled the lever for Lhota, despite the overwhelming sense of futility in doing so, according to consistent polls through Election Day.
De Blasio might have done far better with Jews if not for the low turnout. Jews were 16 percent of the turnout, which is high considering Jews are 14 percent of the population of the five boroughs, but low compared to past years’ turnout numbers. They were 24 percent of the turnout in 1997, for example.
With polls showing zero suspense about any of the major races, the most liberal segment of the Jewish community, in areas such as Park Slope, Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, may well have stayed home on Election Day, with polls showing they could do so with a clear conscience as Lhota’s campaign was foundering.
“We know that Jews living in areas like Riverdale and the Upper West Side turn out more than Jews in the more Orthodox communities,” said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “But Jews in Orthodox areas turn out more than their non-Jewish neighbors.”
While the margin of error for subgroups in the exit poll is larger than the overall plus or minus four points, it does seem to reflect the findings of the recent New York Jewish Jewish Community Study that the Orthodox are making up a larger slice of the community’s demographic pie. In 2011, Orthodox were 40 percent of the population of the greater New York area, up from 33 percent in 2002.
Lhota’s campaign to play up fears that de Blasio’s police reform agenda will make neighborhoods unsafe, as well as his vigorous campaigning at Jewish venues, seem to also have made an impact. His share of the vote was won without the endorsement of any Jewish elected officials or major Jewish newspapers.
The exit poll, as well as a map of results by election districts compiled by the Associated Press, suggest that New York Jews were far more divided than other ethnic and religious groups this year.
The heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Borough Park were split between the candidates, while Lhota performed strongest in Manhattan Beach and Midwood in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan — all heavily Jewish neighborhoods. De Blasio won all areas of Williamsburg, where chasidic leaders endorsed him early in the campaign, while Lhota won the most heavily concentrated Jewish area of Staten Island.
The heart of Brighton Beach, the city’s largest concentration of Russian immigrants, was one of the areas where de Blasio won less than 25 percent of the vote, reflecting the typical mistrust among Jews from the former Soviet Union of left-wing candidates.
Other religious and ethnic groups were far more united on their choice, helping de Blasio garner his overall 73 percent of the vote.
Eighty-three percent of Protestants backed de Blasio, as did 66 percent of Catholics. Ninety-six percent of African-American voters chose de Blasio, who also ran on the Working Families Party ballot, along with 87 percent of Hispanic voters and 68 percent of Asian Americans, according to the Edison Research poll of 2,122 voters.
De Blasio’s standing among Jews was surely boosted by the fact that he represented part of Borough Park in the City Council and was attentive to issues of concern there. And areas with a high concentration of Jews needing social services tend to vote with the perceived winner in order to stay in that candidate’s good graces.
Which makes it more surprising that parts of Borough Park and Brighton Beach went heavily for Lhota.
“We should remember that culturally and socially conservative communities take seriously their positions on issues, many of which are not entirely in line with progressive Democrats,” said Michael Tobman, a political consultant who works with Orthodox groups.
“But it must also be noted that many Jewish groups were big de Blasio supporters in the primary, and that the mayor-elect’s win, pretty much everywhere, is itself a citywide unifying event.”
Though not doing as well as other recent victors, de Blasio can still claim record Jewish support, based on recent history. His share represents an increase of 31 points over the 2009 share garnered by Democrat William Thompson, Jr., when he ran against incumbent Mike Bloomberg, an independent/Republican who won 75 percent. Democrat Fernando Ferrer won an estimated 26 percent against Bloomberg in 2005, while Mark Green won about 48 percent of the Jewish vote in 2001, as the Democrat facing Bloomberg in his first Republican bid for office.
Leon Goldenberg, a de Blasio supporter in the Flatbush Orthodox community, said that the mayor–elect’s Jewish support was an achievement, but added that Lhota’s campaign promises resonated in haredi areas.
“Basically the Jewish community, especially the Orthodox community has moved more to the right and moved more Republican,” he said. “[De Blasio] is against tax credits [for yeshiva tuition] and Lhota seemed to be for it. He was constantly in the Orthodox areas and people were saying, ‘He’s for everything we’re for.’ So the fact that de Blasio got 53 percent is pretty good.”
In the Sept. 10 Democratic primary De Blasio won 38 percent of the Jewish vote, the highest of any candidate, according to the same polling firm.
Lhota, who ran on the Republican, Conservative, Taxes Too High and Students First ballots and won about 24 percent of the overall vote according to unofficial results, made a concerted effort to attend as many Jewish events as his schedule would permit and to frequently campaign in heavily Jewish neighborhoods during the general election. De Blasio limited his campaigning in the general race as polls showed him ahead by leaps and bounds.
“Despite being vastly outspent by the Democrats in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Joe Lhota put forward a message that resonated with the Jewish community on the issues like public safety, private school education, and religious freedom,” said Michael Fragin, who worked Jewish outreach on Lhota’s campaign. “We also campaigned in Forest Hills, Far Rockaway, and Flushing while our opponent was largely absent.”
Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president and 1998 Democratic nominee for mayor sees the strong Jewish showing for Lhota as a referendum on the status quo. “I think many people in the Jewish community have a very strong affinity for Bloomberg,” she said. “Obviously we are not monolithic, but there were some people in the Jewish community who were concerned about what change would mean and what Bill de Blasio would mean.”
She added, “I don’t think you’ll fund much of that taking sway. I think he will work closely with them.”
Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia and former Bloomberg policy advisor, notes that Thompson had heavy Jewish support in this year’s primary in which he came in second, and many of those voters never transferred their support to de Blasio.
“It looked like the old-line liberal Manhattan Jewish vote was going to Thompson in the primary,” Fuchs said. “There wasn’t really any strong Jewish support for Lhota [in the general election], it was just anti-de Blasio.”
Fuchs added that de Blasio was likely to have a good relationship with the Jewish community and its organizations despite some positions not widely supported, noting that he has been a strong backer of Israel.
“He’s a pragmatic guy, not an ideologue,” said Fuchs. “In the end his progressive agenda will work well for most Jews who care about poverty issues and quality-of-life issues.”