There is no “Jewish vote” anymore. There is the Very Orthodox vote (69 percent of Borough Park voted for Donald Trump in 2016) and there is everyone else (only 7.5 percent of the Upper West Side voted for Trump). The American Jewish Committee’s David Harris recently told The Jewish Week, the political gap “between self-identified Orthodox and non-Orthodox … is striking.” In several surveys, “we’ve been seeing Orthodox respondents lean more heavily Republican and conservative on a range of socio-political issues.” However, those differences were often centered on Israel and national issues.
On the eve of next Tuesday’s mayoral vote in the city, how much of President Trump’s appeal, or that Orthodox trend, can be expected to carry over into the race between Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis? Trump, according to exit polls, captured 39 percent of the Orthodox vote; the most recent AJC poll put that figure at 56 percent. Could Malliotakis attract four in 10 Orthodox Jews?
On the one hand, Malliotakis, who voted for Trump, now has rescinded that support. Bo Dietl, the two-fisted ex-cop running on the Independent line, and expected to drain Malliotakis’ support on the right, particularly among the Orthodox, has also shied away from his own Trump vote.
However, in Brooklyn, the Jewish Press, which endorsed Trump in 2016, is endorsing Malliotakis. Aside from the “failing educational and transit systems; wholly inadequate housing stock; increasing numbers of homeless people,” as well as the mayor’s “negativity” toward the police, the Jewish Press raised some Israel issues, as well. The mayor, said the editorial, is a representative of the “political hard left,” exemplified by his going “all out [in] support of Congressman Keith Ellison for chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.”
Ellison, said the editorial, opposed U.S. funding for Iron Dome, central to Israel’s anti-missile defense, and supported BDS. (He told the Minneapolis Star-Ledger in 2016 that he is against boycotting Israel.) Ellison also represented Sen. Bernie Sanders, a de Blasio supporter who is known for criticizing Israel, on the Democratic platform committee in 2016. So if de Blasio supports Ellison, that’s something for Jewish voters to consider, said the Jewish Press.
Nevertheless, Jeff Wiesenfeld, a prominent activist for conservative Jewish causes, and a former executive assistant to Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and Gov. George Pataki, told us, when so many progressives “have no problem with evil all over the world but only have problems with Israel, de Blasio has exhibited some courage by being a progressive who has unabashedly supported Israel. I give him credit for that. De Blasio went to Paris,” after the “Charlie Hebdo” terrorist attacks in 2015 that also targeted a Jewish grocery. “He calls himself a progressive but he deserves credit for supporting Israel.”
Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander group that advises clients on political and public relations, told us, “I like Bill de Blasio. I actually love Bill de Blasio.”
The chasidic Friedlander, eldest son of the Lisker Rebbe, said de Blasio “is sensitive to our community, understanding that we have a unique set of challenges. He doesn’t look down at us, he looks ‘at.’ Every facet [of government] has a challenge when you’re part of a minority. For example, the city is doing UPK [universal pre-kindergarten] and your child goes to yeshiva; there’s that challenge, it’s figured out. And parking meters: on Friday afternoon, when Shabbos starts at 4 o’clock and meters stay in effect until 7 o’clock, the meters only allow you to pay for an hour or you’ll get a ticket. So in certain neighborhoods, the city reprogrammed the meters so they expire at 5 o’clock. In the grand scheme of things, it may not sound important if you’re not Orthodox, but that’s called sensitivity.”
(The mayor also rescinded the parental consent forms put into place by the Bloomberg administration to regulate the controversial circumcision technique known as metzitzah b’peh.)
Yes, said Friedlander, Orthodox Jews know the mayor is firmly on the political left, but “people understand that this is a liberal town. At the end of the day, whoever is mayor, the city will basically have the same positions on most social issues. Israel is important in some elections but in a local race it doesn’t really matter. That New York is a ‘sanctuary city’ isn’t relevant to our community. We have to choose our battles wisely. And our main battle is education.”
Friedlander explained, “We have the crushing [financial] burden of sending children to yeshiva. The city can’t help yeshivas directly but there’s so much the city can do to help parents.”
He cited the change implemented under de Blasio to streamline the waiting period for parents with special-needs children to get funding. “I was at a kiddush a few weeks ago and someone said to me, ‘I am the father of a special-needs child. Tell the mayor that I can’t bless him enough.’”
Like Friedlander, Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia University, has told us that the Orthodox relationship with City Hall is often less ideological than “transactional,” but sometimes those transactions were more corrupt than kosher. Transactions between the mayor and one Orthodox businessman, Jona Rechnitz, led to Rechnitz’s recent testimony in federal court about how his fortune purchased favors from City Hall. Citing Rechnitz’s “sordid account,” The New York Post this week endorsed Malliotakis. The Post wrote, “De Blasio won the job four years ago by touting his ‘tale of two cities,’ then delivered one New York for his wealthy donors and another for everyone else.” Citizens Union, a leading civic group that endorsed de Blasio in 2013, announced that “troubling ethical issues” are the reason they would not be making an endorsement for the first time in decades. Even The New York Times, which endorsed de Blasio, noted that “de Blasio has not shaken free of … suspicions about his ethical compass.”
Wiesenfeld said Nicole Malliotakis “is a fine woman but she starts off with a geometric disadvantage as a Republican. There’s an old adage: For a Republican to win, there needs to be a crisis, a particularly egregious situation leading to a loss of confidence in the perpetual Democratic leadership.”
As for Trump, “There’s a solid 20-25 percent Republican/conservative vote in New York at all times, no matter who is president,” said Wiesenfeld. “The only influence that Trump will have is when Democrats will try to attach him to every Republican candidate, to optimize Democratic turnout.”
However, Trump’s anti-Republican tweets are a factor, too. Leiba Simon, a young chasidic woman in East Flatbush, told us, “I’m just wary of establishment, bureaucratic Republicans because they’ve been fighting against Trump on so many issues.” She wonders if Malliotakis is establishment, and may even vote for Michael Tolkin, a Jewish millennial running on the obscure Smart Cities ticket. “He seemed more idealistic.”
Simon sees de Blasio’s “political correctness,” such as the mayor’s consideration of removing the Christopher Columbus statue, as foreboding for traditional Jews who will suffer, she fears, if political correctness becomes more ascendant than it already is. That’s why Simon was intrigued by Dietl, the least politically correct of any candidate, “but,” she said, “we haven’t decided.”