Sunday, December 1, 2013

When The Jewish Community Got Engaged And Delivered The Votes

The following is my debut monthly Jewish political update in the JCC of Marine Park's - The Jewish Echo magazine:

Voters in New York City expressed their desire for change, after 20 years of Republican control, in an unequivocal voice - by granting Bill de Blasio a 49 point victory over his Republican opponent, on November 5th, 2013.

For the Jewish community in New York, the largest gathering of Jews outside Israel, this election cycle meant a revival of power of an electorate that was often ignored by City Hall.

While the next mayor of New York is not Jewish, he’s is definitely considered a close friend of the Jewish community, and by some count, ‘one of our own.’ Mayor-Elect de Blasio is the first Democrat to win the Jewish vote since Ed Koch won his reelection bid in 1985. It wasn’t an overwhelming outburst of support, considering his 49 point margin against Joe Lhota. Nonetheless, he still bested Mr. Lhota among Jewish voters by 53-44 percent, according to exit polling by Edison Research for The New York Times.

As a matter of fact, the amount of Jewish members serving in the council has increased to 14, up from 10 in the last term, and the Orthodox Jewish Community now has two Orthodox representatives in the City Council.

But it’s not just the victories and the amount of votes that count. Both Republican and Democratic candidates reached out aggressively to various Jewish communities, especially the fastest growing Orthodox and Hasidic community in Brooklyn. The issues at stake for the community were not only heavily addressed at forums and public events, but it had almost driven the conversation of the day. From addressing issues such as metzitzah b’peh to “funds for yeshivas,” the candidates were all seeking to find common ground on the issues that matter, in order to attract the promising Jewish vote. The amount of Yiddish and Hebrew words used by all of the candidates on the trail was unprecedented.

The dozen of Democratic and Republican candidates reached out to the community, as were each and every one surrounded by Jewish operatives and supporters. The general election cycle was shorter and less crowded. Nevertheless, the major parties nominees relied on their connection and relationships with the community to court votes and support throughout the five boroughs.

Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate for mayor, focused heavily in reaching out to Jewish voters in Brooklyn and Queens, spending a fair amount of his time to meet all communities and positioned himself as an advocate for issues that are at great concern to the Ultra-Orthodox community. Whereas Bill de Blasio, who represented parts of Borough Park as a council member for 8 years, managed to ride high on his solid lead over his opponent, assuring voters he will have an open door and a listening ear for their concerns. He also kept his promise of meeting with Jewish leaders prior the election. Most of his meetings were closed to the press and therefore not reported about.

At the end of the day, turnout was relatively higher on Election Day than in the primaries. And so was the support given – to each candidate based on the merits - on a Citywide and local level.

Mr. Lhota’s share of the vote in Southern Brooklyn and Williamsburg was pretty identical to the overall support Republican candidates have received in the past, but it also had to do with the fact that his message resonated with Orthodox Jewish voters in particular.

For Mr. de Blasio, the support he received from the rank and file in the community helped him sooth the early concerns of his progressive promise and the uncertainty of the change he proposed. Not to mention that his progressive agenda will work well for most Jews who care about poverty and quality-of-life issues and for low-income families.

In conclusion, New York had a Jewish mayor for 12 years but not always was it helpful for the Jewish community. This time around, voters, leaders and political operatives, who were motivated to get people registered to vote and actually come out to vote on election day, proved that it is the outer-borough citizens and the community’s power that determined the outcome, in making sure they have a voice and a representative in City Hall.

For this and beyond, the Jewish vote played an instrumental role in this year’s election, a blueprint for the elections to come.


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