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Ezra Friedlander: I’m Voting For Christine Quinn For Mayor, And So Should You

Op-Ed by Ezra Friedlander

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn on January 28, 2013 leaving the home of Ezra Friedlander in Borough Park, Brooklyn, NY. PHOTO CREDIT: Shmuel LenchevskyNYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn on January 28, 2013 leaving the home of Ezra Friedlander in Borough Park, Brooklyn, NY. PHOTO CREDIT: Shmuel Lenchevsky

New York - In less than 90 days from now, New York City will vote in the Democratic Primary for mayor.

Elections are about determining the future of our city and our ability to enjoy the quality of life, however we choose to live. Elections for mayor should be based on whoever best fits the criteria as outlined in the city charter. I will cast my ballot for NYC Council Speaker Chris Quinn and I urge the members of our community to do the same.

The dialogue so far in our community has not concentrated enough on the issues that truly matter. We should focus on choosing a mayor who possesses the following attributes: smart, sensible, stable, strong, and sensitive. Christine Quinn is just the candidate who has these qualities of an ideal New York City mayor.

Most candidates for public office will promise everything to everyone and ultimately make no one happy. Those who do not make empty promises satisfy more people because they are true to their word. The old saying of “promise less and deliver more” seems appropriate here. When candidates are sincere, they may give statements you do not want to hear, however, you can believe they will deliver on commitments they do make.

For me, the turning point in deciding to write this op-ed was precisely when Speaker Quinn decried the pandering of the other candidates. It was precisely what she was not promising that convinced me that when she does make a commitment, you can bank on it. I have known Quinn since her earliest days in the New York City Council prior to her becoming speaker and her record exhibits that she is sincere and dependable.

What should be most important to you as a voter, is a mayor who empathizes with the constituents. Christine Quinn’s record of public service and not her personal life demonstrates that she has the unique insights to understand the challenges and particular needs of the Orthodox Jewish Community.

There is a notion that those in public life need to mirror their constituents. This belief is a fallacy of the highest magnitude. Many people before me have made the argument that it is in the community’s best interest not to have a member of our community in the oval office (or for that matter, city hall) but rather one who can best govern in a way that addresses the real concerns of our community. One may argue the pros and cons of this approach, but my point is that you don’t have to be a card carrying member of our community or subscribe to our tenets to represent us well.

Let me be clear. Torah values must be part and parcel of our daily existence. It is the only map a religious Jew must call upon to navigate the complexities of daily life. Torah values belong in our home and in our interactions with one another. Torah values belong in the way we conduct business as prescribed in the highest ethos of Jewish Law; and in the way we want to educate and raise our children. And yes, Torah values should play a central role in how we present ourselves to secular society every day and on every issue.

However, in that same secular society, it is unrealistic and frankly short-sighted to expect those in government to live by those same high Torah standards we as religious people set for ourselves. Those who want to raise the banner of Torah values in a political context ultimately dilute Torah values and the ability for our community to engage effectively in the political world.

You may hear a radically different perspective from those with their own agenda but as one who deals with elected officials every single day for over two decades, voters who care about their community and the many challenges facing us, would be wise to at least consider a different opinion.

Politics is not the Bais Medrash. None of the serious mayoral candidates reflect our lifestyle, nor do they have to, in order be effective advocates for our community.

To all those trying to inject Torah values into this campaign or any political campaign, recent history shows, though you may have the community’s best interests at heart, your efforts are counter-productive and damaging.

Historically, the vast majority of American rabbinical leadership did not inject religion or express the opinion that secular public officials in a democratic society adopt a Torah position or platform. Nor did the rabbinic leadership personally raise the issue of religion and politics even when they interacted with those running for or sitting in elected office. It is only a relatively new phenomenon that we use a moral or religious litmus test before considering a candidate for office.

Once we fuse religion and politics and use religion as the only litmus test to support or oppose a particular candidate, it could lead to a dangerous downward spiral that completely closes government’s door to our needs and concerns. Don’t believe it? It’s already happening.

Once we mix religion and politics, every religious viewpoint will have a right to air their beliefs in the political discourse. This country has a very strict interpretation of separation of church and state. For us, the word Torah is warm, welcoming, and sacrosanct; but perhaps the viewpoint of other religions is not so welcoming or interested in our way of life. Hence, it is in our self-interest not to allow anyone to dictate their religious principles on others.

Our overriding concern should always be to protect our right to conduct our lives in the religious fashion which we hold dear. It is the very reason our ancestors came to these safe shores. Furthermore, as an electoral minority, forcing our viewpoint upon others will only be counterproductive. It’s about the numbers and on a Citywide or statewide basis; we simply don’t have the numbers to dictate to anybody.

The role of government in regards to religion is to allow us as individuals to raise our families in the religious tradition with which we wish to convey. To that extent we want government’s cooperation, nothing more. We also should not want to impose our religious beliefs on secular society.

I am convinced that Christine Quinn as Mayor of New York City will not only be sympathetic to the unique challenges facing our community, but will surpass all expectations. That is because a mayor who is strong and sensitive as Christine Quinn has proven herself to be understanding of the needs of our community and supportive of us. Her strong leadership in the City Council and her ability to work with Mayor Bloomberg is indicative of her ability to govern effectively.

It is very easy to be a steadfast ideologue unwilling to compromise, and a hero to a very narrow constituent base. However, a real leader like Christine Quinn understands the need to be effective so that government can be a catalyst for good, even if imperfect. Christine Quinn also understands how to stand up for those who need a strong advocate.
I am convinced that Christine Quinn as Mayor of New York City will not only be sympathetic to the unique challenges facing our community, but will surpass all expectations. That is because a mayor who is strong and sensitive as Christine Quinn has proven herself to be understanding of the needs of our community and supportive of us. Her strong leadership in the City Council and her ability to work with Mayor Bloomberg is indicative of her ability to govern effectively.

It is very easy to be a steadfast ideologue unwilling to compromise, and a hero to a very narrow constituent base. However, a true leader like Christine Quinn understands the need to be effective so that government can be a catalyst for good, even if imperfect.

Christine Quinn also understands how to stand up for those who need a strong advocate.

I am convinced that Christine Quinn will understand the struggles of a middle class Orthodox Jewish family in our community. She can relate to a special needs child whose parents are fighting the bureaucracy and need to get their child approved in an appropriate school setting.

Christine Quinn will ensure that Yeshiva kids have their transportation needs taken care of, recognizing the safety concerns of a late dismissal. Christine Quinn demonstrates that she understands the challenges of the middle class by public stating that city fines should be a warning only for the first time with any financial consequences, providing that it is a non-emergency related.

Christine Quinn understands the importance of preserving communities and due to her experience as housing organizer. Christine Quinn understands the invaluable communal infrastructure that the Orthodox community has built in NYC and our commitment to this city. Her blueprints for creating affordable housing will help our community continue to flourish and grow in New York City.

When it comes to politics, I always keep the following expression in mind, “Don’t be right, be smart.” I urge you to understand, don’t be right. Elections are not about being right on every issue; start thinking smart. Elections are about being able to deliver for our community, children, and continuity. Christine Quinn as mayor will achieve all those objectives.

Ezra Friedlander is CEO of The Friedlander Group a NYC and Washington DC public policy consulting firm.

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