New York City’s Orthodox bloc vote is cracked.
With just weeks to go before the city’s mayoral primary, Orthodox political activists in Brooklyn haven’t settled on a Democratic contender. Instead, they’ve picked all of them.
In Hasidic Williamsburg, the larger of the two Satmar Hasidic factions likes Bill Thompson. In Flatbush, the Syrians have endorsed Christine Quinn. Bill de Blasio has backers in Boro Park.
Though the Orthodox vote has never been monolithic, the fracturing in this election seems particularly acute. It comes after years of hype over the growing demographic and political heft of the city’s Orthodox, who are expected to cast 7% of the votes in the September 10 Democratic primary.
For some Orthodox insiders, the scattershot endorsements are a sign of Orthodox Jewry’s growing influence on city politics.
“It’s the first time I see that every candidate, no matter what background, is interested in [our] issues,” said Isaac Sofer, a leader of the smaller of the two Satmar factions in Williamsburg. “Everyone is competing for our vote.”
Sofer’s Satmar faction, the followers of Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, has yet to make an endorsement.
Orthodox political strategy in New York City is all about political handicapping. Driven by an acute need for government services, Orthodox power brokers like to bet on the favorite.
“The greatest single predictor of the Orthodox vote is the identity of the perceived winner,” said David Pollock, an official with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and a close observer of Orthodox politics.
For many Orthodox factions, however, that strategy was deemed unfeasible in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary when the initial favorite, City Council Speaker Quinn, publicly married her longtime female companion last year. Though Quinn has the endorsements of three of the city’s daily newspapers and has put up strong poll numbers for months, her only major Orthodox endorsement so far has been from the Syrian-backed Sephardic Community Federation, the most ruthlessly pragmatic of the Orthodox advocacy groups.
One Orthodox political activist from Brooklyn, who asked not to be named in order to protect relationships, said that Quinn has been too open about her sexuality, and particularly about her marriage to Kim Catullo. The activist said that Quinn had crossed a line when she referred to Catullo as her wife at a mayoral event in Flatbush early in the summer.
“That was politically incorrect for this community,” the activist said. “It was just like rubbing it in your face.”
Endorsements of Quinn by Orthodox communal leaders as a matter of political expediency may have risked alienating the Orthodox rank and file. “If community leadership says ‘Chris Quinn,’ it strains the space between that preference and the actual voters,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant.
Quinn does have some Hasidic supporters, most notably Ezra Friedlander, a political consultant. She also appears to have support in the Modern Orthodox community, which has a limited presence in Brooklyn. A luncheon for Quinn hosted by the Modern Orthodox umbrella group the Orthodox Union drew twice as many people as a similar event for Thompson, and four times as many as a similar event for Anthony Weiner, according to Jeff Leb, the O.U.’s New York State director of political affairs.