Bill de Blasio thrashed his Republican opponent Joe Lhota by about fifty points in New York City’s mayoral election Tuesday night, but achieved a much narrower majority (53 to 44 percent) among Jewish voters, according to exit polls. In fact, the Tribe was the Park Slope liberal’s worst religious bloc by far.
The discrepancy might come as something of a surprise given that de Blasio ran as the clear progressive choice on one hand, and also enjoyed an extensive network of Orthodox Jewish operatives from his days as city councilman in Borough Park on the other. But his willingness to make vague promises on revisiting metzitzah b’peh, childcare vouchers, and other issues of concern to conservative Jewish leadership was apparently insufficient to compensate for an exotic profile as a postmodern change agent with a less-than-draconian approach to policing.
“Our community is very concerned about safety and security,” says Leon Goldenberg, the Flatbush real estate scion and Orthodox community leader who backed de Blasio but was unsurprised at the weak showing in his neighborhood. Goldenberg credits Lhota with effectively stoking fear of a resurgence of David Dinkins-era anti-Semitic violence—another Crown Heights, essentially—under a de Blasio administration, as well as resentment of his tax plans that would soak the city’s wealthiest to universalize early childhood education and expand after-school programs (most Orthodox send their children to private yeshivas).
“Believe it or not, this was a Dinkins election in that Jews were scared,” says David Luchins, a political scientist at Touro College in Manhattan. “Those commercials worked.”
On the other hand, de Blasio improved tremendously on 2009 Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Thompson’s paltry showing. Mayor Bloomberg racked up 75 percent of the Jewish vote in that contest, perhaps boosted by an effort to play up his heritage and brand himself “Mike the Mensch” as far back as 2005. Bloomberg alienated many, however, when his administration nixed Priority 7 funding for childcare vouchers, which many Orthodox families relied upon. And his insistence that parents sign waivers acknowledging the (serious) health risks that come with metzitzah b’peh continues to rankle.
So as the entire city moved leftward this year, New York’s Jews got in on the action, albeit at a decidedly more sluggish pace than their neighbors.
Matt Taylor is an associate editor at VICE Magazine and former staff reporter at The East Hampton Star. His political reporting has also appeared in Slate, Salon, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, Capital New York, and New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. His Twitter feed is @matthewt_ny