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Bill De Blasio’s Two New Rabbinical Allies

Sharon Kleinbaum and Michael Miller named to mayoral transition team

Matt Taylor
November 21, 2013
New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect of New York City, has announced a 60-member transition team, and unsurprisingly, the list has its share of Jewish power brokers among the union officials, celebrity endorsers and liberal activists—including Ken Sunshine, the legendary PR specialist, and Orin Kramer, the hedge fund manager and longtime Obama supporter.

But aside from one man—Marvin Hellman, the president of Brooklyn’s OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, and a powerful figure in the Orthodox community—the list is noticeably bereft of the ultra-Orthodox leaders whose support was so crucial to de Blasio’s success in the election.

Instead, de Blasio has tapped an ideological ally for rabbinic advice: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the city’s LGBTQ synagogue. A longtime friend and ally of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kleinbaum—who happens to be the partner of Randi Weingarten, president of the National Teachers Union—moved toward Team de Blasio earlier this year during the fight over paid sick leave, one of the issues that served as a rallying cry for his insurgent candidacy. Another one of those issues was stop and frisk, a policy Kleinbaum has lambasted with the best of them.

She is joined on the transition team by Rabbi Michael Miller, the head of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council—a prominent, and far more conservative, voice whose job it is to advocate on behalf of the city’s Jewish service organizations, and who was an obvious pick to liaise with the Orthodox universe. But Miller is also a co-author of a Jewish Week piece called “The Case for Ray Kelly” that staunchly defended the outgoing police commissioner and in particular his program of surveilling Muslim communities, which the mayor-elect has suggested will be reined in.

So while de Blasio is struggling to reconcile the business-first mentality of Empire State politics with his own progressive stance on income inequality, will he triangulate on police reform? That remains to be seen, of course, but suffice it to say New York’s next mayor will need all the help he can get to enact such a lengthy agenda for social reform, and convincing traditional adversaries like Kleinbaum and Miller to remain on the same page for an extended period of time would represent something of a coup in the early going. They don’t have to be in the same room together, after all. But printing their names on the same press release? That’s easy.

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

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