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Appealing to New York’s Jews means reaching out to ultra-Orthodox leaders in Brooklyn and to secular liberals on the Upper West Side, to pick two of the scores of Jewish subcommunities throughout the city.
In past electoral cycles, Jewish leaders have worried that demographic shifts within the Jewish community, particularly the growth of the community’s conservative Russian-speaking and ultra-Orthodox segments, is breaking up that Jewish bloc. That hasn’t yet happened, at least in mayoral races. Jews have largely voted together in all recent mayoral elections but the 2001 race, when the community split between Republican Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Mark Green, both of whom are Jewish.
“Jews want to be viewed as a bloc, even when they don’t like each other,” said Ester Fuchs, director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Seeking access to needed services, Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews look to support front-runners in local elections and eschew ideological concerns. That often brings them in line with secular Jewish liberals, who favor candidates pushing social programs. “Consequently, when you look at local elections, the ideological differences among Jewish voters are not as significant as they would be in a national election,” Fuchs said.
The lower and middle ranks of city politics are full of ambitious young Jewish officials, like Julie Menin, a candidate for Manhattan Borough President, and City Councilman Brad Lander. It’s clear that the current dearth of Jewish mayoral wannabes is not a long-term condition.
In L.A., however, despite the current bumper crop of Jewish mayoral candidates, the trend is actually moving in the opposite direction. The number of Jews in city offices there is actually declining.
“While three major candidates have connections to the Jewish community, it’s actually in the context of declining Jewish representation in the assembly, the state Senate, the city council,” Sonenshein said. He noted that the number of Jews representing L.A. in those bodies is “well below the high-water marks of 20 years ago.”