Anthony Weiner Hits Comeback Trail in Mayor's Race — With Scant Jewish Backing

Donors and Pols Shun Disgraced Lawmaker — So Far

Comeback Kid: A new poll shows Anthony Weiner has a chance of grabbing a good share of the Jewish vote in New York’s mayoral primary. So why are so few big-name donors lining up behind him?
getty images
Comeback Kid: A new poll shows Anthony Weiner has a chance of grabbing a good share of the Jewish vote in New York’s mayoral primary. So why are so few big-name donors lining up behind him?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 03, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

New York’s mayoral race finally has a Jewish candidate, but he’s not getting much organized Jewish support

Anthony Weiner’s much hyped announcement that he would run in the Democratic primary for New York City mayor was greeted with a collective shrug by Jewish activists and donors across New York City.

That’s in part because the Jewish power players are already committed to Weiner’s rivals. On the Upper West Side, liberal Jewish donors back Christine Quinn, the City Council president. Bill Thompson, who came surprisingly close to beating Michael Bloomberg in 2009, has support from Brooklyn’s Orthodox and Upper East Side influencers. Some liberal Jews are getting behind Bill de Blasio, who is running on a progressive ticket.

“Whether the Jewish community embraces Anthony’s mayoral candidacy depends less on the default setting of whether the candidate is Jewish, and more on a sincere evaluation of his positions and viability,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant.

READ: Weiner Gets Mixed Reaction at Celebrate Israel Parade

While Weiner may be short of big-name Jewish backers, it’s too early to count him out among rank-and-file Jewish voters. A Marist Poll conducted in the immediate aftermath of Weiner’s announcement that he would run in the primary found that Jewish Democrats preferred him to his rivals.

Amid the relatively small sample of roughly 70 Jewish Democrats, 23% reported that they preferred Weiner. Quinn trailed closely at 17%, followed by de Blasio at 16%. Those potentially heartening results for Weiner were tempered by a question showing that 44% of Jews had an unfavorable impression of Weiner compared with 40% who had a favorable impression — a far worse result than for any other candidate.

That poll was taken during a week of wall-to-wall Weiner coverage. Still, it could signify an opening for Weiner, as some Jewish voters have expressed a willingness to forgive him for the sexting scandal that drove him from Congress.

“We all, in our lives, we all have bumps in the road,” said Yelena Makhnin, a prominent member of the Brighton Beach Russian Jewish community. “We have some obstacles, and we have some problems. But to me, what is important [is] how you deal with it.”

The Democratic candidates will vie in a primary in September. If, as expected, no candidate gets 40% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in a winner-takes-all run-off.

If he hopes to prevail this fall, one place Weiner may start trying to build his constituency is in the Russian-speaking Jewish neighborhoods of South Brooklyn, parts of which he has represented in Congress and the City Council.

Yet activists there say there’s little inclination to back him in the mayoral race.

“Anthony Weiner’s entrance into the race, from what I have seen, has not generated much reaction,” said Leonard Petlakh, executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, speaking in a personal capacity about his neighborhood.

Instead, the formidable political energy of Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking Jewish community is split among a handful of Democratic primary candidates, including New York City Comptroller John Liu, de Blasio, Thompson and long-shot conservative Democrat Erick Salgado.

Salgado picked Russian-language radio mogul Gregory Davidzon to manage his campaign in an apparent attempt to capitalize on Davidzon’s reputation as a Russian Jewish kingmaker. Davidzon drew attention for backing support for Bob Turner on his radio station in Turner’s unlikely 2011 victory in the special election to fill Weiner’s abandoned congressional seat. Since then, however, Davidzon’s preferred candidates have been dealt a succession of defeats in New York State Assembly and State Senate races.

“I believe Salgado will get support in the Russian-speaking community, mostly due to Gregory Davidzon’s support,” said Ari Kagan, a longtime Russian Jewish political activist now running for City Council and supporting Liu in the mayoral race.

Weiner, meanwhile, seems to have missed out on the support of major individual Russian-speaking donors who have backed him in the past.

Alexander Rovt, a Ukrainian American Jewish billionaire who, together with his wife, gave more than $37,000 to Weiner’s campaigns between 2006 and 2011, is in de Blasio’s corner in the mayoral race. He and his wife gave the maximum contribution — nearly $10,000 — to de Blasio’s campaign in January 2012.

Joseph Kleynerman is a South Brooklyn doctor who has raised money for Weiner in the past, and he said that he may still support Weiner in the mayoral race, but has not yet heard from the candidate.

There is one Jewish community that appears eager to have Weiner back in the game. In the Forest Hills section of Queens, a heavily Jewish neighborhood that Weiner represented in Congress until 2011, news that Weiner would be a candidate in the Democratic mayoral primary was met with excitement.

“I like him; he many times help me,” said Rossi Mektaloz, editor and publisher of the Russian-language Bukharian Times. Mektaloz said his newspaper would back Weiner. For Mektaloz, the scandal that pushed Weiner out of office only helped his case for mayor. “He really man, not gay,” Mektaloz said, laughing.

Yet even in Forest Hills, Weiner is facing stiff competition from Thompson, who has made efforts to build relationships there.

“We have a good connection with Thompson, who is a big friend of the community,” said Itzhak Yehoshua, a leading rabbi in the Bukharian Jewish community in Forest Hills.

Thompson’s recent success attracting Jewish support is, perhaps, the most surprising.

An African-American candidate from Brooklyn, Thompson seems likely to have a serious shot at winning the mayoralty. That could be part of the calculus behind his success at wooing Orthodox Brooklyn, whose leaders famously eschew ideology in favor of practical concerns when making voting decisions.

Thompson grew up in Flatbush in a political family with ties to the Orthodox. He also may have an advantage if he can draw a solid majority of black voters in a crowded primary field.

Thompson has the endorsement of the New York State Board of Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch, who recently signed on as co-chair of his campaign. Tisch, whose own name had been batted about as a potential mayoral contender, is a member of the socially and politically prominent Tisch family, members of which control Loews Corp. and the New York Giants and donate heavily to Jewish causes.

Her partnership with Thompson, a progressive Democrat, is somewhat unlikely. Tisch’s husband, James Tisch, is backing former Mass Transit Authority chairman Joe Lhota in the Republican mayoral primary.

Quinn, meanwhile, appears to have locked in support from Upper West Side Jewish liberals. Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan Borough President who was the Democratic mayoral candidate in 1997, will co-sponsor a fundraiser for Quinn in June with Barbara Dobkin, a donor to progressive Jewish causes. Susan Lowenberg and Joyce Newstat, two major San Francisco-based Jewish backers of Democratic candidates and gay and lesbian organizations, are also sponsoring the event.

“I know her and like her a great deal,” Messinger, now executive director of American Jewish World Service, said of Quinn. “She’s obviously developed relationships with virtually every constituency in the city during the years she’s been in office.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.