Eying Orthodox Vote, New York Mayor Candidates Back Aid to Religious Schools

Quinn, Weiner and Thompson Jockey for Support

Pander or Principle? New York’s mayoral frontrunners are tripping over themselves to vow more aid for religious schools. With the race up in the air, they want to make sure they get a slice of the Orthodox vote.
yermi brenner
Pander or Principle? New York’s mayoral frontrunners are tripping over themselves to vow more aid for religious schools. With the race up in the air, they want to make sure they get a slice of the Orthodox vote.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 23, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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New York City’s leading Democratic mayoral candidates are pledging to back taxpayer aid to private religious schools in a bid to draw Orthodox Jewish support.

Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner, who lead in the Democratic mayoral polls, both spoke in favor of city aid to for private schools at separate campaign events in early July.

Quinn, addressing a July 11 luncheon hosted by a centrist Orthodox umbrella group, said she would look into providing security guards for private religious schools. Weiner, at another campaign event, proposed boosting the clout of the department within the city’s education bureaucracy dedicated to sending cash to private schools.

“There has been flexibility on both sides of the discussion,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City political consultant who has worked on nonpublic education issues. “The reception has been positive. I think that the [Orthodox] communities care; it matters to these communities to be courted in this way.”

Government aid for religious schools is a key political aim of communities across the Orthodox Jewish spectrum. The city is allowed to provide some forms of government aid to private religious schools, though other forms are barred.

Orthodox advocates have largely abandoned the push for taxpayer-funded vouchers with which parents could pay for religious education. Instead, they are focusing on expanding the subsidies for specific secular services at their schools from federal, state and city agencies.

“If public schools are receiving these types of services, like security for their children and nurses, from our point of view there’s no reason why private school students should be bereft of those services,” said Jeff Leb, New York director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union, the centrist Orthodox umbrella group that hosted Quinn at the July 11 luncheon.

Both Quinn and Weiner have struggled to amass broad support within the Orthodox community. Quinn’s base is in Manhattan, where she enjoys support from non-Orthodox liberal Jews. Weiner, for his part, has little Jewish backing, despite being Jewish.

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