New York's Orthodox Voting Bloc Divided on Mayor Race

Brooklyn Orthodox Split Between at Least Three Candidates

Cracks in the Bloc: Satmar Hasidim are vowing to deliver Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox voters to Bill Thompson in the Democratic mayoral primary. But other groups are endorsing Christine Quinn and Bill DiBlasio has support in the community too.
josh nathan-kazis
Cracks in the Bloc: Satmar Hasidim are vowing to deliver Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox voters to Bill Thompson in the Democratic mayoral primary. But other groups are endorsing Christine Quinn and Bill DiBlasio has support in the community too.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 29, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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“That was politically incorrect for this community,” the activist said. “It was just like rubbing it in your face.”

Endorsements of Quinn by Orthodox communal leaders as a matter of political expediency may have risked alienating the Orthodox rank and file. “If community leadership says ‘Chris Quinn,’ it strains the space between that preference and the actual voters,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant.

Quinn does have some Hasidic supporters, most notably Ezra Friedlander, a political consultant. She also appears to have support in the Modern Orthodox community, which has a limited presence in Brooklyn. A luncheon for Quinn hosted by the Modern Orthodox umbrella group the Orthodox Union drew twice as many people as a similar event for Thompson, and four times as many as a similar event for Anthony Weiner, according to Jeff Leb, the O.U.’s New York State director of political affairs.

Yet Quinn’s lack of viability in most parts of Orthodox Brooklyn has left ultra-Orthodox community leaders to pick their own front-runner. Thompson has been a visible recipient of those endorsements.

In Williamsburg, Rabbi David Niederman of Satmar made it sound as though all of Orthodox Brooklyn was in the Thompson camp as he offered endorsements from his Hasidic faction and from a handful of smaller sects at an August 27 rally.

“What you have received is a bloc vote,” Niederman told Thompson from the podium as he rattled off the names of the Brooklyn Orthodox neighborhoods whose support he claimed to be delivering. “We are all here to ensure that our next mayor is the honorable Billy Thompson.”

Yet Niederman’s assurances would have come as a surprise in other corners of Orthodox Brooklyn, particularly among the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox who make up the constituency of Agudath Israel of America.

Though Agudath Israel, known as the Agudah, does not make political endorsements, senior lay figures attached to the organization do make their positions known. In the Democratic mayoral primary, those positions are all over the map.

“I see people in the community talking about Thompson and de Blasio,” said Shmuel Lefkowitz, a vice president of the Agudah.

Abe Biderman, a member of the Agudah’s board, publicly backs Thompson; Leon Goldenberg, another Agudah board member, backs de Blasio.

Asked why the Agudah can’t settle on a single candidate, the Orthodox political activist who was disturbed by Quinn’s lesbian marriage asked, “What happens if he loses?”


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