Independent Votes in a Most Democratic Place
UPPER WEST SIDE, NEW YORK CITY — As the Jews of this northern Manhattan neighborhood walked past a school bake sale and up to the polls in P.S. 163, coats and scarves flapping on this brisk morning, some were torn between party loyalty and other concerns.
Home to a diversity of synagogues and a large modern Orthodox population, the neighborhood’s Jews tend to lean liberal, as they say they see their religion’s social values reflected in the Democratic ethos. As attorney Samuel Flaks, 25, put it: “We’re taught to help the poor and disadvantaged, qualities found in Democratic values.” And none of the voters queried wanted to play a part in the much-predicted Republican wave. But this year, their 20-term Democratic congressman comes with baggage: Charles Rangel, U.S. Representative for New York’s 15th District, which includes parts of the Upper West Side and Harlem, faces 13 ethics charges by the House ethics committee alleging a range of improper uses of his office. The Harlem stalwart’s opponents are Republican Michael Faulkner, a minister, and independent candidate Craig Schley.
Longtime Democrat Joseph Shapiro, 50, a director of an international education company, felt conflicted about Rangel. “I think it’s wrong. People in positions of power have the responsibility to act accordingly,” Shapiro said. “I still believe in Democratic principles on face value, that you do the right thing no matter what — and that may come from my Jewish background.” A self-described cultural Jew, he found a way out by voting Independent.
Likewise, attorney Eric Jacobs, 50, selected third-party candidates this time around after growing up and living in the Rangel-dominated neighborhood. “If Rangel did do what they’re accusing him of, he should go to jail,” he said, “but I still expect him to get elected.”
Ariel Fishman, a 33-year-old Yeshiva University researcher, says the allegations (that the congressman improperly used his office to solicit donations, did not pay correct taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic, and improperly accepted low-rent apartments from a Manhattan developer, among others) don’t bother him. “2008 was about change. 2010 is about hoping that we can maintain the recovery,” he said. “Charlie Rangel spoke at OZ [congregation Ohab Zedek], and said we need to build a relationship that we haven’t had. I don’t think that Rangel has deliberately done anything wrong.”
Fishman soon found himself playing the part of role model: 20 nursery schoolers on a field trip from the Chabad Early Learning Center led by teacher Chava Kleinman wanted to know whether Fishman had voted.
“When you get really big, when you’re 18, you can come here and vote, too,” Kleinman told the toddlers.