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Susan Lerner apologizes for calling Orthodox Jews an ‘extremist’ voting bloc

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, apologized in an exclusive statement to the Forward for offensive remarks she made against the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

In a February interview with the Gothamist, a local New York website, Lerner characterized the Orthodox community as an ‘extremist bloc.’ Her comments were widely condemned by city politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“In public debate, voters are best served when an argument is about how to solve problems, not labeling the people involved on either side,” Lerner said in a statement on Tuesday. “I apologize for causing anyone offense.”

Lerner, who is Jewish, has been an outspoken critic of the yeshiva education system. Her comments were featured in a Feb 19 article about mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s position in defense of yeshiva education. Lerner suggested that the new ranked-choice voting system will reduce the influence of this large voting bloc. “If you’re pandering to an extremist bloc, you’re perhaps not being strategic,” she said. On Monday, de Blasio publicly condemned her remarks, calling it a “horrible” characterization of the Orthodox community. “I find her comments absolutely wrong, and I find them unacceptable,” he said.

Lerner maintained that her words were imprecise and were taken out of context, “allowing Common Cause New York’s long-standing position on New York’s substantial equivalency law to be misconstrued.”

“On the policy, our position is unchanged,” said Lerner, the longtime head of the government watchdog group and an advocate for voter reform. “As a public figure, I regret my poor word choice distracting attention from the important issues New Yorkers face in a political era begging for less heated rhetoric and more enlightened problem solving.”

Last week, a group of 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders signed on to a letter — spearheaded by Yaffed, a pro-secular education group founded by former yeshiva students and parents — sent to local candidates about the importance of secular education in the yeshiva system. “We ask candidates for public office to support the rights of students to receive a basic education, regardless of the type of school they attend,” the letter reads.

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