FOREST HILLS, QUEENS — This election year, national and international politics trumped local concerns with voters in this predominantly Jewish neighborhood of middle class homes and high rises peopled by immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and native born Ashkenazis. A slow stream of mostly elderly and retired voters at Forest Hills High School were sharply divided by party lines. But the principal issues on their minds were social security, the economy and a candidate’s policy towards Israel.
“There’s really no good candidate this year, it’s really a choice of the lesser of the two evils,” said Donald Weinberg, 73. The retired city employee said being Jewish swayed his vote, especially this year. “What the issues are on Israel, what the candidate is going to do about it is always first and foremost on my mind,” he said. “A party’s national policy always trickles down to the local level…we should always keep that in mind,” Weinberg added
Inna Gutman, a Russian Jewish immigrant to the neighborhood said she always cast her vote for the Republican in the past and voted for the party because she is wary of the strong Democratic support for the Muslim community. “Everything is changing too fast in New York,” Gutman said, adding that she was disappointed that Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports Park51, the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero, especially because he is Jewish.
Her husband, Mikhail Gutman, 72, was also concerned over the social security benefits that have not increased over the past two years. “Social security is our only income, we worked for 25 years for those benefits,” he said.
“I’m depressed about how the election is going to turn out,” said Carol, a middle-aged voter who declined to give her last name. “I think Obama has done a good job, and if the Republicans were as good at governing as they are at demonizing Americans we would be in a much better shape,” she said. A strong Democratic supporter, Carol cited the grave state of the economy as the most important issue for Americans this year and said she ignored the accent on Israel this past year. “This country is in much worse shape for me to worry about that. Get this country healed first, then we’ll worry about Israel,” she said.
Maia Efrem is the former research editor and assistant to the editor and was also responsible for the Forward’s annual Salary Survey. Previously she served as the editor of Blognik Beat, a blog written by students who emigrated from or have ties to the Former Soviet Union. Maia is a graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.