Cynthia Nixon will have to address some hot-button statewide issues like funding and oversight of yeshivas if she is to make inroads with more religiously conservative and Orthodox Jewish voters, leaders and experts told the Forward.
Nixon, who is raising two Jewish sons and belongs to pro-LGBT synagogue Beit Simchat Torah, announced in March her surprise longshot bid against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, raising questions about how issues like her previous support of Israeli performers boycotting the settlement of Ariel may split the Jewish vote.
“The number one issue is always how the government will alleviate the crushing burden of tuition,” said Ezra Friedlander, public policy expert and CEO of The Friedlander Group. “Most families in the [Orthodox] community are on the low socioeconomic ladder and find it extremely difficult to pay tuition.”
Nixon will need to rack up votes in and around the city if she has a chance of defeating Cuomo. The Orthodox community in the city is growing and may soon reach as much as 50 percent of the Jewish population in the five boroughs, political expert Hank Sheinkopf previously told the Forward.
Nixon’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
The yeshiva issue became particularly contentious in state politics after Brooklyn Democratic State Senator Simcha Felder held up budget negotiations over state control of yeshiva curricula. Felder later declined to rejoin his party’s caucus, thwarting Cuomo’s attempt to give Democrats control of the Senate to help push through his agenda.
Nixon got involved with politics as an education activist while she wound down her acting career in Sex and the City.
She was a vocal proponent of a lawsuit brought by advocates who said the city was owed billions in state education funding.
The education activist has remained quiet on killings of Palestinians during the mass protests in Gaza over the American embassy move and has not addressed her current position on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, including her past support for the performers.
Famed Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz slammed Nixon over her support for the boycott.
“She has collaborated with Israel haters Jewish Voice for Peace and Vanessa Redgrave in boycotting Israel. Do not support her bigotry,” Dershowitz tweeted out on March 16.
Still, experts say most Jewish voters will be focused more on local and national — rather than international — issues during the campaign, which could help explain why Nixon has avoided speaking directly about Israel and focused on challenging Cuomo from the left on statewide issues like marijuana legalization.
Orthodox leader and media consultant Yosef Rapaport said Nixon could court more liberal Democratic voters in the Boro Park community if she were willing to be more moderate on issues like helping families pay for yeshiva education and support for Israel.
“She is a pro-BDS type of progressive,” said Rapaport, adding that strident liberal attacks on the Jewish state could cause “long-term historical damage. We are a growing community.”
The consultant was careful to point out the nuance that most Orthodox in the community were “not ardently Zionist,” but “pro-Israel security.”
Friedlander added that Nixon would also have to overcome relations built by Cuomo during his first two terms.
“Right now Andrew Cuomo has strong support in the Orthodox community,” the expert said. “He has a track record. He’s been very tuned into the needs of the community.”
Apart from Boro Park, Nixon would have to reach out to Orthodox and Hasidic communities in Crown Heights in Williamsburg, which are separate power bases within the broader Jewish vote.
Amongst more liberal and secular Jewish voters, her past positions on Israel could alienate some voters, but most are still expected to be more influenced by President Donald Trump’s policies and how they impact the state.
The greater stumbling block could again be Cuomo’s past popularity.
“Jews tend to support mainstream Democratic candidates,” election expert and former Newsday political columnist Larry Levy told The New York Jewish Week after Nixon announced her campaign. “They will go with those who are best known to them, whose views are considered moderate and who have shown the proper amount of deference to Israel.”
Can Cynthia Nixon Win Over Jewish Voters?