NYC Mayoral candidates on Zoom. by the Forward

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

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Andrew Yang had a “Jewish gentleman” as a business partner. Maya Wiley grew up going to “freedom seders.” Eric Adams calls Brooklyn “the Tel Aviv of America.” Ray McGuire spends a lot of time at the JCC.

These are among the Jewy tidbits we learned about the top candidates vying to be the next Mayor of New York City at a forum I moderated this week. (Check out the video here.)

The Forward and the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan co-hosted the forum, one of approximately a zillion unfolding ahead of the June 22 primaries. We decided not to pose pointedly Jewish questions, in part because many had already been asked and answered in articles by our senior politics reporter, Jacob Kornbluh, and in an earlier forum hosted by a group called New York Jewish Agenda.

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

Also because New York’s 1.1 million Jews care deeply about the full range of challenges confronting the city’s next leader; civic engagement itself is a core Jewish value. Rabbi Joy Levitt opened the forum quoting from the Book of Jeremiah: “Pray for the peace and prosperity of your city because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 

We originally invited the top 10 of 30-some candidates to the forum, but only eight ended up there — Carlos Menchaca dropped at the last minute because of what his campaign said was urgent City Council business, and Loree Sutton suspended her campaign hours before we started.

I asked the the candidates questions about how they’d safeguard equity as they pursue post-pandemic economic recovery, how they would lead a polyglot city without pitting groups against each other, and what they would do in their first 100 days on the critical issues of public safety, education or housing.

To no one’s surprise, not having pointedly Jewish questions did not mean we lacked for Jewish answers, as the candidates showed their cultural fluency and connection with our audience. 

“We rebuild based on the biblical figure Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem,” said Shaun Donovan, who was President Obama’s housing secretary, and who also mentioned that he had a Jewish great-grandparent.

Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate and current leader in the mayoral polls, suggested using bracelets or a smartphone app to designate vaccination status in order to make people feel safer in offices and restaurants, and said “the inspiration should come from Israel,” which is experimenting with “green passes” for those who have gotten their shots.

And Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, repeated the text from the Book of Esther he had cited at the NYJA forum as a rationale for his candidacy: “God made me for such a time like this.”

When I was covering the 2004 presidential campaign for The New York Times, the best advice I got was from the legendary political reporter Adam Nagourney, who said my job was to help voters see how the candidates make decisions and manage problems. Policy positions are important, but you never actually know what crises a leader may confront (see: 9/11, COVID). So it’s about character, judgment, leadership. 

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

That’s why I also asked “lightning-round” questions including the most recent book they had read (Scott Stringer has been working through a biography of Bella Abzug, who turns out to have been a cousin of his; Diane Morales is deep into “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person;” Kathryn Garcia said, “I don’t know when the last time I actually got to read a full book was.”

I asked their favorite smartphone app (Morales: TikTok; Stringer: newspapers; Donovan: banking app so he can check on his college-aged kids’ spending) and the worst job they ever had (Stringer: stockboy at Macy’s; McGuire: “it’s between digging ditches and changing bedpans.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Chisholm, Ed Koch, Franklin A. Thomas, Vernon Jordan, Robert Kennedy, Reps. Jerry Nadler, Cori Bush and John Lewis were the public figures the candidates said inspired them as role models.

Finally, I asked them something I had asked you, regular readers of this space, last week: what habit or hobby have you developed over the last year that you hope to keep when things go back to “normal.” Donovan said walking the dog in Prospect Park, Morales said she has been grazing between Zooms rather than overeating at mealtime, and McGuire said he plans to keep up his pre-bedtime basketball games with his 8-year-old son.

They all said they need to get more hobbies.


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(You can download and print a PDF of these stories by clicking here.)

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

A Jewish thing happened on the way to our NYC mayoral forum

Jodi Rudoren is Editor-in-Chief of the Forward. Follow her on Twitter @rudoren, or email rudoren@forward.com.

Authors

Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren became Editor-in-Chief of The Forward, the nation’s oldest independent Jewish news organization, in September 2019 after more than two decades as a reporter and editor at The New York Times. She is helping lead a transformation of the storied 123-year-old institution, a nonprofit that went digital-only in early 2019.

NYC mayoral candidates offer Jewish tidbits in forum

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