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July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz, 5774
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RACE TO CITY HALL

Orthodox Jewish Vote Major Focus of Both Mayoral Campaigns

Lhota admitted that he couldn't pronounce the term "metzitzah b’peh," an issue of concern that was brought up several times throughout the day.
Bill de Blassio is expected to win the mayoral race by 40 percentage points.

Bill de Blassio is expected to win the mayoral race by 40 percentage points.

In recent months, Borough Park and Flatbush have gotten used to having New York City mayoral candidates coming there to campaign. Now that it’s been narrowed down to two candidates who are relatively close to the Jewish community, the community is being courted like never before.

While the Republican candidate Joe Lhota has been more visible in his aggressive outreach to the community, Mr. de Blasio has been meetings with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community out of the public eye, keeping his cards close to his chest.

Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to meet with Jewish community leaders at the home of Mr. Abe Biderman, a former supporter of Bill Thompson, this coming Saturday night, YWN has learned.

“For Lhota, Jews gradually became the focus of the campaign,” Hamodia highlighted Mr. Lhota’s outreach to the community in a lengthy profile of the Republican candidate. “A quick scan of Lhota’s daily emailed schedule for last week alone shows stops in two Jewish centers on Staten Island, a Bukharian Jewish group in Queens, the Young Israel of Far Rockaway, a powerful appearance on Nachum Segal’s radio show, a breakfast for the Bronx Jewish Community Relations Council, a Boro Park JCC breakfast, and a meeting with the Flatbush JCC. It is clear that Lhota has staked his path to victory through Staten Island, along with Boro Park, Crown Heights and Forest Hills.”

In his meetings with Jewish groups, Hamodia notes, Lhota comes across as a person who is eager to learn and to understand new concepts. He easily admitted that he couldn’t pronounce the term “metzitzah b’peh,” an issue of concern that was brought up several times throughout the day.

“The bris ritual which I cannot pronounce,” he begins during one of the gatherings. “Every time I try, I mess it up.”

“We don’t want you to pronounce it, we want you to denounce it!” one participant yelled out.

Mr. Lhota also addressed his status as a practicing Chatholic but halachically Jewish. Surprisingly, Mr. Lhota has not made an issue of his own status as a Jew, which would possibly make him attractive to the city’s Jews even as he faces an opponent who represented parts of Boro Park in the City Council for eight years.

“I consider that pandering,” he told Hamodia, adding that he was also hesitant politically, wondering how the Jewish community would accept him. “I’m not going to come into the community and start talking about how my grandmother is Jewish,” he said. “It begs the question: well, why aren’t you? And I wasn’t raised Jewish.”

Meanwhile, Other than attending smoked filled rooms with community leaders, making sure the press and the Jewish media are not aware of his meetings, Mr. de Blasio is a no show in the community he once represented in the City Council.

For the first time since the start of his campaign, Mr. de Blasio took out a full page ad in the weekly newspapers touting his support for the Jewish community. “Bill de Blasio supports the Jewish community. That’s why the Jewish community supports Bill de Blasio,” the ad reads.

However, the uncertainty of Mr. de Blasio’s positions on key issues is causing some anxiety within the organized Jewish social service network, at a time when some programs for the needy have already been frozen because of a state probe of misappropriated funds at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, The Jewish week reports.

One Jewish organizational leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was hopeful an alternative to scrapping member items—which Bill de Blasio now opposes—could be found that also addressed the corruption concerns. “There are a number of ways one could retool the system,” said the official.

“You could have a pot of money for aging and youth services go through the Council or go through city agencies with Council input. This could have more accountability and I would hope we could engage with the new mayor, whoever that may be, to discuss how to make sure his money is best spent and avoid the political and financial pitfalls we have seen in a very small number of contracts,” he said.

“De Blasio’s campaign did not respond to several requests for an interview. The campaign also did not respond to prior inquiries about his view on a pending matter of religion and law: The Human Rights Commission’s efforts to rein in Orthodox shops in Williamsburg who post modesty rules for customers,” Adam Dickter notes in the article.

Nevertheless, Mr. de Blasio still maintains a close relationship with the machers and leaders in the community. “De Blasio will be fair and square in issues affecting the Jewish community, like Sabbath observance,” former state Sen. Seymour Lachman, who served alongside de Blasio in a district that overlapped with his Council district, told The Jewish Week.

On Tuesday, with the polls showing him with a 40 point lead over Mr. Lhota, Mr. de Blasio is expected to receive a substantially higher support in the community than previous Democratic candidates have done in recent general elections.

About the Author: Jacob Kornbluh is described as an up and coming Orthodox Jewish Blogger, writing about Local, national and Israeli politics, and a freelance reporter for various publications. Kornbluh's work has been featured in Haaretz, the NY Times, local blogs, and on local Jewish Radio, Kornbluh also covers the NYC 2013 mayoral race in general and a focus on the Jewish vote in particular at: http://nymayor.blogspot.com. Follow Jacob on Twitter @jacobkornbluh and his daily blog: jacobkornbluh.com


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