NEW YORK – Only 19 percent of the voters in the New York city mayoral primary on
September 10 were Jewish.
That is less than usual, said David Pollack,
associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Traditionally, the Jewish vote is 20-32% of the total, and of the Jewish voters
this year, less than a third were Orthodox. This, however, is bound to
As of 2012, the Jewish population of New York was 1.1 million,
fueled by growth in the ultra-Orthodox and hassidic communities.
is, sadly, the only Jewish community that is growing,” said Ezra Friedlander,
CEO of The Friedlander Group, a public policy organization based in New York and
“And I underline the word sadly,” he added.
that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish vote will only continue to grow, and the
demographic will continue to gain clout with every election that rolls around,
while the numbers of Conservative and Reform Jews are likely to
In several parts of South Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Crown
Heights – three of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with the highest concentration
of hassidic and ultra- Orthodox Jews – the median age is 14 years old. In fact,
said Pollack, as of 2011, 69% of Jewish households in Williamsburg had children
under age 17.
In a population of more than 33,000, 28,000 of whom are
children in yeshivot, that is a lot of potential future voters who will be
looking to their local governments for solutions to issues such as affordable
housing, improving penniless parochial schools, and escaping the poverty that
plagues the community. (According to Pollack’s research, as of 2011 55% of the
Jewish community in Brooklyn lives in poverty, and an additional 17% lives in
near-poverty.) Assemblyman Dov Hikind has served in the New York State Assembly
for 31 years representing Brooklyn’s Assembly District 48, an area that covers
much of Borough Park and part of Midwood, both of which have high concentrations
of Orthodox Jews.
Hikind, who calls himself, with a laugh, “an Orthodox
Jew, to the best of my ability,” has no doubt that the religious Jewish
community of New York will play an ever-more important role in
“The Orthodox community in Brooklyn and Queens, and even in
parts of Manhattan, is growing by the day, and that means more voters from the
Orthodox community,” Hikind said. “Ninety percent of them stay in or near the
community, so it’s growing tremendously.”
How quickly? Well, maybe not
enough to one day encompass all of New York politics, said Hikind, but
“substantial enough to really make a difference. To be a very serious voting
The Jewish community of New York has a long history of political
“I like to joke there are very few places in New York where you
can acquire votes on a wholesale basis,” said Pollack. “The Orthodox community
is one of those places. In Williamsburg, in Borough Park, in Flatbush, you have
a culture of voting, because residents understand there’s a connection between
voting and being able to deal with the issues important to the
Friedlander said he saw this play out in the mayoral
primaries earlier this month.
“This was the first mayoral race where you
saw candidates who were very serious about the policy matters and concerns of
the [ultra- Orthodox] community,” Friedlander said.
“Years ago, a
candidate could just talk in a broad sense about support for
Now, he said, politicians who want to keep their jobs need to
actually spend time with community leaders.
“Candidates for public office
have developed, and need to continue to develop, an interest and expertise in
the Orthodox community,” he said.
Yaacov Behrman, a former spokesman for
Chabad, also noted the recent establishment of lots of new political groups
formed by young community members who want to be politically involved, but don’t
want the historical baggage that comes with joining the more established
This election cycle, Behrman said, “[former candidate for mayor]
Bill Thompson visited Crown Heights six times. Twenty years ago he might have
Friedlander, Hikind and Behrman, however, disagreed with
Pollack’s assessment that Orthodox votes could be acquired
While the community will “absolutely” continue to gain
clout, said Friedlander, “it’s not one-size-fits-all.”
there were several rabbis and councils that would endorse candidates, and the
local Jewish newspaper and large community would blindly follow the leadership,”
said Behrman. “Today, because of the Internet and because people are more
educated, people are making their own decisions.”
agreed. “It’s not all homogenous,” he said, “but a lot of our interests
are the same. We care about who is going to be there in terms of parochial and
“I think in the case of the Satmar [sects], if their
leadership says vote for so-and-so, there’s no doubt that 85%, if not more, will
vote that way,” Hikind said. “There’s something to be said for unity. If the
Orthodox community was united as a bloc, that would be powerful, but if you’re
united and go with the losing candidate, you could have that candidate discount
Whoever ends up succeeding current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, be it
Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio or Republican candidate Joseph Lhota, will
have to address and work with the Orthodox community, Hikind said.
are a number of issues on which the next mayor will have to be much more