The fierce fight for Jewish Congressional representation in NYC

The new maps, which went into effect at the end of May, have shaken up many Democratic strongholds and will have a ripple effect across the national political landscape.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) stands with House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA); House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY); House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and other House committee chairs at a news conference to announce artii (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) stands with House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA); House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY); House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and other House committee chairs at a news conference to announce artii
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

NEW YORK — An estimated 1.1 million Jews live in the five boroughs, with an additional half million or so in the greater metropolitan area. Roughly one of every eight residents of the city is Jewish.

Statistically speaking, New York City should have at least one out of its 13 members of Congress be Jewish. But new redistricting moves and an increasing decline in the city’s Jewish representation in Congress have jeopardized that.

Jewish Congressional stalwart Jerry Nadler and his colleague Carolyn Maloney are both running for New York’s newly redrawn 12th Congressional District — a district believed to be the most Jewish in the country. If Maloney wins, it would mean that, for the first time in a century, New York City may be without a Jewish representative in the House.

In the primary between the two longtime Manhattan Democratic incumbents, both first elected to the House 30 years ago in their respective districts, the colleagues-turned-opponents each need to appeal to Jewish voters in order to win.

Elections for congressional seats are rapidly approaching on August 23, and no one can recall a primary with two sitting House chairs facing off like this.

 Lower East Side, Manhattan (credit: Aleks Marinkovic/Unsplash) Lower East Side, Manhattan (credit: Aleks Marinkovic/Unsplash)

As the primary race between the septuagenarians heats up, Maloney has called Nadler’s Jewishness into question. In a New York Times interview last week, she said he uses his religious faith as a “divisive tactic,” adding that he was playing identity politics as a method of appealing to voters when the election should be focused on the issues that affect voters.

“It’s a strange way to run, it’s sort of like, ‘Vote for me, I’m the only woman, or I’m the only white person, I’m the only Black person,’” Maloney told the New York Times. “Why don’t you put forward your statement, your issues, what you’ve done and the merit you bring to the race?”

But in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, just days before her Times interview, Maloney, who is Presbyterian, said that she has also attempted to appeal to Jewish voters throughout her campaign.

Maloney reassured her opposition to the Iran deal and support for Israel. “I voted against the Iran deal in 2015 because it was clear that the terms of the agreement would not work,” she told the Post last week. “The terms are too short, and once it expired, Iran could quickly rebuild its stock of enriched uranium, which they are doing now. Iran received billions of dollars when sanctions were lifted and broke our coalitional sanctions and they refuse to agree to not export terrorism.”

“My support for Israel is deep and strong,” Maloney, who turned liberal the onetime moderate Republican Upper East Side district, continued. “Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East. I have strongly supported the assistance of defensive missiles like the Iron Dome and security assistance. There was an effort to defund the Iron Dome, I can’t understand why anyone would want to defund it. It’s totally defensive and protects anyone standing around, Israelis and Palestinians.”

She also pointed to her Never Again Education Act, signed into law in May 2020 to establish educational programming to teach students about the Holocaust.

“I even have an adopted rabbi,” Maloney continued, speaking about Arthur Schneier, who leads the historic Park East Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation on the Upper East Side.

“Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East. I have strongly supported the assistance of defensive missiles like the Iron Dome and security assistance. There was an effort to defund the Iron Dome, I can’t understand why anyone would want to defund it."

Carolyn Maloney

Nadler is a member of B’nai Jeshurun, an equally historic synagogue in the Upper West Side.

Maloney’s currently-configured 12th district is centered on Manhattan’s Upper East Side while Nadler’s 10th district is harbored across Central Park on the Upper West Side. But the new 12th district, which forces the two neighborhoods together because of a state court’s claim of extreme partisan gerrymander by Democrats, covers both the Upper East and West Sides. And the two veteran members of Congress are competing for that single seat. The race will end the career of at least one longtime lawmaker.

Nadler chairs the influential House Judiciary Committee while Maloney is chair of the arguably equally powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee. Maloney and Nadler have previously seen some of the same donors give to their respective campaigns. The upcoming election leaves New York Jews, many of whom previously supported both representatives, lamenting the end of the career of one of the veteran politicians, forcing voters and organizations to choose between the two.

JDCA

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) announced on May 27 the endorsement of Nadler’s re-election. In their statement, they noted “JDCA previously endorsed Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who is now running against Rep. Nadler in NY-12.”

“We’re proud to support Democrats such as Rep. Jerry Nadler, the longest-serving Jewish member of the New York congressional delegation and a champion of Jewish values in Congress,” JDCA CEO Halie Soifer said. “Unpredictable redistricting in New York has yielded a district, NY-12, with two Democratic incumbents and close partners of JDCA. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler have earned JDCA’s endorsement, and we stand by both of them.”

An AIPAC spokesperson declined to endorse a specific candidate but told The Jerusalem Post “before the new redistricting placed them in direct competition, AIPAC PAC contributed to both Representatives Maloney and Nadler in recognition of their support for the US-Israel relationship.”

The Pro-Israel America PAC, on the other hand, released an endorsement for Maloney. The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

Nadler’s previous district, NY-10, stretched from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn’s Borough Park, encompassed the most Jews in New York.

The new maps, which went into effect at the end of May, have shaken up many Democratic strongholds and will have a ripple effect across the national political landscape, potentially leading to Republicans taking over the House of Representatives.

The Maloney-Nadler race has turned bitter as the onetime House colleagues square off in the heavily Jewish and pro-Israel neighborhoods.  In May, even before the map was finalized, Maloney shared a photo from an event with JDCA that Nadler also attended. But her photo was taken at an angle that made Nadler appear slumped over, with his legs dangling above the floor, looking as if he was asleep.

Nadler, 74, told The New York Times that he had told Maloney, 76, during a private conversation that he was going to win the seat and suggested she run for a different seat.  

“She said basically the opposite, and so it was an impasse,” Nadler said “and we left it at that.”

“In the history of redistricting, Manhattan has always been divided east-west,” Nadler said in a statement last month. “There was no reason to flip Manhattan from east-west to north-south. None at all.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York also expressed disappointment about the new district lines. In a letter to State Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister last month, JCRC wrote: “East Side Jews can be clearly differentiated from West Side Jews. Rarely do the East Side Jews belong to a synagogue located on the West Side or vice versa.”

Among the concerns they cited: The Orthodox community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, was split over two districts, diluting the organizing power of voters there, and a new district combines the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, which previously had been in separate districts.

In a Jewish Press op-ed, journalist Daniel Greenfield writes: “It would be a sad state for anyone to be represented by Nadler, let alone New York’s Jews. And Nadler doesn’t represent them. Instead, he supported the Iran deal and is backed by the PAC for the Soros anti-Israel lobby group, J Street. Last year, he responded to Islamic violence against Jews, by stating, ‘I remain deeply concerned by the violence in Jerusalem, including Israeli police violence, and I urge all parties to exercise restraints.’”

Asked what she wants New York’s Jewish electorate to remember when they hit the polls, Maloney told the Post: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Israel and support it and I think my record shows that.”

JTA contributed to this report.