Dinkins Narrowly Wins N.Y. Mayoralty Thanks to Help from Jewish Voters
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Dinkins Narrowly Wins N.Y. Mayoralty Thanks to Help from Jewish Voters

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Democrat David Dinkins won an unexpectedly narrow 51-48 percent victory on Tuesday, to become the first black mayor of New York City. He beat his Republican rival, Rudolph Giuliani, by about 43,000 votes that many observers credited to the Jewish community.

Jewish voters, who cast an estimated 400,000 of the 1.8 million votes, actually favored Giuliani by a margin of about six to four.

But Jewish support for the black candidate was well above the overall white average of about 30 percent. Black and Jewish observers alike said it was the extra support among Jews that put Dinkins over the top.

“It is a credit to the Jewish vote that it was the deciding factor, because of the open-mindedness of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Joseph Spielman, a leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community.

Dinkins himself acknowledged the role of Jewish voters in his victory speech Tuesday night, telling thousands of cheering supporters: “I want to say a special word about the Jewish community, because tonight that community is again a light unto the nations.”

The next morning, Dinkins took time out from his schedule to return a phone call form Uriel Savir, the Israeli consul general in New York.

Savir told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he had called Dinkins at 10 a.m. to offer congratulations; to tell the mayor-elect of the huge interest in Israel over the outcome of the campaign; to invite him to visit Israel; and to offer his assistance in helping ease tensions between various groups in New York.

“It’s time to make a concentrated effort to bring together the different communities in New York,” Savir said. “It’s definitely feasible.”


Savir said that Dinkins expressed interest in continuing the close cooperation between the city and the Jewish community regarding Israeli issues that had flourished during the 12-year mayoralty of Edward Koch.

Savir quoted Dinkins as saying he would check to see whether a visit to Israel could fit into his schedule after taking office.

Dinkins initially was expected to win a majority of the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote. Jewish support remained strong through much of the race, despite heavy attacks from the Giuliani camp and from some Jewish factions who denounced his friendship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and his employing an admitted anti-Semite in his campaign.

“The naked truth is that David Dinkins will be the trusted servant of Jesse Jackson in City Hall,” said Rabbi Abraham Hecht, head of the small Rabbinical Alliance of America, in announcing his endorsement of Giuliani just before the election. “We believe that David Dinkins holds the same views as Jesse Jackson despite his statements.”

In fact, Dinkins has worked closely with the Jewish community over the years, often speaking out for Israel, traveling abroad to demonstrate for Soviet Jewry and condemning anti-Semitic statements made by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

“How much more do you want from the guy?” said Noach Dear, an Orthodox member of the New York City Council who endorsed Dinkins in the final week. “How much do you want to humiliate a guy who’s done so much for the Jewish community for so long? We have to get the Jewish leaders to stand together and tell elected officials, ‘if you support Jewish causes, you will get our support.’ “


Such thinking led to endorsements of Dinkins from a broad cross section of Jewish community leaders, including heads of the Reform movement, the major Hasidic sects and individual leaders from major organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council. (The organizations themselves remained neutral.)

In the campaign’s final month, however, a series of damaging revelations about Dinkins’ personal finances led to a collapse of his Jewish support. As a result, his final showing of 40 percent among Jews came as a pleasant surprise to Democrats.

“The Giuliani folks kept raising the specter of Jesse Jackson running the city, so the Jewish leadership coming out for David indicated confidence,” said Roscoe Brown, president of Bronx Community College and a leading black moderate.

“This was one of the most scurrilous campaigns that has been run in recent history,” Brown said. “I think it’s to the Jewish community’s credit that significant numbers of them withstood it. The fact that 40 percent could be persuaded, when at one point it was down around 20 percent, I think is great.”

Other winners in the election including three Jewish women elevated to top posts in city government: Elizabeth Holtzman, a child of Holocaust survivors who was elected City Comptroller; Ruth Messinger, a left-leaning City Council member who succeeded Dinkins as borough president of Manhattan; and Claire Shulman, who was re-elected borough president of Queens.

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