A few weeks ago, New York was heading into the first election in two decades without a Jewish candidate. Now, it seems, there are two.
One in each party.
Anthony Weiner’s bid for a political comeback was familiar, if somewhat controversial terrirtory. He ran for mayor before and Jewish Democrats are often in that primary field. Jewish Republicans, other Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ronald Lauder, are more rare. But it seems that former deputy mayor and MTA chairman Joe Lhota, running for the GOP nod, is halachically a Jew, though he is a practicing Roman Catholic.
Lhota told the Orthodox web site Yeshiva World News his maternal grandmother, Ita Steinberg was Jewish. Though he says he wouldn’t bring it up as a means of courting Jewish votes, which could be “patronizing,” Lhota said ” I am extremely respectful of the Jewish community. You know, I am Christian. I think of Jews as my older brothers. I mean, there wouldn’t be Christianity without the Jewish religion. There is a direct connection between the two of them.”
Jewish heritage or familial connection to Jews often arises during campaigns. During her 2000 campaign for Senate in New York, which has the lagest Jewish population in America, Hillary Rodham Clinton leaked information that her grandmother was married to a Jewish man, and during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign it emerged that his wife’s cousin is a rabbi.
Lhota’s heritage is similar to that of Fiorello La Guardia, technically New York City’s first Jewish mayor, whose mother, Irene Coen, was a Jew from Trieste, Italy. La Guardia, too, was raised Roman Cathollic.
Though Reform Jews recognize offspring of either Jewish parent, a person born of a Jewish mother is universally accepted as Jewish.
Being Jewish, however, doesn’t guarantee Jewish votes. The most recent person to find that out was Assembyman David Weprin when he was trounced by Republican Bob Turner in a 2011 race for Weiner’s House seat with heavy support from the Brooklyn/Queens district’s Orthodox community.
But Lhota has a better card to play in highlighting his role in the Giuliani administration, as budget director and deputy mayor. Giuliani was immensely popular in Orthodox bloc-vote neighborhoods for his tough-talk on crime, conservative views on many social issues and staunch support of Israel.
“As budget director, I had great personal relationships with the folks at the Met Council; With Agudath Israel; With various different COJOs, in various different parts of the city,” Lhota told YWN. “It was very instrumental in making sure daycare vouchers were made available, and I continued that when I was deputy mayor. I maintained those relationships through the community. During the Giuliani administration, the Jewish community was understood, and I think there was a reciprocal affection in the administration for the Jewish community.”
Back in November, the Times’ Sam Roberts pondered the implications of a dearth of Jewish contenders for mayor.
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