Bill de Blasio seeks forgiveness in bid for Orthodox votes in Borough Park


(New York Jewish Week) — Seeking the endorsement of Borough Park Orthodox leaders in his run for Congress, former mayor Bill de Blasio apologized for a 2020 tweet berating Jews for large gatherings held during the pandemic. 

In a video of Sunday’s meeting, called by an activist of the Bobov Hasidic movement, de Blasio is seen being asked about the tweet. In the tweet, he blasted “the Jewish community” following the packed funeral for a rabbi who died of COVID-19, and said the NYPD had been instructed to “summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups.”

“It was a mistake and I shouldn’t have done it,” de Blasio said in the video. “It was a moment of passion and pain over what was happening in the city.” 

De Blasio is running for a seat in the newly created District 10, which stretches from his home in Park Slope to Lower Manhattan and includes a chunk of Borough Park with its large Orthodox population. 

Yitzchok Fleischer, a confidante of de Blasio and a representative of the Bobov community, an influential voting bloc in the district, told the New York Jewish Week he arranged the meeting.

“I’m the one who called him,” Fleischer said. “I’m an old friend of his 20 years. When he was a Council member, he was the best we ever had. People need to remember that.” 

Fleischer did not officially endorse De Blasio, but said “we will probably endorse him in the next week.”

“The last time we endorsed him, he won the election,” Fleischer said.

He added that Borough Park residents have forgotten that De Blasio “was helpful” to the community.

“Most people are upset with him,” Fleischer said. “As a mayor, he did a lot of things we didn’t agree with. Most of the people in Borough Park don’t know what he accomplished for us in the City Council.”

Fleischer brought up De Blasio’s record in funding child care vouchers for yeshivas in 2015 as an example of a policy helpful to the haredi Orthodox community.

Fleischer also said de Blasio’s progressive values were brought up in the meeting, but noted that “we want to give him a chance.” 

“We told him clearly that we’re not progressive,” Fleischer said. “He knows that. I hope nothing is going to come up with that. The Congress is [elected] every two years. If he does something against the community, believe me, in two years, people won’t vote for him again.”

The meeting was first reported by Hamodia, which linked to the video. De Blasio is asked about his conflicts with the Orthodox community during the pandemic, in which he faced backlash over closing down synagogues and other measures meant to contain the raging coronavirus.

“We all went through a difficult time together,” de Blasio said. “I had to make a lot of tough decisions. I’m sure every decision was not right.” 

The race for District 10’s congressional seat already has the most crowded field in the city. Jewish candidates include Dan Goldman, an attorney, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who at age 80 is staging a political comeback. First elected to Congress in 1972, she championed efforts to investigate and deport suspected Nazi war criminals. 

Other hopefuls include Rep. Mondaire Jones, currently representing New York’s 17th congressional district, and Yuh-Line Niou, a Taiwanese American representing Lower Manhattan in the State Assembly.

Fleischer said that “the mood was positive” for de Blasio and that he is hoping the rest of the Jewish community will get behind the former mayor for this campaign.

“There are 15 people running in our district and I don’t know who any of them are,” Fleischer said. “There could be a guy from the grocery store running for Congress. We know de Blasio.”