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Jewish Voters in New York City Help Bloomberg Sweep to Re-election

November 10, 2005
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish voters in New York City, traditionally a solid Democratic voting bloc, helped re-elect Michael Bloomberg as mayor this week. Then again, Bloomberg isn’t a traditional Republican. Bloomberg, New York City’s Republican incumbent mayor, sailed to an overwhelming victory in Tuesday’s mayoral election, with a large boost from New York’s Jewish voters, who appear to have supported him in greater proportions than the general population.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Bloomberg had received 58 percent of the vote to Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer’s 39 percent. Although no poll numbers on the Jewish vote were immediately available, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Jewish voters conducted Monday found Bloomberg to have a lead of nearly 5-1 over Ferrer.

Some political analysts and community leaders say Jewish support of Bloomberg reflects the increased willingness of Jewish New Yorkers to cross party lines.

“I don’t think it portends any weakening of the Democratic Party for Jews in general,” Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor of New York and a Bloomberg supporter, told JTA.

Jews “have the common sense to cross party lines when they distinguish between candidates they have to rely on for everyday services. Jewish voters have concluded the mayor has done a great job, and common sense dictates you don’t replace what’s working.”

Koch mentioned Bloomberg’s own Jewishness as possibly a “minor factor” in the large Jewish turnout for him.

David Pollock, associate executive director of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, which focuses on community building and organized a series of news conferences with the candidates for New York’s large Russian Jewish community, also emphasized the pragmatism of Jewish voters.

“There’s an increased willingness on the part of New York’s Jewish voters to ignore party labels and vote in pragmatic fashion,” he said. “Jews are looking for a well-run city and a candidate who can address quality-of-life issues.”

Bloomberg has made such issues the focal points of his administration — passing, for instance, a smoking ban in restaurants and bars that was championed by the public health community.

Strong Jewish support for Republican mayoral candidates is not unprecedented in New York City, where Republican politicians have a history of combining strict law enforcement policies with moderate-to-liberal stances on social issues.

Rudy Giuliani received support from a majority of New York Jewish voters over Democrat Ruth Messinger, who is Jewish, in 1997. And in 2001, a majority of Jewish voters supported Bloomberg over Democrat Mark Green, who is also Jewish.

Some analysts and community leaders point out that during Bloomberg’s mayoralty, crime rates are even lower than they were during Giuliani’s rule. This decrease, they say — and Jewish voters’ perceptions that Bloomberg will continue to maintain Giuliani’s effective law enforcement policies — accounts for heavy Jewish support for him, especially in a city that suffered the trauma of Sept. 11.

“The Jewish vote is often a security vote — anti-crime and anti-terror,” said Fred Siegel, a professor at Cooper Union and the author of “Prince of the City,” a book on Giuliani. “Giuliani was highly appealing in these areas, and Bloomberg is somewhat so.” Ferrer, he says, “has nothing to offer in this area.”

Some cited Bloomberg’s anti-terrorism innovations, including stationing police detectives overseas as a source of counterterrorism intelligence for the city, and the mayor’s support for Israel, as appealing to the Jewish voters in this year’s election. Still others cited education, with test scores for New York’s primary-school children having improved, and job growth in all five boroughs.

But Messinger, who ran for mayor in 1997 and is currently the president of the American Jewish World Service, attributed Bloomberg’s landslide victory at least partially to his personal wealth.

“The mayor has accomplished some things that please people and he does get credit for his accomplishments,” she said. “But in spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, he totally violated the intention of campaign finance law.

“His opponent’s arguments couldn’t be put forward loudly and visibly because of the mismatch in money.”

Across the city, polling stations saw moderate to heavy traffic as voters turned out well into the balmy evening.

In Stuyvesant Town, a rent-stabilized housing complex on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Jewish voters seemed roughly split in their choice for mayor.

“Crime is low, I like Bloomberg’s education reforms and he’s kept everything running and getting better over the past four years,” said Alex Levin, 29, a political independent and vice president of technology for a software company. “I didn’t see any reason not to vote for Bloomberg.”

Some Jewish voters did, however.

While the mayor’s education policies have been beneficial to some children, they have not benefitted others, including dropouts, contended Democrat Wanda Caine, 47, a public high school teacher. For this reason, she says, she voted for Ferrer.

“I know Ferrer won’t win,” she said. “But I wanted my vote to show that I don’t think Bloomberg’s the last word in education.”

In the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Orthodox Jews flocked into several polling places right up until the 9 p.m. closing time.

Outside one school, a diminutive man in Orthodox clothing stood at a table explaining the ballot in Yiddish to several older people — and in a combination of Yiddish and English to a young mother who came to vote with her twin boys. He also stamped slips of paper, which he said granted small prizes to schoolchildren whose parents turned out to vote.

Asked about her plans to vote, the young mother, who declined to give her name, said, “We’re supporting the mayor.”

“All of Williamsburg has come out for the mayor,” said Isaac Boruch Spitzer, 23.

“He’s very good,” Ida Steinmetz, a social worker, said of Bloomberg. “He helps for crime and jobs and schools, and he’s shown himself to be a good mayor.”

Several other observant voters wished to remain anonymous, and all but one of a dozen said they were voting for Bloomberg.

The dissenter, a burly man who declined to give his name, asserted that his vote for Ferrer was an anti-Bloomberg vote.

“They say if he wins, parking tickets will go up,” he said.

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