NEW YORK – Eric Adams’ fiercely fought victory in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary to become the city’s next mayor has sparked hope among the local Orthodox Jewish community that he can help curb crime if, as expected, he defeats long-shot Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa on November 2.
Data shows both Adams and Andrew Yang, the two “moderate” candidates on the Democrats’ slate, were popular in minority neighborhoods, including Jewish communities in Brooklyn that endorsed them both early on. The two more progressive candidates, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley, won large swaths of Manhattan and more affluent areas of Brooklyn and Queens.
“Adams was carried to victory by the outer neighborhoods of the outer boroughs,” said Ben Weinberg, policy director at Citizens Union, one of America’s oldest “good government” groups. “The winning coalition was made up by a lot of blue-collar homeowners, Black and brown communities, Hispanic and immigrant populations who are a bit more conservative and concerned with increasing levels of crime, housing and city services,” he explained.
Despite Brooklyn Borough President Adams, 60, winning the Democratic mayoral nomination, results from other races saw some big wins for the Democrats’ progressive wing. For instance, Mark Levine, a two-term council member who served as head of the Jewish caucus, is the likely next Manhattan Borough president after winning his primary, while another progressive, Brad Lander, won the key comptroller race.
But Weinberg advises not to jump to conclusions about ideological shifts in New York. “Let’s be clear: Adams will still be more progressive than most mayors in the United States. Besides, local elections are particular. Every race has its idiosyncrasies, and the choice of a candidate can come down to whether they came to that voter’s block or whether their trash was picked up that day. Residents are less concerned with ideology and more about the functioning of the city, which I think gave Adams an edge.”
It seems Adams will inherit a city in crisis. New York is still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, which to date has killed over 50,000 residents and infected a further 2 million. Its economic toll is still evident: vacant shops, skyrocketing homelessness, a decline in the population and the city’s unemployment rate is almost twice the national average.
But the biggest wedge issue in the Democratic primary was policing. Last year, mass protests over the death of George Floyd swept New York, pitting protesters against police. And with crime rates in the city soaring, the debate over how the police interact with minority communities is furiously debated among Democrats.
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While progressive candidates like Wiley advocated shifting resources away from the police, Adams, a former police captain who served in the NYPD for over 20 years, focused his campaign on crime and safety issues, while vowing to end racial injustice in policing.
“Adams talked about fighting crime without alienating the Black population like Rudy Giuliani did in the 1990s, and it wasn’t Trump’s populist ‘law and order’ rhetoric,” Weinberg said.
Adams’ past with the police is anathema for many progressives, likewise his calls for guns to be brought to places of worship and the reintroduction of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. However, for communities such as the Orthodox Jewish one in Brooklyn, his strong stance on policing was vital to ensuring their backing.
Adams received overwhelming support from Orthodox communities, from Staten Island to the Satmar Hasidic sect in Williamsburg. Orthodox communities came out in numbers for him (and Yang), and in such a tight race, they helped secure Adams’ win (his eventual margin of victory was just 1 percentage point over Garcia).
‘We care about random attacks’
“The top priority for any mayor is to keep their residents safe. The rest can take care of itself,” said Yochonon Donn, a member of the editorial team at Orthodox magazine Mishpacha. “As a minority group we need constant protection, and we didn’t know what Adams’ intentions were at first. But his insistence on strong community policing convinced many in the community that he was the right candidate.
“The community doesn’t care about a swastika sprayed on a synagogue wall. We care about random attacks on Jews for being Jews,” Donn added.
New York City has seen an upsurge in hate crimes in recent years, after it first experienced an uptick in antisemitic crime in 2017 – particularly in Brooklyn. The Jewish community accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of being slow to respond, especially after the deadly shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey, in late 2019. The rising number of hate crimes eventually resulted in the mayor announcing an increased police presence in Jewish communities.
The situation reached boiling point this May when violence against Jews spiked over Israel’s policies in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the latest Israel-Hamas flare-up. Adams has vowed to fight antisemitism, calling the recent violent attacks a “pandemic of hate.”
The Orthodox communities’ increasing pro-police stance, along with their natural social conservatism, has seen some suggest that they are slowly aligning with right-wing groups, especially after their well-reported support for then-President Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election.
But that’s not necessarily the case, said Abe Silberstein, a writer on Jewish issues and longtime observer of Brooklyn politics.
“Orthodox politics in New York is entirely local,” he said. “By and large, they have always leaned to the right on social issues. But this shift toward supporting candidates more friendly to law enforcement was not necessarily preordained. Much of the Orthodox community supported Bill de Blasio in the 2013 Democratic primary when he was the so-called “anti-police” candidate. They reacted to a perceived rise in serious crimes in much the same way other communities mostly based in the outer boroughs did.”
According to Donn, “A mayor who’s right for us may not be right for the city. Bloomberg was a good mayor, but bad for the [Orthodox] community. On the other hand, de Blasio was good for us at first, but a failure on a citywide level.”
Silberstein, meanwhile, noted that while politically active progressive Jews did not support Adams, he “overwhelmingly won working- and middle-class Black voters.”
Adams is perhaps most indebted to Orthodox leaders, who can credibly claim to have put him over the top and helped him secure his 8,000-vote winning majority.
“The issue they are most concerned with is the slow-moving educational regulations that will affect Haredi yeshivas that do not provide the minimum number of hours of secular instruction required by law. Although this is a state matter, it is the city’s Department of Education that is responsible for ultimately enforcing the regulations once they are approved,” Silberstein said.
“At first, people went for Yang because he pledged not to interfere with yeshivas. But after hedging on the issue, Adams took a strong stance and vowed not to target yeshivas,” Donn added.
The Orthodox v. the DSA
The Orthodox community’s relationship with city mayors has always fluctuated over the years. Their relationship with de Blasio had its ups and downs. As a former councilman who represented Orthodox neighborhoods, he received overwhelming support in his earlier years – especially after a Bloomberg administration that was at best agnostic toward the community. However, opinion slowly began to turn against the incumbent.
The relationship suffered a major crisis last year after de Blasio singled out the Orthodox community for flouting coronavirus restrictions. Anti-mask protests also pitted the community directly against de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Despite their insular tendencies, members of the Orthodox community say they are seeking alliances with other minority groups. “The Orthodox community isn’t a monolith and we’re seeking to build bridges,” Donn said. “In fact, we have the best communication [with the] Muslim community here in Brooklyn.”
He added: “The only group that has a problem with us is the DSA,” referring to the Democratic Socialists of America. “They claim to speak for Black communities, but most of them are just white liberals. We live together with the Black community, and we all need protection from persecution. That’s why most of the Black council members voted against defunding the police. They know what is at stake for their community, just like we do.”
Silberstein noted that, contrary to some reports, Adams may not be entering Gracie Mansion at a bad time if, as expected, he wins in November.
“When the pandemic began, it was hard to imagine why anyone would want to be mayor of New York in 2022. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, states and localities now have a surfeit of funds that, in some cases, well exceed projections of where they would have been without the pandemic. Adams is lucky in that he may not need to make any tough budgetary decisions for the time being,” he said. “Though that could change in a year or two if tourism and economic activity in the city don’t pick up.”
For Weinberg, a measure of success for Adams, besides keeping government clean, will be “housing, housing, housing,” after de Blasio’s attempts to reform housing policies to empower young and working families to become homeowners mostly failed. For Donn, meanwhile, it’s “making sure our communities are safe and convincing business to stay in the city.”