Monday, June 14, 2021
Before Andrew Yang announced his bid for New York City mayor in January, upending what until then had seemed like a fairly stable Democratic primary field, the favorite candidate for Orthodox Jewish support throughout the five boroughs was, by most accounts, Eric Adams, the brash and outspoken Brooklyn borough president.
Adams, a former police captain who is building his campaign around a public safety message amid an uptick in violent crime across the city, has maintained long-standing ties with Orthodox leaders, particularly in Queens as well as Hasidic enclaves of Brooklyn like Borough Park and Crown Heights, a neighborhood he represented as a state senator from 2007 to 2013.
Having set his sights on Gracie Mansion after decades of public service, Adams is now depending on those relationships as he builds a coalition capable of propelling him past his opponents in the crowded June 22 primary, for which early voting began on Saturday. "I have a lot of credible messengers that know me," Adams, 60, said in a February interview with Jewish Insider, predicting that he would pull in strong support from the Orthodox community, certain sects of which represent powerful voting blocs in local elections.
But Yang's candidacy has tested that expectation. The 46-year-old mayoral hopeful, a former presidential contender who rose to national prominence last election cycle on a widely popular pitch for universal basic income, has aggressively courted the Orthodox vote with a similarly straightforward message.
Early in his mayoral campaign, for example, Yang forcefully denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as antisemitic while expressing his steadfast support for Israel. "Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses, it's also a direct shot at New York City's economy," Yang wrote in a January opinion piece for The Forward. "Strong ties with Israel are essential for a global city such as ours, which boasts the highest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. Our economy is struggling, and we should be looking for ways to bring back small businesses, not stop commerce."
Jewish leaders have appreciated Yang's views, even as they have garnered criticism from progressives.
"Looking at the field, I felt he was the best person for New York City and the best person for the Jewish community," said Daniel Rosenthal, an Orthodox assemblyman in Queens, who offered an early endorsement for Yang in mid-March and values his opposition to BDS. "In a time when some people in the Jewish community felt like they were being shunned, he was proudly standing with us."
Perhaps most consequentially, though, Yang's unequivocal defense of the yeshiva education system has given him a unique advantage within the Orthodox community. He has vowed to take a hands-off approach to imposing state-mandated instruction on secular subjects at the Jewish religious schools, many of which have been found to be lacking in that regard, according to an investigation by the Department of Education.
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