(November 4, 2022 / JNS) New York Jewish voters appear roughly divided on whom to back in the state’s hotly contested gubernatorial race next week.
Numerous recent surveys have shown Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) closing the gap with his opponent, Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul, while another poll found Hochul with a strong lead.
Crime, abortion rights and the autonomy of yeshivas emerged as themes among Jewish voters who watched the spirited, at times contentious, debate between the candidates on October 25—the only such faceoff before election day on Nov. 8.
“Zeldin came out swinging,” said Todd Rosenzweig, 53, of Westchester County, who works in finance. A Democrat, Rosenzweig is still undecided. While he doesn’t blame Hochul for New York City’s crime wave, saying he believes “a lot of the shortcomings are [left over] from the [Mayor Bill] de Blasio administration,” he appreciates Zeldin’s pledge to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg if elected—something that is within a governor’s authority. Rosenzweig agreed with Zeldin’s opposition to Bragg’s recent decision to prosecute a bodega (convenience store) owner who says he acted in self-defense when he stabbed a man who attacked him.
“The bodega owner is a man in his mid-to-late 50s, treated like a common criminal,” Rosenzweig said. “That sends a bad message to New Yorkers.”
Sami Steigmann, 82, of Harlem, a retired accountant, Holocaust survivor and motivational speaker, also favors Zeldin, primarily because of his opposition to bail reform.
“The Democratic Party of today is not the Democratic Party of the past,” said Steigmann. “They harbor a lot of anti-Semites and do not stand up to them.”
While he notes that Hochul “was only governor for a short time,” he added, “I can’t recall anything substantial she accomplished.”
Technology executive Dorit Murciano, 52, of Chelsea, is a registered Republican but plans on voting for Hochul.
“I think Zeldin seems like a good guy and I like that he’s a working-class guy,” she said. “He would be very good for the Jews, especially given all this concerning anti-Semitism.” But she said she is “turned off” by what she views as his conservative stances on abortion rights and gun control, as well as his alignment with former President Donald Trump.
“I used to only vote Republican but Trump changed the party in a way I don’t like,” said Murciano.
Crime and anti-Semitism are top concerns for Irina Tsukerman, 37, a Brooklyn attorney who plans to vote for Zeldin.
“New Yorkers are suffering under…incredibly bad, permissive policies regarding crime,” Tsukerman said. “Zeldin has an in-depth understanding of why crime is peaking” and will enact policies to address it.
Tsukerman said she feels personally “targeted as a Jewish woman.”
“Crimes against Jews have risen steadily in New York in recent years,” she said. “We had Jewish communities blamed for COVID-19. The Democratic governors have not taken these things seriously.”
Tsukerman is “less concerned about abortion because New York is a blue state and not much will change.” She sees Zeldin as “a moderate on social issues” who is “more concerned that everyone has an opportunity to live a safe life.”
Tsukerman believes Democrats’ claims that states led by Republicans have higher crime rates are misleading because “crime is spiking in cities and cities are led by Democrats. In New York, the problem is compounded because we have both a Democratic governor and a Democratic mayor.”
Tsukerman believes Zeldin has “more than a chance” because “he’s been rising in the polls in recent weeks.”
Other Jewish Zeldin supporters echoed Tsukerman’s concerns about rising crime and anti-Semitism in New York.
Alan Levit, a Democrat of Passaic, New Jersey, who works for an electronics and photography company in New York City, contributed to Zeldin’s campaign because of his concerns about yeshivas, anti-Semitism, crime and the economy.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, Levit favors Zeldin because he “has promised to be tough on crime in New York state.” Levit cited an increase in attacks on visibly Jewish New Yorkers.
“A co-worker recently told me his daughter was attacked on a subway platform,” said Levit. The man’s daughter, who is visibly Orthodox and was “carrying the Book of Psalms” was approached by a man who “appeared to be mentally unstable” and was “screaming about [the prayer book] she was holding.” She “sought refuge among a group of tourists” on the subway platform. “The guy wound up throwing a bottle of liquid at her.”
Levit pointed out that for every anti-Semitic hate crime that makes the news, many do not.
“This family—they are not getting on the trains again,” he said. “For every instance of anti-Semitism you hear reported in New York, there are many minor assaults and much harassment that goes unreported.”
Levit believes Zeldin will have a “commonsense” approach to crime, including dealing with the violent mentally ill.
“You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s going on on the streets of Manhattan,” said Levit. “It’s now a radical idea to help people who need psychiatric support, including [mandating] medication for individuals who threaten or are violent, but I’m hopeful for a change and I think Zeldin is the one to institute this change.”
Levit also likes Zeldin’s stance towards yeshivas, saying “Zeldin is not meddling in the educational curriculum of the parochial schools,” and his “opposition to congestion pricing.”
Emily Keating, 30, a singer-songwriter and Democratic voter on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, says she will vote for Hochul based on social issues.
“One person is not responsible for, say, the rise in crime,” she said. “I grew up here and know the city always has its ups and downs. I think the way people are blaming her is not fair.”
One undecided Jewish voter who wished to remain anonymous said, “I didn’t know the Republican candidate was Jewish until I heard him speak, and I’m very surprised the campaign is not playing that up. I think lots of Jews would vote for him if they knew that fact—many do not.”
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