Bill de Blasio’s friendly relations with the ultra-Orthodox

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio greets Jewish community members.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio greets Jewish community members.
Francois Mori/AP/Shutterstock

Bill de Blasio’s friendly relations with the ultra-Orthodox

The New York City mayor wants donations from politically conservative very religious Jews. Here’s why they might support him.
August 16, 2019

In a desperate attempt to drum up donations for his floundering presidential campaign New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought help from Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, Politico New York reported recently. The request – making the rounds online and through WhatsApp – asks in Yiddish for 10,000 individual donors to give only $1 each. 

The message emphasized that donating $1 did not need to imply support for the mayor’s left-wing presidential campaign, but simply was a way of making sure he gets to participate in the September Democratic debate. It also implied that the mayor would reward the ultra-Orthodox community with favorable treatment in the future. “By donating the dollar you support your needs, the entire ultra-Orthodox public and our rights and needs by answering the call of (influential people) who need to show that the public recognizes those who understand our interests,” the message reads, in part. 

That would not be the first time that de Blasio has helped out conservative, Ultra-Orthodox constituents in return for their support. During his tenure as mayor, de Blasio has relied on the ultra-Orthodox community for political support and returned the favor by helping them out in various ways. His relationship with them is deeply rooted: Ultra-Orthodox communities in Borough Park, Brooklyn, were in his district when he was in the New York City Council.

According to Politico’s unidentified sources, the message was signed by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect, who are based in Williamsburg. 

The request for donations is just the latest example of de Blasio – who characterizes himself as an ardent progressive – transacting with the Satmar, who are overwhelmingly registered Democrats but lean conservative politically and usually vote Republican for president. (A map of precinct-level results from 2016 shows that the Hasidic portion of South Williamsburg went mostly for Donald Trump.) 

Sources who chose not to be named told City & State that the strange alliance between the lefty mayor and a group of religious fundamentalists stems from the fact that Hasidim are inclined to support the politicians who win elections, so as to have access to the government, rather than the ones they agree with on social issues. 

But what exactly are these favors that de Blasio has done for the ultra-Orthodox? City & State compiled a list of some key issues in the community in which de Blasio, as mayor, has shown them notable consideration.

Circumcision rituals

In 2015, the de Blasio administration relaxed regulations around a controversial circumcision ritual used in some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities that involves the mohel sucking blood away from a boy’s penis after the incision is made. This ritual – called metzitzah b’peh, which means oral suction – has been linked to herpes infections. 

The de Blasio administration waved the Board of Health requirement that parents sign a consent form before the procedure is carried out and instead distributed a brochure to parents. In 2017, after six infants had been infected with herpes as a result of this ritual since de Blasio took office, the mayor admitted that his administration had not done enough to stop mohels from spreading the disease and vowed to change that.

Measles 

The measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities began in September 2018 but wasn’t strongly addressed by the de Blasio administration until April of this year, which some critics said was too slow of a response. However, his administration’s new policy is to punish any family that refuses to vaccinate their children against measles with a fine. 

Childcare vouchers

When de Blasio was in the City Council he was a big proponent of Priority 7 child care vouchers, which disproportionately went to members of the Orthodox Jewish community living in Williamsburg and Borough Park. These were one type of voucher distributed by the city that were supposed to go to low-income families. The P7 voucher program was eliminated by the Bloomberg administration in 2009, as a result of budget cuts. 

Then, when de Blasio was running for his first term as mayor in 2013, he made restoring P7 vouchers a top campaign priority – possibly, in part, to gain support from Orthodox leaders. De Blasio kept his promise early in his tenure as mayor by working with City Council members David Greenfield and Stephen Levin to partially restore Priority 5 vouchers, which also serve low-income families.

Yeshiva standards

The Orthodox schools have repeatedly been accused by activists – as well as some graduates and parents of former students – of not complying with New York state’s basic secular education standards. This means yeshivas were being accused of not adequately teaching basic subjects like math and English, instead devoting nearly all of their school hours to religious subjects.

In 2015, de Blasio’s administration announced that it would investigate the yeshivas accused of not complying with state law. NY1 recently reported that Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza sent a letter to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia saying that 21 of the 30 schools have been inspected and passed. Three more have scheduled visits. But the six other schools – all high schools – reportedly will not let city investigators inside. 

De Blasio has been accused of stalling the investigations to avoid angering the ultra-Orthodox community.

Ethan Stark-Miller
is an editorial intern at City & State.
20190920