The heads of several major Hasidic sects in Borough Park jointly endorsed Andrew Yang for mayor yesterday, almost certainly guaranteeing the candidate several thousand votes from the neighborhood.
The endorsement ran as an ad in Yiddish-language newspapers on Wednesday, and includes representatives from the Bobov, Belz, Satmar, Sanz-Klausenburg, and Pupa sects in the neighborhood, who are operating under the name “Borough Park United.”
“After seriously considering the policies and the capabilities of te current candidates, and what’s the in the best interest of our community, we are endorsing the popular and energetic candidate, businessman and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for mayor in the Democratic primary,” the group said in a statement obtained by the Forward, which first reported the news.
Yang “stood out as the strongest candidate with a clear understanding to fight for and protect the religious rights of the Orthodox community, despite the attacks coming his way,” the statement continued.
Many ultra-Orthodox sects have historically voted as a bloc, giving them significant sway in the outcome of local elections. The group’s endorsement of Yang was also notable because it came much earlier in the race than had been true in previous years.
Yang had conducted intense outreach to the community in recent weeks, visiting Borough Park and filming a campaign ad there. Photos published by the news site Boro Park 24 show him meeting with several neighborhood leaders, alongside local Council Member Kalman Yeger and Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein.
Yang has said he would not move to more strictly enforce secular education in the city’s yeshivas if he is elected mayor, an issue that has become a central sticking point for many in the Orthodox community and caused friction with outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio.
A probe by the city’s Department of Education found that two dozen yeshivas examined were not meeting state secular education standards. Advocacy groups like YAFFED, which had pushed for the probe for several years, say the private schools leave thousands of children without a basic secular education, making them ill-equipped to engage the outside world.
But several Orthodox leaders, including Yeger and Eichenstein, have pushed back hard on what they say is an unnecessary intrusion in their religious practice. Yang’s position on the issue was likely key to scoring the endorsement.
Yang had also hired David Schwartz, a Democratic district leader representing the area, as his Jewish Community Outreach Director, and criticized the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement as “rooted in antisemitic thought and history.” He, along with several other leading candidates, also indicated he would retain a controversial policy adopted by de Blasio that permits a circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh, that can transmit herpes to infants.
The full list of endorsers includes Heshy Dembitzer, Joel Rosenfeld and Chaskie Rosenberg of the Bobov sect; Yaakov Yosef Steinmetz, Chesky Blau and Naftuli Reiner of Bobov-45; Efrayim Fink of Benos Chaya; Yitzchok Mechil Moskowitz and Meir Kuperstein of Belz; Chaim Friedman of Munkatch, Aron Welz and Jacob Landau of Satmar; Berl Lefkowitz and Naftali Tzvi Schwartz of Satmar; Joel Friedman of Pupa, Moshe Weissman and Gershon Weiss of Klausenburg; and Moshe Shia Kramer of Rachmastrivka.
“I am so deeply proud to have earned the endorsement of this incredible group of community leaders, many of whom I’ve met and gotten to know on a personal level in recent weeks,” Yang said in a statement released by the campaign. “New York’s Jewish community is not only core to who we are as a City, it is also going to be critical to New York’s comeback. I have had such an amazing time visiting Borough Park, bumping into people on 13th Avenue, visiting local shops — where everyone I met was so optimistic about New York’s future.”
Yang also has the backing of Queens Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, the only Orthodox elected official to have endorsed in the race thus far.
Other mayoral candidates courting voters in the city’s Orthodox neighborhoods include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, city comptroller Scott Stringer, and former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire.
The latest endorsement news doesn’t mean that Yang has secured the backing of Orthodox voters citywide. Sizable Jewish communities in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and elsewhere may back other candidates, and indeed, less than a day after the Yang announcement, some outlets reported that other Orthodox community leaders, including the Munkatcher Rebbe in Borough Park, seemed to voice support for Adams, who has generally polled second to Yang in most surveys of the race, though the accuracy of that reporting has since been cast in doubt.
In any case, some observers warned that endorsements alone won’t necessarily drive voter turnout without advertisements and a robust get-out-the-vote effort in the community.
“The mere endorsement gives Mr. Yang a leg up in a politically-active community,” Yossi Gestetner, a co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council who has worked on several local campaigns, cautioned after the announcement. “But the campaign will need to fund operations for max benefit, and other candidates can still make their own moves.”
[5/3/21 – This article has been updated to add newly available information regarding the accuracy of apparent endorsements for Eric Adams’ mayoral campaign.]