The Powers of New York - Orthodox Jews

By Liz Robbins (New York Times)
May 5, 2012

It is not as if the Jews of Brooklyn suddenly had opinions. But in recent years, they have discovered a forum to share them — the Internet — and a place to express them: the polls.

When Bob Turner, a Republican, defeated David I. Weprin, a Jewish Democratic candidate, in a special election for Anthony D. Weiner's Congressional seat in September, with heavy Orthodox support, it was seen as a vote on President Obama's position on Israel.

When Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, a Democrat from south Brooklyn, failed to win outright a seat in a special State Senate election in March (the vote count is still held up in court proceedings), it was partly because David Storobin, the Republican candidate, criticized his opponent's support of same-sex marriage, and a vocal group of rabbis supported him.

Both races were covered extensively on the Web sites of Voz Iz Neias ("What Is News," in Yiddish) and Yeshiva World News, and debated on Twitter and Facebook.

Amid the special circumstances of the elections, one outcome was clear: "The Orthodox community has emerged as a stand-alone force that needs to be reckoned with," said Ezra Friedlander, who runs a public-affairs consulting company.

Though Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are registered mostly as Democrats, their recent history, and their support of Michael R. Bloomberg in the 2009 mayoral race, "really makes the Orthodox Jewish vote the last true swing vote in the city," said Councilman David G. Greenfield, who represents Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst.

The Orthodox community, led by younger social media-aware voters, tends to focus on social services like tuition assistance for yeshivas, busing and housing, but votes socially conservative on issues like same-sex marriage. Their numbers are growing. According to the census, since the previous count, Borough Park was the one neighborhood in the city with more than 100,000 people that grew, by 5.2 percent.

The Orthodox influence will likely be diluted on the state level, at least, by redistricting, which has concentrated the Orthodox of south Brooklyn into a "Super Jewish" district.

But in the city, the group's impact on the 2013 mayoral election could be significant in the Democratic primary, and perhaps more so if Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly decides to enter the race on the Republican side.

"I don't think the Orthodox community has made up its mind who it will support," Mr. Friedlander said. "No candidate should take the Orthodox community for granted."