America’s capital of diversity is experiencing a noticeable absence in its 2013 mayoral election diversity round table. As the prospects for New York City’s upcoming mayoral race come forward, it is beginning to seem more likely that this will be the fourth time since 1965 that there are no significant Jewish American candidates in contention for the seat.
The attention that New Yorkers have given the topic is a clear indication of the importance of race identity and representation to New York City voters. However, while much can be said about this year’s void, it certainly should not detract from the vast landscape in race, gender, and even sexual orientation in the 2013 mayoral election. Instead, New Yorkers should consider the demographic shifts in our City that are being reflected in the historic race.
Earlier this year, I posted an article that highlighted the diversity in NYC’s mayoral race. In this year’s lineup is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is of Irish descent and would be the first female and openly gay mayor; Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, who is of Italian and German descent (and happens to be married to an African American woman); City Comptroller John Lui, who would be the first Taiwanese American mayor; and former Comptroller and 2009 Democrat nominee Bill Thompson Jr., who is black. The only significant GOP hopeful is former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., who would be NYC’s first Latino mayor. This year’s race is indisputably one of the most diverse mayoral elections in NYC, if not the country, and deserves a grin from even the most extreme Tea Partier for its historic implications of our nation’s social progress.
However, Jewish American Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s (and, quite honestly, my initial pick for the 2013 showdown) decision to withdraw from the mayoral race to instead run for a position as City Comptroller has prompted the New York Times to publish an article on Monday that draws attention to the Jewish absence in this year’s election. Since Abraham Beame became the first Jewish American Mayor of New York City in 1973, a Jewish candidate has become the norm (with the exception of David Dinkins’ failed bid for re-election against Rudy Giuliani in 1993). Not to mention, it was as recent as 2001 when both Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg and Democrat nominee Mark Green faced off — both are Jewish.
The first Jewish American mayor of a major city is believed to be Moses Bloom of Iowa City, Iowa, in 1873. However, the first Jewish American mayor of any city or town has always been disputed. The common belief seems to fall in line with James Underwood and W. Lewis Burke’s The Dawn of Religious Freedom in South Carolina, which contends that Solomon Cohen was the first mayor of one of the oldest Jewish American communities in Georgetown, S.C., in 1818. Since then, at least 80 Jewish Americans have served as mayor. Four of those mayors have served in NYC (it is often forgotten that Fiorella Laguardia’s matriarch was of Jewish descent). Seven mayoral elections have been won amongst Beame, Ed Koch, and Hizzoner over the past four decades.
But what has changed since Beame’s historic victory? It is all in the numbers.
According to the United Jewish American Federation of New York, the Jewish American population in New York has gradually declined since its peak at 2 million strong in the 1950s to lower than a million in 2002. Last year was the first year since that the number has risen above the million mark again. Of the 1.1 million City residents who identify themselves as Jewish, the vast majority of the demographic revival is accredited to a thriving explosion in the Hasidic and Orthodox community. With upward to three-quarters of City Jewish children being classified as Hasidic, and many of the adults travelling back and forth to Israel, the new Jewish population in NYC is more conservative than in the past. The more globally minded Hasidic voting block is likely to pay more attention to foreign relations and federal affairs. Is it possible that the trademark liberal Jewish base of the Civil Rights Era is being replaced with a tightly knit conservative community that is either less politically engaged on the local level or disenchanted by the inescapably liberal social make-up of NYC on both sides?
Regardless of how anyone theorizes about the shift, one thing remains clear: race identity and representation remains noteworthy, especially in a city as diverse as New York. In a city that is as diverse as the United Nations headquarters on East 42nd street, everyone wants to be heard. Whether or not it is overt or internalized is a nuance; the reality remains that the New York bravado yearns to be recognized in a sea of plenty.
No matter what is the ethnic background of our next mayor, deficits, taxes, and stress are multi-cultural.