A couple of months ago, I argued that President Obama had not lost the Jewish vote, despite a speech he made earlier this summer advocating a return to the 1967 Israel/Palestine borders. After yesterday's special election in which Republican Bob Turner beat Democrat David Weprin in the race to (wait for it...) fill Anthony Weiner's traditionally Democratic seat in a heavily Jewish district, I stand by my position: President Obama is not losing anything that he ever had.
Even before it happened, Democratic alarmists/Republicans/most media outlets, were pushing the narrative that yesterday's election would be a referendum on President Obama in general and more specifically his policies on Israel. But President Obama was not running in this election and yesterday's results are attributable to qualities specific to this district and these candidates.
First off, there's David Weprin himself. Now that the election is officially over, I feel more comfortable voicing my impression of Weprin as deeply unlikeable. I don't remember the details of our conversation so much as I remember the candidate coming off as conceded and slightly creepy. And I know I'm not alone. An LA Times article highlighting Former Mayor Koch's role in the referendum narrative contains this little gem regarding Weprin's mustache, '"Really … you look sleazy," said Pearl Siegelman, a Democratic district leader in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay.' My point here is not to engage in the least impressive name dropping ever (apologies in advance, there's another one coming up), but to contrast the off putting Weprin with highly charismatic Barack Obama and Anthony Weiner.
In addition, several sources have referenced the fact that Weprin, like many of yesterday's voters, is an Orthodox Jew. I do vividly remember shaking hands with Weprin, a no-no for highly observant Jews, and I don't remember him wearing a yarmulke. Far be it for me to define another person's Judaism, Weprin may be well observant and may rightfully consider himself Orthodox, but not in same way that Assemblyman Dov Hikind and the Jews in that district do. As this article points out:
"The Democrats originally thought they were doing themselves a favor by nominating Weprin, himself an Orthodox Jew. There were jitters about the Jewish vote at the start of the race, so...the Democrats cynically slapped Weprin on the ballot to ensure that they could use his Judaism as a hedge against a potential threat from a non-Jewish Republican candidate. Instead, Weprin’s clumsy attempts to play up his Orthodox identity contributed to the implosion of his campaign. Yes, he talked about his Jewishness and always wore a yarmulke when speaking to Orthodox audiences, but he also voted to legalize gay marriage. In fact, he not only voted for gay marriage, he gave a speech on the floor of the state assembly in which he claimed that his religion supported his vote."
I've also encountered Assemblyman Hikind in my professional past and here is what I can you about him:
Number one, that dude needs like half a reason to not endorse a Democrat. In fact in 2008 he endorsed McCain for President and before that he endorsed George W. Bush. Again, it's hard to claim that President Obama is "losing" something he never had. Hikind did, however, endorse Weprin for Comptroller in 2009.
Second, Hikind and his constituents are extremely anti-marriage equality. In 2009, Assemblyman Hikind endorsed the City Council candidate I managed despite the fact that my candidate was pro-equality. It was a HUGE DEAL even though all the viable candidates were pro-equality and mine was the only practicing Jew in the five-way race. The association very nearly resulted in scandal for both Hikind and my candidate, but was endured because of what each brought to the table for the other. Assemblyman Hikind is highly attuned to the needs and moods of his district (not necessarily a bad thing). The reason he chose to endorse my candidate was because of a track record of securing low income housing (a big deal in those neighborhoods) and a commitment to bring resources to local yeshivas and other community institutions. At the time, marriage equality was less imminent in New York and certainly not prominent on the agenda for a City Councilman. If it had been, you can bet Hikind would have endorsed someone else. Last but not least, Hikind wields a considerable amount of power in his district and in the New York City Orthodox Jewish community at large. When my candidate secured Hikind's endorsement (just before I was hired onto the race) I was told that we had in effect secured the Orthodox vote.
So what changed about Weprin between 2009 and 2011? It wasn't his relationship to Israel, it was his recent pro-equal marriage vote and corresponding comments. How do I know? Not only because of the evidence presented above, but because Dov Hikind said so:
"Hikind, a staunch supporter of Israel, did not employ this argument when he explained his decision. He emphasized that Weprin had lost his vote by bringing in his religion to back his vote for the gay marriage law that carried the New York legislature in June. The fact that he backed the law at all cost Weprin Orthodox votes.
'I will not support David Weprin,' said the Brooklyn state Assemblyman. 'Weprin basically used his Jewish orthodoxy to say gay marriage is OK. He used his orthodoxy to say gay marriage is kosher. That crossed the line," Hikind added.
And since Hikind is so lockstep with his constituents it is reasonable to assume this goes for them as well.
Furthermore, if yesterday's election were truly a referendum on President Obama and not the peculiarities of a specific candidate and district, then Democrats would not have maintained all six of the contested New York State Assembly seats.
Finally, if President Obama had been losing the "Israel vote" (distinct, I would argue, from the "Jewish vote") he is on his way to gaining it back. While all this was going on, President Obama was making a statement against a United Nations vote for Palestinian statehood. "If this came to the Security Council we would object very strongly, precisely because we think it would be counterproductive."
So there you have it. President Obama is STILL NOT LOSING THE JEWISH VOTE. Now let's take a moment to mourn the end off all the Weiner puns and then move on.