Changing Jewish Baltimore’s Political Landscape

(Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 03:29 PM)

2016022914567531894324The Following is VIA BaltimoreJewishLife.com 

Its proximity to Washington, D.C., gives the Baltimore Jewish community a front row seat to national politics, but now the political spotlight has turned on an upcoming local election. Community activist and small business owner Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer has launched his candidacy for city council; this could be a watershed election for Baltimore’s Orthodox community which, for the first time, has a very credible opportunity to put a frum Jew in City Hall. Outside of New York, Orthodox communities are less organized in the political arena, but this race has attracted the involvement of New York State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder who came to Baltimore recently to help Schleifer campaign and to host a fundraiser at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Azman.

Goldfeder explained, “I hope my involvement in Baltimore will show how critical it is for Orthodox communities to unite behind its candidate, organize strong grassroots efforts, and offer fundraising support. While this is common in New York, we should be showing our strength as a political bloc in vibrant Orthodox communities all over the country.”

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“I am honored that Assemblyman Goldfeder understands how critical this race is.  I hope his efforts in Baltimore will really encourage every member of our community to register and turn out to vote,” said Schleifer.

Ezra Friedlander, CEO of a public policy consultation firm, said, “There is no question of the benefits of an elected official who actually lives in the community, shops in the same stores, and sends their children to the same local schools as you. They will have an enhanced understanding of the issues that affect you daily and be able to work harder for you.”

Friedlander reflected on how New York State Senator Simcha Felder got school transportation for yeshiva students finishing their school day later than local public schools. “Only as someone who understood the ebb and flow of the community could he take the appropriate actions to provide thousands of yeshiva students with needed transportation.” And before Senator Felder took office, “Local frum families had to borrow thousands of dollars to sue the Board of Education to get reimbursed for the services the local government was supposed to provide for their special needs children. Today, Felder has established collaboration with the Mayor’s office, alleviating financial hardship.”

Ari Mandelbaum, a frum city councilman in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, noted the importance of electing frum leaders. “Frum communities around the country have more needs as they grow, including social services, safety concerns, and city programming.  Usually frum candidates have been volunteers within their shuls and community organizations and want to help on a larger scale.  Communities must rally behind them to have a voice that truly understands their needs.  Having someone in elected office, rather than just outside advocates, helps in the early stages of drafting legislation to ensure that frum communities have a part in making decisions that will affect them.”

With thousands of frum voters in Baltimore City, Schleifer is focusing on taxes and crime. Baltimore residents pays the highest property taxes in the entire state of Maryland, hurting frum families who are already burdened with tuition, private school transportation costs, mortgages, and daily household needs.

He also points to the crime wave that has targeted the frum community with dozens of home and car break-ins recently. Baltimore has the second-highest murder rate in the country; criminals know that police are tied up with homicides and can’t put enough resources to protect the frum neighborhoods. “When we find thugs in our homes, we have to step up and make sure our families are safe. This helped propel me into the race,” said Schleifer.

Every Vote Matters

Baltimore voters must be registered Democrats to vote in a Democrat Primary, so Schleifer is working to help frum Jews registered as Independents or Republicans switch party affiliation. His campaign is also challenged by the election being held on Chol Hamoed Pesach, when many frum voters may be busy or out of town.

Friedlander emphasized, “It’s an abomination for any member of our community not to vote! If you do not vote, you have abdicated your right to question anything the government does.” He encouraged parents to take their kids to the polls before going on Chol Hamoed trips for an important educational experience.

Yonason Schenker, a New York based consultant who has worked as a political advisor to various city, state and federal campaigns, agrees that if the frum community fails to vote, they only have themselves to blame if they fall short by a small margin. ”A Pesach election is problematic. As a campaign strategist, I would encourage the Baltimore Rabbonim to have their congregants utilize absentee ballots and Early Voting. The community needs to understand the importance of having one of their own working within the City Council.”

Schenker noted, “Unfortunately, many frum Jews don’t vote, but every single vote makes a difference. I have seen candidates lose by a handful of votes. Assemblyman Goldfeder told us about a frum city council candidate in New York who lost by 79 votes. What if that happens here?”

Mandelbaum agreed. Unfortunately, some people don’t believe that their vote will make a difference for a frum candidate; this is simply not true. And when they are involved in the process, it shows that the community cares about the city they live in and want to make it better. Voting shows they do not want the status quo.”

Mr. Friedlander pointed out that “We have a unique responsibility to vote because historically the Jewish people were discriminated against in countries where we resided and did not have equal rights. Additionally, because frum Jews proportionately are few in numbers, in places like Baltimore where we can determine the outcome of the election we must. If our voting rights were taken away, suddenly every person would want to vote. Only a few decades ago, Africa-Americans were denied their basic rights to vote in many parts of the South. Let us remember: voting is both a sacred right and responsibility.”

 

Added Schenker, “The frum community should be encouraged by the opportunity to make history this year in Baltimore.”

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7 Comments

  1. medicineman613 says:

    One has the impression that frum Jews are supposed to rubber stamp his candidacy for city counsel because He is a frum Jew and we need to “make history” here. However, with his signs all around town I observe that He is a “democrat” which as a party I personally do not feel either support Israel very well nor represent Torah values on a mix of many critical issues i.e. monetary policy, taxes, crime, abortion and so forth. Democrats have ruled Maryland for decades and Baltimore to be sure for longer stretches…and the result horrible with rampant crime, riots, high taxes and overspending…plus free handouts for everyone. It’s such a mess in Maryland that they actually voted a Republican governor in recently. Why would we want a Jew much less a frum one to simply put forward the values that don’t work? Where does he stand on issues? What are his goals? A better article to get votes would be to address these issues, a rubber stamp vote will not accomplish anything.

  2. Realisticguy says:

    Because if you actually understood what you were saying then you would know the fact that he’s running as a Democrat makes no difference on the views he wants to implement. This is city council not president.

  3. BarryLS1 says:

    medicineman613: If you know anything about Baltimore City, you’d know that it is impossible for a Republican to win any local election.

    For a Jew, to be registered Republican in Baltimore City, you effectively take yourself out of the process and actually harm your community. You lose any say in the process and insure you have no voice. Local elections have far more impact on your day to day life than national elections. When it comes to the general elections, your party registration doesn’t matter.

    Many people in the City, especially Jews, who are conservatives are registered Democrats because they have some seichel, enough to know they need a say in their local government.

    If Schleifer was running as anything other than a Democrat, he’d be wasting his time.

    This doesn’t just apply to Baltimore, the same thing holds true in most jurisdictions where Jews reside in the U.S.

  4. TGIShabbos says:

    Baltimore has BIG problems which needs BIG plans to positively change them. I recall a few months ago on YWN postings articles of Jewish businesses tragically being robbed or mischief occurring. The article was popular as many people commented. Perhaps some frum Baltimore people commented that Baltimore is very safe; just as safe as Lakewood, Silver Spring, or Teaneck. I’m married and in the 20′s age bracket, none of my friends want to raise a family in Baltimore because of the crime and stagnant economy. What I’m getting at is that the Jews in Baltimore are wonderful people, but the actual community/City- not so much. First thing a candidate and residents must do is admit there is a problem, second is to start presenting solutions.

  5. medicineman613 says:

    #3, I see your point, however that’s a sad state of affairs that someone must run in a party he doesn’t necessarily hold values with. Also, I never said he should run as a republican…but why not as an independent? If he’s not democrat really then, what is he, what does he stand for, how will he change things? Also, if a republican can win governor than why not city council? If he puts forward good ideas, I don’t see why he wouldn’t get a lot of votes no matter which party he is in…hence independent would be a better call here if he’s not truly a democrat. The whole idea of a party is that one holds a party ideal lines. Otherwise independent has it’s own set of goals. Rather than follow a cookie cutter why not do something original.

    #2 I don’t wave off the seriousness of an election just because of the nature of the position. He is potentially an elected official representing me. He may rise from here to higher levels based on my support I give him now. Supporting a democrat supports their party indirectly, something I don’t agree with. While he might pass laws that help me, so far others elected have been controlled by their party and done their bidding and the result is bad. If he runs as an independent he is simply for himself and what he stands for, something original and which people can respect. Also, as an independent people will be forced to understand what he plans to do and stands for and may be able to help him better. Running as a Democrat will anger fellow democrats if he votes against his parties wishes. It’s not so simple as “local politics” and that’s it. This is not electing an HOA head.

  6. BarryLS1 says:

    medicineman613: An independent has never won. Democrats have an overwhelming voter registration. It is impossible to win as either a Republic, independent or anything else.

    A republican can win governor in a perfect storm. Like the current one running against an opponent who botched his campaign and was tied to ObamaCare and was dumb enough to invite Obama to campaign for him and years ago with Bob Ehrlich running against a flake and dunce in Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

    Ehrlich lost re-election even though he did a good job in office, far better than any Democrat, but the deck is so stacked.

    The bottom line is, if you care about your community, you will register to vote in the Democratic primary.

    Schleifer has proven himself that he knows how to work the system and get things done. He got the Mayor to increase funding for the crime lab, after years of cuts. The first increase since the 1970′s. This resulted in dozens of arrest of home burglars that have been preying on the community.

    Being a registered Republican in Baltimore City is cutting off your nose to spite your face and harming yourself and community.

  7. mrjadler says:

    Check your history
    Leon Rubenstein was a frum councilman a number of years ago

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