In the fall of 2012, Scott Stringer was the only viable Jewish candidate running for mayor in the Democratic primary. Dropping his bid for mayor and entering the run for Comptroller of New York City, Mr. Stringer left the growing field of candidates vying to succeed Mayor Bloomberg without any Jewish candidate, a precedent for mayoral elections in decades. Until Anthony Weiner came and rocked the boat. The race for mayor and for comptroller now included two Jewish frontrunners.
Mr. Stringer, benefiting from a sleepy race running unopposed, garnered immediate support within the Jewish community, especially among the Orthodox Jewish leadership, whose first priority is backing a presumed winner.
Until.. Eliot Spitzer sneaked in. The Former Governor of New York was once considered one of America’s most prominent Jewish politicians until his downfall in 2008. Yet, his Jewish identity was not one he was too proud of. In 2008 Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant who worked on several of Spitzer’s campaigns told the Forward: “He was more WASP than he was Jew…He was much more comfortable in Princeton than in an Orthodox synagogue.”
For much of his career, Spitzer was a source of great pride to Jews, with some supporters referring to him as having the potential to become the first Jewish president, The Forward wrote in 2008. In the blogosphere, that closeness was portrayed as simple ethnic pride; when the scandal broke, the Web site Gawker proclaimed it a “Shanda fur die Goyim.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Spitzer never held himself true to his faith or close to his ethnic background. The New York Times reported that Spitzer did not have a religiously observant upbringing, nor did he have a bar mitzvah. His mother, Spitzer said at some point, later regretted that she did not insist on a bar mitzvah, Like Anthony Weiner, Mr. Spitzer intermarried with his non-Jewish wife, Silda Wall.
“Spitzer’s education, propensity to argue and dedication to fitness all made him a nice Jewish boy. But he never conflated his moralist streak with his religion the way some Jewish politicians do (cough, cough Joe Lieberman), The Gawker wrote in 2008. :Instead, like Michael Bloomberg, also a member of the tribe, Spitzer was a crusader. As attorney general, he went after white collar criminals, as well as prostitution rings, and created a reputation as do-gooder fighting evil. (Bloomberg, less didactic, went after smokers and fatties.) And the public loves when anyone self-righteous, regardless of religion, takes a fall.”
On one of the few occasions that Spitzer did speak about his Jewishness, he connected his values to his upbringing — but underscored the difference between his parents and himself. “I would say that my values are very much a product of a household in which both parents who raised me were more observant than I have been,” he told the Jewish Week in 1998, shortly after he was first elected attorney general.
Despite this, Spitzer polled well among New York Jews in the past. When Spitzer’s favorable rating fell to 41 percent, In Siena’s Feb. of 2008 poll, and when 65% of NY State voters rated his job performance as negative, the only demographic group with a majority having a favorable view of Spitzer were: Jewish voters, who favored him at 53 percent.
What remains to be seen is, whether Mr. Spitzer, who never returned the love to his loyal tribe, will manage to appeal to Jewish voters this time around, relying on his ‘give me a second chance’ theme. Or will Scott Stringer, who recently celebrated a bris for his son, maintain his base of support and backing within the Jewish community.
(Jacob Kornbluh – YWN)