Love him or hate him — and let’s be clear, you all either love him or hate him — Mayor Bloomberg was a consequential mayor. (Proof of that are the many legacy articles in the media beginning with, “love him or hate him…”)
Bloomberg is, deservedly, getting high marks for what he did for New York City overall. Jews, who make up one of every six Big Applers, gained tremendously from his economic competence and obstinate insistence on pursuing lifesaving policing tactics even as the election for his successor showed that the city turned against it.
But his record on specifically Jewish concerns has been dismal and disquieting. And for many in the Orthodox community, that is enough to give the billionaire a red “F.”
So for the Jews of New York, Bloomberg’s legacy boils down to stop-frisk or metzitzah b’peh.
Bloomberg, who was born to Jewish parents, is a study in marked contrasts. The 71-year-old is at once proud of his Jewish heritage, donating lavishly to secular Jewish causes, while priding himself on not giving in to the “10,000 guys in black hats” on metzitzah b’peh.
He crassly appealed to Jewish voters in 2001, with pictures plastered across Boro Park and Williamsburg of the yarmulke-clad candidate writing a check, an aron kodesh profiled behind him. For his surprisingly tight third election victory in 2009, Bloomberg remained huddled with his team on election night, not coming out to declare victory until votes from Boro Park came in, putting him over his rival.
Yet, the gates of City Hall were mostly shut for Orthodox askanim, their phone calls returned on an arbitrary basis. And months after the 2009 election, which was arguably won based on ads touting the mayor’s having saved Priority 7, the afterschool voucher program which primarily benefited Orthodox parents was yanked.
Additionally, Bloomberg forced countless Jewish parents of special needs children to take the city to court to get approval to send their children to culturally appropriate schools, cases which the city invariably lost anyhow.
For city residents overall, the Bloomberg administration was seen as your pushy Big Brother. Its nanny hands, when they weren’t in your pocket for any number of traffic infractions, were pushing that Big Gulp away, its eyes warily daring you to light up in public spaces. On issues from guns to immigration, the environment to immorality, Bloomberg had an opinion, a belief which he emblazoned on a big stick.
Elected in 2002 by an electorate suddenly turned enamored by anything touched by Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg’s wealth and independence allowed him to rise above partisan considerations. While he used that for putting together a top-notch team which was a national trendsetter in terms of public health, policing and rezoning properties for more housing, he also used it for a slate of liberal items such as gun control, immigration and immorality.
He was ready to use the latest technology and pursue criminals wherever — or whomever — they are to keep the city safe. He took the bald-faced reality that minority neighborhoods hosted some 90 percent of all crimes seriously, directing extra measures of resources, social programs and police force there. He had a ready answer to the growing blowback that he was “targeting blacks”: a chart showing nearly 8,000 lives in the African-American community saved because of his tactics.
He had no qualms about sending cops to spy on Muslim mosques and cultural centers, stopping 19 terror attacks in the process, even as he became the most prominent voice for allowing a huge mosque near Ground Zero.
Bloomberg was a careful steward of the economy. While he raised property taxes shortly after assuming office for 9/11 recovery, he also helped set up a rainy day fund which helped the city weather the 2008 recession with mild service cuts and no additional taxes.
In all the above, Jews generally applauded the mayor’s actions, with the annual crime rate becoming a safety blanket and an appreciation for his willingness to profile terrorists on their home base.
But that applause was all at a distance. Up to and including his final reelection race, Bloomberg did a careful dance with the Jewish community, distancing them and cutting off access, but at the same time gaining their trust — or at least enough trust for them to vote for him three times. That was accomplished by a mixture of fear (the other guy is Dinkins II — version 2002, version 2005, version 2009), money (offering and then retracting afterschool programs) and just plain making the case for competence.
At the same time, wild accusations by some in the medical field and in his administration of circumcised babies dying from metzitzah b’peh made him a pariah within some Orthodox circles. Before the new regulation mandating that parents sign a form acknowledging alleged risks in the procedure — which have been discredited by experts in the field — the Jewish mayor was seen as having a family fight with the community over issues such as a trash disposal site in Williamsburg, afterschool vouchers and maybe the unplowed streets in Boro Park. But after the MBP fight escalated, it became an us-versus-them, a modern-day battle between the Chashmona’im and the Hellenists.
So while as New Yorkers we may be nostalgic for Bloomberg, greeting a Mayor Bill de Blasio is one regime change Jews could look forward to.