Recently our mayor, Bill de Blasio, has been the subject of quite a few headlines, with the media screaming allegations that could become politically damaging to him and his administration. Naturally, news coverage like this spreads quickly. But it is certainly unwelcome, especially to someone serving as mayor of New York City.
This is why I am writing today: I would like to see our community, the Jewish community, rally around the mayor to reaffirm its support for him.
You may be wondering why I choose to advocate for our mayor during this uncertain time, rather than wait for the facts to crystallize and the truth to be brought to light. Perhaps we should wait until then to decide to support him?
But I say that we, the Jewish community, owe a debt a gratitude to this mayor and his administration. And now is the best time to show it. “Debt of gratitude” may sound like a cliché as time-worn as “motherhood and apple pie,” but in this particular situation I feel it truly applies.
Let me begin by refreshing everyone’s memory. I actually supported Christine Quinn, not Bill de Blasio, in the last race for NYC mayor, and I worked on her campaign as a consultant. During Quinn’s tenure as speaker of the City Council I developed a professional relationship with her on matters pertaining to special-needs children. But one never knows how things will work out in the political arena.
Ultimately Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, and I now consider myself an objective observer as to what the administration has accomplished to date.
As someone born and bred in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, with three generations of roots in the community, I have a vested interest in the policies of our city that affect us. When de Blasio took office, there were some unresolved issues that directly impacted not only many families but our community as a whole. On all of these issues Mayor de Blasio took a strong and clear leadership role that has clearly made a tremendous impact.
School Transportation: Before the mayor took office, state and city policy would not accommodate private school children so they could avail themselves of bus transportation after public school dismissal hours. This was a huge problem for the children from a safety perspective and, for the mosdos, from a financial perspective. When de Blasio became mayor, he — working together with our locally elected officials — instructed his administration to fully implement after-hours busing for yeshivah students. Those are the facts.
Special Education: Many tears were shed by parents of special-needs children who tried desperately to have the Department of Education approve services in schools that are appropriate for their children. This has been an ongoing issue for many years, with city government refusing to show a modicum of mercy for parents of special-needs children. It was Mayor de Blasio who instructed his Board of Education to streamline the process so that parents would not be forced to fight a cold-hearted bureaucracy to obtain services for their child.
While still not perfect, the process continues to improve, and it is because the mayor understands and has transformed promises into policy.
Again, those are the facts.
Religious Freedom: Until Bill de Blasio became mayor, a sacred religious ritual remained unresolved and in litigation. Since he took office, he has worked cooperatively with communal leaders to reach an agreement that is sensitive to our needs and protects public health concerns. He stretched his hand out to us at personal political peril. Again, those are the facts.
UPK: In his campaign, de Blasio pledged that all of New York City’s children should be enrolled in UPK programs, so that every student would receive access to early childhood education, whether or not they attended public school. When elected, the mayor looked past opposition groups and made a significant effort to include yeshivos in UPK enrollment outreach. Mayor de Blasio has worked cooperatively with yeshivos and parochial schools to ensure that private school children are enrolled. He also displayed a unique finesse and commitment in this area in order to satisfy the complex laws of separation of church and state.
It would have certainly been easier for him to say that this is a bridge that cannot be crossed. Instead, he demonstrated a level of courage by recognizing as mayor of all New Yorkers that yeshivah kids deserve the same opportunities available to public school children.
Again, those are the facts.
Security: It was the mayor’s leadership and understanding of the situation that resulted in his recognition that all our city’s children need protection, including yeshivah students. Thus he signed the school security bill into law, which is historic in nature. For the first time, yeshivah children are entitled to security like all other children.
Indeed, overall, crime rates in our city are declining under this administration. According to NYPD statistics released by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, crime in the city decreased during the month of April by close to 5 percent. That means 85 fewer robberies and 49 fewer shootings. Again, those are the facts.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the elected officials who represent our community have in many instances been at the forefront of advocating for these issues to become policy. Going into the details would be beyond the scope and objective of this article, so I will not give honorable mention, although they are deserving of it.
My intention here is to illustrate the common denominator of all these issues that is the hallmark of the de Blasio administration: He has been able to translate into policy the political rhetoric and promises often made during a campaign. In doing so, he has affirmed that our community is part of the fabric of our city.
Considering all of these factors, I feel that now is the best time to publicly proclaim to the general public that we, as a community, appreciate the administration and have confidence in the mayor.
The old expression, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan” is certainly true in politics. As soon as someone is under suspicion, he is abandoned by all.
But our mesorah teaches that we are obligated to express our gratitude and appreciation to those who have helped us, regardless of their current situation. And our community has a special responsibility to publicly show support to the mayor, especially at a time when there are those who wish to seek him harm.
Let all New Yorkers realize that we remain steadfast and loyal to a mayor who has gone above and beyond what is required and who understands how to respond to our legitimate needs.
It is true that our lifestyle occasionally requires special accommodations by city government, and it requires elected officials with sensitivity and understanding of those needs. Our mayor is no stranger to those needs and has gone well beyond the minimum to show us how much he values our contributions to the city.
Throughout its history, this city has been welcoming to all who wished to call it home. Our community matters, just like everyone else.
There are those among us who advocate for our community, fighting tirelessly for our rights, including our own local elected officials. They are doing a wonderful job. But let me make one thing clear: Without a mayor who understands the needs of a community, their efforts would be in vain and little would get accomplished. The buck stops at the mayor’s desk and the old adage, “you can’t fight City Hall” is correct.
Our mayor is attuned to our needs. He’s been there for us time and time again. Let’s make sure he knows how much he is appreciated.
I’m trying to do my part. I hope you will do yours, too.
Ezra Friedlander is CEO of the Friedlander Group a public policy consulting firm based in NYC and Washington DC. He can be reached at Ezra@TheFriedlanderGroup.com