De Blasio Criticizes Voter-Reform Group Exec for Calling Orthodox Jews ‘Extremist Bloc’

NEW YORK -
de blasio susan lerner
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a virtual press conference at City Hall, Monday. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized an executive at a voter- and government-reform organization who referred to the Orthodox Jewish community as “an extremist bloc,” describing the comments as “unacceptable” and a “horrible characterization.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, made the comments to Gothamist in an article last month about mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s surge in support among the Orthodox Jewish community for his opposition to government interference in yeshiva education. The article noted that “the introduction of ranked-choice voting this year may play a complicating factor in the mechanics of the ultra-Orthodox bloc vote,” and quoted Lerner as saying, regarding ranked-choice voting, “One of its goals is to build a consensus majority, and you don’t do that by taking extreme positions. If you’re pandering to an extremist bloc, you’re perhaps not being strategic.”

Lerner came under sharp criticism for her comments from officials both in Jewish community and other communities across the city.

A reporter for BoroPark24 asked de Blasio on Monday about Lerner’s comments, to which the mayor replied, “I know Susan Lerner, and she’s someone I’ve worked with and I respect. But I find her comments absolutely wrong, and I find them unacceptable. And I think she should immediately clarify them and recognize that that’s just not fair to characterize such a large and diverse community that way. I have a very long personal relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community. I feel a deep connection and warmth in the many, many personal relationships I’ve had.”

The mayor, who previously represented a portion of Boro Park in the City Council, went on to describe the Orthodox as a “a community that contributes a lot to this city, a community that is often misunderstood,” and said Lerner’s comments constituted a “really horrible characterization and unfair characterization.”

Then, commenting on the issue of government oversight over yeshiva education, de Blasio said, “We all need to work together on behalf of our children. So, I would say what we’ve tried to do is to work with the yeshivas to improve education for our children. That is our responsibility and the State Department of Education’s responsibility. But you can do that in a respectful manner that also respects people’s constitutional rights. That’s the balance we have struck. And in fact, what we found overwhelmingly, is a good outcome with real work — there was agreement on how to improve the curricula for the benefit of everyone. So, that’s the way to work, together. That’s the way to move forward.”

After being criticized for her comments, Lerner tweeted last week, “Happy to clarify: it is an extreme position to offer to flout the NYS substantial equivalency law to the benefit of voters who’ve made it a litmus test issue. Common Cause/NY has said that many times, and will insist on the meshugana position that politicians uphold the law.”

Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein replied to Lerner, “’SPINTRASH. You called our entire community an ‘extremist bloc.’ Had a chance to apologize. Instead, you doubled down on your hate. If I called an ethnic group an ‘extremist bloc’ you’d call for my resignation. There should be no place for bigoted hate @CommonCause. Resign.”

Lerner, reached by phone last week, referred Hamodia to her spokesperson, who did not respond to Hamodia’s request for comment. The spokesperson did not respond Monday to request for comment on de Blasio’s criticisms.

rborchardt@hamodia.com