Party Identity Key in Assembly Race in Five Towns
By Reuvain Borchardt
Two Orthodox Jewish candidates who self-describe as politically conservative are squaring off in a special election in Nassau County next week, in a race that has largely come down to a battle over party affiliation rather than the candidates’ policies.
Republican Ari (Eric) Brown, 54, is facing Democrat David Lobl, 37, for the 20th Assembly seat, which covers the western tip of Nassau County including the Five Towns and Long Beach, and which became vacant after Republican Assemblywoman Melissa “Missy” Miller resigned in February to take a position on the Hempstead Town Board.
Lobl, a Chicago native who has lived for years in Far Rockaway before moving to Cedarhurst a little over a year ago, is running in his first political race, though he has made a career in politics: first for the Friedlander Group public-relations firm; then lobbying for Human Care Services, an organization that works with the developmentally disabled; as Jewish liaison in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo from 2012 to 2018; followed by a stint at the Kasirer lobbying firm; and most recently as a freelance consultant. Along the way, he worked on several political campaigns, including the unsuccessful bids for Congress by Democrats David Weprin in 2011 and Adam Schleifer in 2020.
Brown, a Long Island lifer who has lived in Cedarhurst for 30 years, has held local political office for more than two decades, including as a Cedarhurst trustee since 2001 and deputy mayor since 2019. His day job is owner of a homebuilding company, and this is his first race for a position in state government.
Both candidates agree that rising crime is a top priority for state government, and speak of supporting law enforcement and rolling back the state’s 2019 bail reform.
The new bail laws have “turned loose killers, drug dealers, gang members and other dangerous criminals into our communities,” Brown says.
“If people do bad things, they need to be held accountable,” Lobl says. “We can’t have a situation where you attack a Jew and then you’re just released within five hours and you get to do it again. That’s not okay.”
The candidates also both support state funding for private schools; the independence of private schools in setting their own curriculum; and maintaining the suburban nature of the district.
In fact, the candidates themselves, in interviews with Hamodia, were unable to name specific issues on which they differ. (Hamodia ultimately found two: Lobl supports “responsible gun control,” whereas Brown is an NRA member; and Lobl said he would consider supporting a universal health-care law, which Brown opposes. Also, Brown is a Trump supporter, while Lobl declines to reveal whom he voted for in the presidential election.)
A considerable portion of the rhetoric in the race has come down to whether the district would be better represented by a Democrat or Republican.
In the New York state Legislature, “whether we like it or not,” says Lobl, caucusing with the Democrats is “the only way to get things done.” Noting that Democrats have a supermajority of more than 100 of the 150 Assembly seats, Lobl argues, “If you want your voice to be heard, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want to be able to have any of the abilities that a member in the majority does, you have to be a Democrat.”
“What many voters may not realize,” says Daniel Rosenthal, a Democratic Orthodox Jewish Assemblyman from Central Queens who is endorsing Lobl, “is that in the New York state Legislature — unlike, for example, in the New York City Council or in Congress — minority members are powerless. Even if you generally agree with Republican policies more than Democratic policies, you will be virtually unrepresented in the Legislature if you vote the Republican into office. The Five Towns Jewish community is one of the largest Jewish communities in the state, but for them to have a voice in Albany they need to have a representative in the majority.”
“Although we all agree on the issues our community is facing,” reads a Lobl campaign flyer, “only David Lobl has the majority on his side to achieve actual results.”
Brown disputes the notion that a Democratic candidate would be a benefit to the district.
“If a Jewish person is going to vote for” a progressive agenda, Brown says, “he’ll lose his base, that’s the frum people. And if he goes along with what his base wants, [the majority] is not giving him $1.”
Bruce Blakeman, the Republican Nassau County executive who is endorsing Brown, likewise deems the notion that a Democrat would have more influence to be “nonsense.”
“You think one Democratic member of the Assembly is going to have a voice with those progressive, socialist, woke legislators up in Albany? It’s not going to happen,” Blakeman said at a campaign event with Brown. “Look what happened to Mayor Eric Adams, Democrat of the City of New York — he represents 8 million people, he went up to Albany to talk about bail reform, they shut the door on him. What do you think they’re going to do to a Democratic Assemblyperson from this area?”
In response to this argument by Blakeman, one Orthodox Democratic political strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity told Hamodia, “Every single vote counts in the Democratic conference of the Assembly. If you had more moderates, then more moderates would get their way, so within the conference there is a value in getting more moderates. Additionally, I’ll point you to Simcha Eichenstein and Daniel Rosenthal as two good examples of moderate Orthodox Jewish Democrats who have accomplished a lot in Albany.”
Michael Fragin, senior advisor to the Chairman of the New York state Republican Party and a trustee and fire commissioner of Lawrence, says, “Some people who don’t understand the ways of Albany have this idea that we’re going to elect a Democrat in the majority, and millions of dollars are going to start raining down upon our district … It’s nonsense. Nonsense. We had Democrats in this very seat for decades … and there were never millions of dollars coming into the Five Towns from any of them.”
Brown says that Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead have been considerable sources of funding for Cedarhurst, and that if the district were to vote in a Democratic Assemblyman, even if it would therefore get more funds from Albany, “they’re going to alienate the Republican Party,” which is a force in Nassau, and thereby “cut out every other source possible from all the Republican sources.”
Additionally, Brown says that it is important to side with Republicans because the Democratic Party in general has not been vocal enough in opposition to antisemitism within its party, and that “as a Jew, we have a responsibility not to side with our enemies.”
Lobl, on the other hand, argues, “I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up to your own party. And I think that by January there could very well be up to six frum Democratic members of the State Assembly. And when you have six members, we could provide cover to other moderate members. And when we draw a line in the sand, it’s much different than when a [Republican] member, or the entire Republican caucus, draws a line in the sand. You can’t ignore us.”
The district has a Democratic registration advantage of approximately 5,000 voters (around 8% of active voters) though it voted for Republican Donald Trump by six points in 2020. Miller, who last held the 20th Assembly seat, is a Republican, but the seat has also been held by several Democrats in recent years.
Rabbi Baruch Rothman, a political activist, says that the district’s support for Trump is unsurprising due to the 45th president’s popularity in the Orthodox community, and that he doesn’t believe the Orthodox will necessarily vote for Brown in the same numbers.
“I hope our community will realize this is not about party politics and its not about Ari or David, it is about a voice in the majority,” Rothman said. “If you want results, you have to be in the room, and [in Albany] the Republicans just aren’t in the room.”
Fragin wryly comments, “I presume all those people endorsing Lobl by that theory, will therefore vote Republican in congressional elections this year in anticipation of the GOP takeover of Congress.”
The Orthodox Democratic political strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity told Hamodia that while he is supporting Lobl, he believes Brown is the favorite in the race: “Long Island has been trending Republican, and the fact is the Republicans now control all the local [government] and that gives them influence over the political process, as far as exerting pressure on the community to vote for their candidate. Also, Lobl is very closely associated with Cuomo, which is a negative in the Jewish community.”
The Republican Fragin agrees, “David Lobl has to overcome a tremendous Democratic party branding deficit, in addition to being new to the district.”
But Lobl says voters should not consider political association or national politics when considering which candidate to vote for in this Assembly race.
“This election is not about Joe Biden. It’s not about Andrew Cuomo. It’s not about Bruce Blakeman. It’s about David Lobl and Ari Brown.”
The anonymous Democratic political strategist said the fact the special election is on a Thursday is “very rare,” and may affect the number of voters who cast a ballot.
“It’s ultimately is going to come down to turnout,” he says “and that’s tough to predict.”
The special election will be held April 7. Early voting is already underway.
Whoever wins the special election won’t have much time to celebrate. Balloting has already begun for the upcoming regular elections, with primaries in June and the general election in November.
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