When a candidate for City Council speaks out against anti-Semitism, such a statement is expected in the city with the country’s largest Jewish population. Likewise, when that candidate meets with a popular online Jewish news publication, she appears to be making the right moves in getting the word out among Jewish voters.
“I will reach out to the Jewish communities and institutions within our district in a meaningful way. I will be a friend and listener at all times, and a powerful ally during threats or attacks,” Jaslin Kaur wrote in a statement. “In the Jewish tradition of a commitment to learning, I will always strive to educate myself about the needs of the Jewish community in District 23.”
Her district covers the eastern edge of Queens stretching from 188th Street to the Nassau County line, encompassing Glen Oaks, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Holliswood, and parts of Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows. The seat is being vacated by Barry Grodenchik, who is term-limited. Like the special election that took place in February for the 24th Council District, this district may indicate the direction of the Democratic Party in the city. Will it elect a centrist candidate rooted in local politics and the civic scene, or a Bernie Sanders supporter who has the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America?
Kaur is one of seven candidates in this race, and one of the leaders in fundraising and social media followers. Her story as a daughter of working-class Sikh immigrants resonates in a district of homeowners who worked hard to reach this country, build their careers, and own their homes in a part of Queens that has a suburban feel.
But when one looks at the Jewish angle of her campaign, most of the folks involved in the “Jews for Jaslin” support group are not from the district, and represent a variety of leftist organizations that regard the Jewish state as an occupier, rather than the historic homeland of the Jewish People. In her interview with The Forward earlier this month, she noted that her plan to combat anti-Semitism was written with the support of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. But how many supporters does this organization have in District 23?
Recent incidents have shown that in anti-Semitic incidents, Orthodox Jews are often the victims, on account of their visible Jewish identity. In her district, there are three Young Israel shuls (four if you count the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates that is across the street from her district), and Yeshiva Har Torah. Back in February, in the 24th District, the leftist candidate ignored the Orthodox Jewish vote, relying instead on “The Jewish Vote.” Jim Gennaro won that race because he recognized the actual Jewish vote in his district and stood up for issues that matter to the community.
Concerning Israel, Kaur participated in the DSA survey that asked whether she would participate in a sponsored trip to Israel for freshman lawmakers given by the Jewish Community Relations Council. “I don’t have to make a travel or trip somewhere else to understand the deep situation of anti-Semitism that exists in New York City,” she told The Forward. It’s a more careful remark in comparison to some of the other DSA-backed candidates who referred to it as a “propaganda” trip.
But for Orthodox Jewish voters, Israel is an important concern because many of them have family members living and learning in Israel, and they regard the boycott of Israel as an anti-Semitic matter. In a city that has deep cultural, economic, and political ties to Israel, a Council candidate’s position on Israel makes a difference in how the city interacts with Israel.
The crowded race has seven candidates in total, each with one’s own roster of high-profile endorsements. Linda Lee has the support of Rep. Grace Meng and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. She is a former Commissioner of the New York City Civic Engagement Commission and CEO of the nonprofit Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, which provides a full range of social services at its Bayside office. She leads the race in fundraising, at nearly the double the amount raised by Kaur.
Debra Markell, a resident of North Shore towers, has the support of Rep. Tom Suozzi and former US Rep. Steve Israel.
Barry Grodenchik’s chief of staff Steve Behar has the support of his boss, along with Assemblyman Clyde Vanel. The self-described “pragmatic progressive” spoke out against the DSA questionnaire last January, describing the group’s agenda as “anti-Semitic.”
Other candidates include Seth Breland, Christopher Fuentes-Padilla, Sanjeev Jindal, Mandeep S. Sahi, Koshy Thomas and Harpreet S. Toor.
Although the Jewish population in this district is not as sizable as in District 24, in a crowded and tight race, every vote can make a difference. The Democratic primary election in this district will take place on Tuesday, June 22.
By Sergey Kadinsky