W ith New York mayor Bill de Blasio winning a second term and a new City Council set to get down to business in January, the race is now on for who will be the next Council speaker. Current speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is stepping down due to a term limits law.

Last week, Agudath Israel of America hosted a candidate forum at its annual legislative breakfast, featuring five out of the eight candidates who have announced their candidacy. The candidates — Mark Levine, Robert Cornegy, Donovan Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Jumaane Williams — discussed issues on the minds of Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers, including assisting non-public schools with security funds and education programs, and advocating for universal free school lunch.

“If we believe in the principle that every child should be well fed, that you can’t learn unless you are well fed, then that has to apply to every child, including those who observe kashrut,” said Levine, who is also chair of the Jewish Caucus in the City Council, with regards to the city’s new free lunch program that excludes yeshivos and private schools.

The candidates also pledged to pursue a legislative agenda independent of the progressive mayor while maintaining a working relationship with the executive branch. “I have demonstrated the ability to stand up to the mayor — vigorously and bitterly — when it was necessary,” said Councilman Cornegy, whose district represents parts of Brooklyn, including Crown Heights. “I think that my first responsibility as speaker of the City Council is to advocate on behalf of the body.”

On affordable housing, the candidates expressed support for accommodating larger families. “I am one of 13 brothers and sisters, so I understand the reality,” said Councilman Rodriguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic. “If we want to build for the next 100 years, we cannot discriminate against larger families who need a properly sized apartment to raise their children. I suffer discrimination every day because of my accent, so I can assure you that I will be fighting against discrimination.”

The 51-member Council will officially select the speaker in January.

Jewish Democrats Get a New Name

Jewish Democrats are officially launching a new political organization this week to ramp up Jewish outreach efforts for the upcoming midterm elections in 2018.

The new group, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, will replace the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and the Jews for Progress PAC, which have been active respectively in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.

“Clearly today, there seems to be a calling for a rebuilding of Jewish Democrats’ vision in politics — to elect people that will support local and state national policies that are supportive of the Jewish community’s values,” explained former congressman Ron Klein, acting chairman of the new organization. “We also believe there’s a role for our organization to make sure that Democrats understand the importance of Israel and the US strategic relationship with Israel.”

Klein headed the Jews for Progress PAC during the 2016 election season to assist the Hillary Clinton campaign with Jewish outreach in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — three states that ended up in Donald Trump’s column.

The role of the JDCA, according to Klein, will be to identify specific congressional campaigns where the group believes that the Jewish community’s interests are at stake, and to support Democrats who will support those issues.

According to the latest American Jewish Committee survey, 57% of US Jews identify themselves as Democrats, while only 15% are aligned with the Republican Party. The same survey found that 54% of Orthodox Jews voted for President Trump. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 684)