The Democrats’ outreach to Jews in the New Jersey gubernatorial race came into focus this week as the National Jewish Democratic Council began a special focus on Bergen County and its large Orthodox population.
“We are really focusing hard on northern New Jersey, especially Bergen County,” said Linda Berg, NJDC’s political director. “I really can’t give you a sense of how much we are spending. Our members are busy raising money. We have an ad campaign, and we will be doing direct mail, but we don’t like to disclose numbers,” she said.
With an estimated 100,000 Jews — 15,000 of them in the Orthodox community — Bergen has a higher concentration of Jewish voters than any other county in the state.
“We feel there are a lot of Jews there, and we want to make sure we don’t have a fallout of the Democratic vote in a place where there is a big concentration of voters,” Berg said.
She is dispatching organizers “who are going to events where Jewish voters gather” and “doing phone-banking on issues to get out the Jewish vote.”
“We are targeting Orthodox voters,” Berg said. “We have a few Orthodox rabbis who work with us very closely. We have people in New Jersey who know how to talk to the Orthodox vote.”
Robert Yudin, who chairs the Bergen County Republican Organization, said the Democrats “should be worried about the Jewish vote. There is a very big uneasiness about the direction the Democratic Party is going, relative to the Middle East,” he told NJ Jewish News. “When you couple it with the absolute corruption going on in Bergen County, there is an uneasiness, and you are going to see a larger percentage of Jews voting Republican than in past years.”
Yudin said he believes the Orthodox community “is overwhelmingly going to vote Republican” because “they are furious with Obama over Israel. As far as the rest of the Jewish community, most of them will probably vote Democratic, but I suspect we’re going to see more of the Jewish community voting Republican than have in past years.”
Unlike Corzine or independent candidate Christopher Daggett, Republican candidate Chris Christie supports vouchers and tax credits for families who send their children to parochial schools, an issue that resonates with many Orthodox voters.
Supporting special ed
In its outreach to the Orthodox, Corzine’s Jewish supporters are stressing special education funding.
The governor has been a huge proponent of providing aid for students in need of special education, said Summit attorney Jill LaZare, who has been hired by NJDC to coordinate Jewish outreach in north Jersey. And, she added, “special education is of supreme importance to the Orthodox community,” she said.
Batya Jacob, who serves as associate director of the Orthodox Union’s NJ Association of Jewish Day Schools, agreed. “We have many, many students who need additional help and services they are not getting in a regular classroom,” she told NJJN.
Jacob, who is a member of the Non-Public School Advisory Committee of the State Department of Education, said Orthodox families are looking to Trenton for assistance.
“Is the governor cutting special ed for nonpublic schools? Not completely. But he is not necessarily supporting it,” she said. “I don’t want to sound partisan or totally anti-Corzine. I think some things he is doing are good. But in Trenton, it seems like the nonpublic school budget is being reduced and cut, and it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of differences between whether they are cutting the nonpublic or regular ed.”
“I don’t think that’s actually true,” said the governor as he left a meeting with breast cancer survivors Oct. 16 at LaZare’s Summit home. “We put more money into special ed than anyone,” he said.
In a separate interview, LaZare turned to another issue of prime importance to many Jewish voters.
“Corzine has been a huge friend to Israel,” she said. “He has been a huge leader. He has worked to partner with Israel in bringing businesses into New Jersey and divest in any foreign companies with ties to Iran. These are specifically attributable to this governor.”
Both the Democrats and the Republicans are staking much on the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, the only statehouses up for grabs in this off election year.
Both LaZare and Berg said they are “cautiously optimistic” that Corzine will win a narrow victory. But an unknown factor is the popularity of Daggett, a right-leaning third-party candidate who is siphoning off votes from the Republicans.
“Daggett helps Corzine,” acknowledged Yudin. “Most people who are supporting Daggett are soft [in their support]. Christie is their second choice. Christie still might lose; it is going to be very close.
“But I think the Daggett people are going to say to themselves, ‘All I’m doing is getting Corzine reelected and I don’t want that.’ I think you are going to see Christie win a tight election.”