As a yarmulke-wearing Bill Thompson showed on a muggy Monday night, the road to victory in the mayor’s race may be partially paved by men with frock coats and billowing beards.
The ex-comptroller met with some influential rabbis to earn their blessings and, more importantly, the votes they potentially carry. Nibbling on rugelach and sipping alcohol, Mr. Thompson schmoozed with five leaders from various religious sects spanning Williamsburg and Boro Park, where burgeoning Orthodox Jewish populations are looking to make a dent in next Tuesday’s election.
For much of the rest of the week, Hasidic rabbis will be praying during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, making the night a unique opportunity for Mr. Thompson as the September 10 Democratic primary looms just one week away.
In public and private conversations, Mr. Thompson listened solemnly to the men’s concerns, many of which revolved around affordable housing and the protection of a controversial circumcision practice called mezitzah b’peh, involving a religious leader sucking blood out of the wound. The Bloomberg administration says the ritual spreads disease and requires that parents sign a consent form, which has outraged many Hasidim.
“They have no evidence that links herpes to metizah b’peh,” groused one rabbi in Boro Park to Mr. Thompson, who nodded along in a book-lined study. “We are saying that, ‘Show us the evidence.’ … The city says, ‘Even if we have no evidence, we still feel it’s dangerous.'”
The seemingly esoteric ritual, however, has become a lightning-rod issue in the race, and many candidates tiptoe around it. Mr. Thompson repeatedly offered tentative support, promising to have a further dialogue with religious leaders if he is elected mayor–prompting Politicker to ask why he hasn’t taken a more forceful position.
“I don’t want to engage in election year pandering. I just think people want to sit down and have the opportunity for that conversation that they didn’t have before, that people believe there were things that weren’t presented,” replied Mr. Thompson. “And I’d be happy to sit down and listen to that.”
Having already won the support of a powerful Hasidic sect in Williamsburg, Mr. Thompson visited the lavish Satmar headquarters on Bedford Avenue to further the dialogue with his allies. Like other stops along the way, the rabbis were press shy, forcing reporters to wait at the foot of a grand staircase while Mr. Thompson and a slew of Hasidim gabbed behind closed doors. Later, Politicker was allowed upstairs, where as many as a dozen Hasidim clustered around a long table and a glass bowl of rugalach were finishing their powwow with Mr. Thompson. Throughout their time in Williamsburg, reporters were often told not to take pictures.
Mr. Thompson was escorted through the two neighborhoods by a pair of controversial Orthodox operatives, Joseph Goldberger and Joseph Menczer, according to several people in attendance. Dubbed the “Two Josephs” by the media, the pair was intensely protective of Mr. Thompson and the rabbis, at one point ordering Politicker to shut off a recorder during a dialogue reporters were invited to cover.
The Thompson campaign did not respond to a followup request for comment.