How Jews in the Five Towns Flipped Control of America’s Largest Town

Hempstead, on Long Island, is the widely considered to be the largest town in the United States. With a population of about 800,000, it is larger than all but 17 cities in the country, bigger even than Boston, Detroit and Denver.

The Suffolk County town was controlled by Republicans for many years until recently, when scandal did in the Grand Old Party and allowed Democrats a leeway in. Laura Gillen shocked the county two years ago when she became the first Democrat to win the town supervisor race in a century.

Gillen lost the race for reelection earlier this month, and the town’s Orthodox Jewish community, bunched in the Five Towns, gets the credit, according to Michael Fragin, a local official and longtime member of Hatzolah.

In an interview with the Yated, Fragin, who is the deputy mayor of Lawrence, a village within the town, said that fears of where Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist allies want to take the country pushed many Jews to the polls, and got them to vote Republican.

Republican Donald Clavin came in ahead of Gillen by a tiny margin, with 74,076 votes — a mere 1,364 votes more than the incumbent. There are still over 5,500 absentee ballots to be counted, though Gillen would need to win 64 percent of them, which is highly unlikely.

Clavin can thank the Jewish community of the Five Towns, whose 25,000 members vote by a couple of percentage points higher than the general population, for this margin of victory. Ballot areas in the Five Towns voted by an average of 75 percent for the Republican, with many of them pushed above 90 percent. Not a single polling site in the Orthodox community went below 55 percent, according to data shared by Fragin.

This election seems to have been a ray of light for Republicans, and this is because of the extremist direction the Democrats are taking their party. New York used to be a Republican state until about 50 years ago. Do you see that coming back because of this?

Fragin: I don’t know if that would happen. I mean, New York has always been a Democratic state. The last time New York state voted for a Republican in the presidential election was in 1984, when they voted for Reagan, and the time before that you’d have to go back another 20 years. I don’t recall New York ever being called a Republican state, maybe not since Teddy Roosevelt’s times. [In the late 1800s, Roosevelt, as his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt 25 years later, was governor of New York.]

Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it has definitely not been a Republican state.

After FDR, New York elected Republican Thomas Dewey, who almost won the presidential elections against Harry Truman in 1948. He was governor of New York.

Yes. But the state did not shift to a Republican state.

The Five Towns is about six percent of the total population of Hempstead, correct?

Yes. The population in the Five Towns is about 50,000, and I would say that around 30,000 of that is Jewish.

Do the Jews tend to vote in higher percentages?

Depends on the election, but it’s usually a couple of points higher.

Elections usually turn on local issues. What were the local issues in this past election?

Taxes are always the number one issue. But I think there were particular issues that the Republican was able to highlight. The cash bail was also a big issue.

[Cash bail is a new policy by Gov. Andrew Cuomo set to go into effect in January. It would eliminate the requirement of detainees to post cash to get out of custody pending trial. While officially only for nonviolent offenders, law enforcement agents have warned that it will lead to a sharp increase in crime. The issue has been fiercely opposed by Republicans, and President Donald Trump has mentioned it in a tweet explaining his move to Florida. James O’Neill also mentioned it as one of the reasons he’s leaving his position as NYPD commissioner.]

State Sen. Kevin Parker’s proposal toward the end of the race to allow felons to vote in jail — those types of criminal justice issues really resonated. Also, Amazon [which socialist lawmakers such as Ocasio-Cortez forced out of nearby New York City] was a real issue. That would have meant a lot of jobs for a lot of Long Islanders.

I think here in the Five Towns, the Republicans have done an effective job tying Democrats to Bernie Sanders and AOC and Ilhan Omar and all these radical Democrats.

A couple of years ago, Trump came to Long Island, which was suffering from the Hispanic MS-13 gang. Is Hempstead also victimized by MS-13?

Not as much, but the gang problem is really as bad as it is further east, in Suffolk County. It definitely is a concern from a public safety perspective — something that people care and worry about.

So Republicans were able to tie Democrats to the most radical and anti-Semitic members of the party in Hempstead. Do you see this replicating itself in other places?

I think this was a strong message there, that Democrats have gone too far left. I’m even hearing that among Democrats. Why are so many Democrats looking for other candidates? Why are Mike Bloomberg and Deval Patrick looking to get into the race? I think a lot of Democrats are saying, you know, the party has gotten too radical, there’s room for some moderates here.

Look at Louisiana, where a moderate Democrat won in a Republican state. Or look at Kentucky, where a moderate Democrat won in a Republican state. If they had far-left policies, they wouldn’t be winning. You don’t see many moderate Democrats anymore in New York. The party has gone far to the left and everyone is afraid of AOC.

On Long Island, the senators who have tried to be moderates — they’re not really moderates but they try since the districts are moderate…

The LI-6.

Yes, the six Democrats from Long Island. Although the progressive groups have announced that they’re going to primary them and have already started ad campaigns against them.

You have been active in helping Republicans get elected across New York City and across the state. Do you still do that, or is it a losing proposition?

We still do it. It’s definitely not a losing proposition. You win elections, you lose elections. Politics is a cyclical business.

When you crunch the numbers, do you see a path for a Republican to ever win again in New York City?

I’m not really active in New York City. But are you referring to citywide elections?

Yes, citywide.

I mean, it’s very difficult for Republicans to win right now in a citywide race. And now with ranked choice voting, it makes it even more difficult. [Ranked choice voting, which passed a voter referendum this month, allows voters to choose where their votes go in case their candidates don’t win.]

But I think that overall, as I said, politics is cyclical, where the city goes so far left that it comes back. For a lot of reasons, Rudy Giuliani got elected in 1993 because the city had swung in a certain direction. But on the flipside, a lot of voters who have supported Giuliani and supported Mike Bloomberg have since left the city. They’re not here anymore. The neighborhoods have changed. And in the same way, the state has also shifted that way.

Did you see the video a couple of weeks ago of a bunch of people jumping the turnstile at a subway in some type of protest?

Yes. Totally outrageous.

Do you think that black voters, Democrats, will see this and say that maybe this is going too far?

Everybody seems to be afraid of the left. Everyone is looking over their left shoulder, the same way Republicans look over their right shoulder.

So you’re saying that Republicans must wait until after the Trump era before they can regroup and try to begin winning again here.

Well, I didn’t say that specifically, although there is merit to that thought. Republicans are having difficulty in places like Westchester County, but the wins in Nassau County show that Republicans can and do win. I think Democrats in New York had started moving to the left before the Trump era.

Do you still have the Michael Fragin Show?

Yes, of course. I’m on Nachum Segal every Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

How did you get bitten by the political bug?

Oh, I’ve always been involved in community issues. I’m always interested in how I could help the klal. I’ve also been a member of Hatzolah for 22 years.

In Hempstead, I assume the Orthodox Jewish vote went lopsidedly to the Republican.

Yes, very much so. In fact, the Five Towns delivered the margin of victory of 1,400 votes. According to my estimation, the Five Towns delivered almost 3,000 votes for Donald Clavin — and the vast majority of those votes were from our community. He got a lot more votes than the Republican who ran two years ago.

My village of Lawrence is likely the most Republican municipality in the state — the Republican ticket received more than 85 percent.

The messaging that Republicans used targeting the frum community was very strong and very effective, specifically by tying Democrats to AOC and to Bernie Sanders and their progressive policies. Israel, obviously, is not an issue in a town supervisor’s race. But if you kind of associate yourself with people who are not pro-Israel — there certainly should be a message to Democrats with that.

When’s the next Nassau County executive race?

In 2021. In two years.

I assume that Laurie Curran [Democrat county executive of Nassau] is looking very closely at the results of this Hempstead election.

I would imagine, but I don’t speak for her.

Does she have a visible presence in Orthodox neighborhoods?

Yes, she has been here.

Thank you so much.