The bitter race to be Rockland County’s top law enforcement official is leading the list of Election Day concerns for New York’s Orthodox community in an otherwise quiet off-year ballot. The only other issue rising to the surface of communal interest is a list of five proposals to change the New York City charter.
The election, Tuesday, November 5th is the rare first Tuesday following the first Monday in November without a major issue or contest. It actually began already as early voting kicked in for the first time, a result of laws that passed the state legislature this year.
In Rockland, home to the Torah centers of Monsey and New Square, a retired judge who was the community’s preferred candidate in the acrimonious Democratic primary is facing off against an attorney who is promising to go after the county’s yeshivos using a host of excuses.
Thomas Walsh, whom the community is backing once again in the general election, is running on the Democrat, Republican and Conservative lines. A judge since 1983, he retired earlier this year to run for district attorney when Thomas Zugibe resigned after winning election to state Supreme Court.
The Jewish community has grown increasingly concerned by the rhetoric expressed by his opponent, Michael Diederich, a perennial candidate who lost the Democratic primary to Walsh and is now running on the Serve Rockland party line.
“The district attorney’s race is very crucial because one of the candidates has been blatantly agitating against our community and the town of Ramapo,” Yisroel Kahan, a local activist and governmental liaison, told the Yated. “It’s also important to keep the Democrats—or at least the friendly Democrats—in power, but the single most important race is for district attorney.”
The town of Ramapo, in which the villages of Monsey and Spring Valley are located, has been a code word for anti-Semitic elements in the county to target the Orthodox community.
Over in Brooklyn, the main issue local Jewish advocacy groups are handling is the five questions that will appear on the ballot. Liberal groups in the city are attempting to change the city charter, the municipal version of a constitution.
Community groups that the Yated spoke to were urging a no vote on all five proposals. They noted that changing the city charter in a progressive city can never be good for the community.
“We’re not pushing turnout since there is nothing major on the ballot,” said Josh Mehlman of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition. “We’ve had some major victories on the ballot recently so we don’t have to prove our turnout.”
He said he was planning an ad campaign urging a no vote on all five resolutions, noting that the all local elected officials, including state Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Councilmen Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger, were against the proposed changes.
“They’re all progressive issues and we feel that it’s not in the community’s best interest,” Mehlman said.
“I plan to VOTE NO on all 5 questions, which contain 19 separate proposals,” Yeger tweeted on Sunday. “While some ideas have merit, each question has at least one revision which would do more harm than good. Thousands of words, 7.5 font, bulked in 5 questions, is NOT the way to amend our City Charter.”
Good-government groups have criticized the city for printing the ballots, which contain thousands of words of intricate policy differences to voters who are likely clueless about them, on tiny 7.5-point font.
“Generally speaking,” said Jarret Berg, a voting rights lawyer and co-founder of the nonpartisan election watchdog VoteEarlyNY, “as a matter of legibility one of the top recommendations is to use a minimum 12-point font size for paper ballots, which of course aligns with public expectations as well.”
The city said that it is hampered by state regulations on how much space is required between the political office and the candidates’ names. Two-page ballots have not fared well in places it was tried.
To assist voters, each poll site will be equipped with magnifying glasses, as well as reminders with large arrows to “Remember to vote on both sides.”
The proposal that has drawn the most attention is what’s known as “Ranked Choice Voting.” This applies to all primary and special elections for city offices, including mayor, comptroller, public advocate, the five borough presidents and 51 council members, but not the general election.
The measure allows voters to have the option to vote for their top five choices instead of voting for just one candidate. This, supporters say, would force candidates to expand their campaigning pool beyond their natural constituency. A liberal candidate may not be the first choice in a more conservative area, but he could rank second or third choice, giving him a leg up in a close race.
The measure would only work if no single candidate wins a majority of the vote. Vote counters would then eliminate the candidate who comes in last and redistribute his voters based on whom their second choice was. The process is repeated until one person emerges with a majority of votes.
Pro-democracy activists have criticized Ranked Choice Voting, since it may lead a lower ranked candidate to win over those who were the first choice of more voters.
Another proposal before voters would be to strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board that has tied the hands of police officers since its establishment about eight years ago. The panel would increase its size from 13 to 15 members, allow city councilmen a greater say over the appointments and increase its budget. One question in this proposal that has drawn concern is its giving the board more power to force the police commissioner to reveal penalties meted out to officers and allow them to investigate false statements made by officers during an existing CCRB investigation.
A third proposal would bar elected or senior administration officials from lobbying the branch of government she or he served for two years, double the current year.
A fourth would require the city to establish a rainy day fund during good economic times to pay for downturns in the future. It would also set minimum budgets for the offices of public advocate and borough presidents.
The final proposal deals with land use and real estate deals.
The Flatbush community received welcome news over Sukkos when the opponent of Councilwoman Farah Louis withdrew from the race. Monique Chandler-Waterman lost twice to Louis earlier this year for the council seat vacated by Jumaane Williams, who was elected public advocate. Louis won the initial special election for the seat, and then a Democratic primary to keep the seat after next week’s general election.
Both candidates were African-American women, but Chandler-Waterman had waged a rancorous battle, accusing her opponent of being supported by “Trump supporters” and “the real estate lobby,” both terms being code words for the Orthodox community. She had declared her intention of running again, but backed out two weeks ago when she realized that her support base had collapsed.