When I first got involved with community activism many years ago, the elected officials courted the Jewish community. We were a strong political voting bloc (measured by numbers) that the politicians curried favor with, and sought our endorsement. Knowing our painful history, where citizenship and the ability to cast a ballot were denied us countless times throughout the years, we Jews took the precious freedoms granted to us in the United States very seriously. We cared about our community and our country, and the elected officials knew that. We wanted to make sure that the values that we held dear were preserved, and we chose to support those seeking political office who agreed with us. One didn’t have to be Jewish to receive our endorsement, but he or she had to be a mentch. But that is not the case anymore.
The razor-thin Queens District Attorney’s primary race has shown that not enough voters went to the polls in the recent primary. A manual recount is now underway with 114 disputed affidavit ballots to be determined by the court after the recount is completed. So, as of now, the race is undecided. For the record, this is the first manual recount for a Queens election. The last recount of any sort occurred in 2014 in the Bronx.
Our community, especially the millennials and recent immigrants, are not informed enough about the importance of the electoral process. For those who do not comprehend the system, it can be confusing. So here is a bit of a civics lesson.
We actually have two elections within a few months of each other. In Queens, the first one is a primary held in mid-June to weed out candidates running from the same party who seek a particular position. The winner of the primary election becomes the party’s designated candidate. But in the Democratic primary (the Republican one is rather moot in Queens) only valid registered Democrats are permitted to vote. It is not open for everyone to participate. In Queens (and in much of the city), those winning candidates are usually the ones favored to win the overall election for office, even though there will be an official general election to finalize the ballot in November. That is why people must be registered as Democrats to assure that the right candidate wins.
It is reported that approximately six percent of eligible residents cast a ballot in this year’s Democratic primary election for District Attorney. This is a warning sign that our community is not taking going to the polls seriously enough. Not enough of us who are registered as Democrats voted in the primary. In addition, not enough of us have registered at all to be eligible to be part of the process.
There are several reasons for this. One, sadly, is apathy. Each one believes that his or her vote doesn’t count anyway; so why should I bother to cast a ballot? With Borough President Melinda Katz only leading by 16 votes at the present (16 votes!), that logic is very flawed. Every vote did count this time. Secondly, many of those who are indeed registered have done so on the Republican line because of their national preference. What they do not realize is that in any national election in November, anyone – no matter his or her party affiliation – can vote one’s choice, even from a different party. In other words, a registered Democrat can vote for the Republican candidate (e.g., President Trump) legally, or vice versa.
We must be mindful that the stakes are very high. The Justice Democrats – the far-left political organization that helped elect Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez – is emboldened, setting out to purge moderate Democrats from office and replacing them with other more extreme progressive candidates. In New York City, and especially in Queens, this will cause havoc to the values that our community holds dear – in particular, but not exclusively, for those who support Israel. A good example of what the progressive left seeks to do is their intention to remove Congressman Eliot Engel of the Bronx from office. Engel is a very powerful Democrat who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is being targeted. Progressives fault him for his more conservative stances on Israel, education, and other moderate views that are contrary to their socialist opinions. Israel depends on individuals like Congressman Engel for support. Losing him would be a tremendous blow.
The challenge for our community is to rally and make sure all eligible voters are registered before October 11 to protect our quality of life and our values. Let the Jewish vote count and be reckoned with.
The Queens Jewish Community Council will be providing an opportunity to complete a registration form at our two summer concerts on Wednesday, August 21 and August 28, at Cunningham Park. If you have any questions on the subject, please feel free to call the QJCC at 718-544-9033.
Cynthia Zalisky is a community activist who resides in Kew Gardens Hills.