by Maury Litwack
There’s nothing like a Presidential election to boost our patriotism and dedication to the political process. But when it comes to improving our daily lives, there’s nothing like a local election.
Think about it: Jewish neighborhoods across the country are growing, so our day schools and yeshivas need more government support to meet rising demands for resources. That means we need to partner with local and state government officials who appreciate the value we bring to our neighborhoods and care about making things better. By electing local leaders who understand and respect our interests, we can guarantee the longevity of vital community institutions.
Problem is, not enough of us know which candidates will best support our communities. So we stand in the voting booth and throw a dart at the ballot, hoping it will land on someone tolerable. Or we figure our vote won’t matter anyway so we don’t vote at all.
But some candidates are clearly better for our communities than others. And each and every vote does matter. A lot.
That is why the Orthodox Union conducts campaigns throughout the United States to educate voters on critical Jewish community issues. Last month, we spearheaded the Get Out The Vote Campaign, which uses digital ads and phone calls to remind New Yorkers of their civic duty. In 2013, we galvanized the Jewish community to vote for candidates eager to support their interests through the NJVOTES initiative.
Each project shares a central mission: to inform prospective voters about the stakes of local and state races and underscore the value of voting.
There are countless examples of how every vote matters. Over the past two years, politicians from both parties have eked out wins for state and local offices across the country, proving the vital importance of voter turnout.
For instance, on the same night that Hillary Clinton claimed a definitive victory in New York’s 2016 presidential primary, Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky won a much closer race for Dean Skelos’ vacant New York State Senate seat. The Long Island Democrat’s defeat of Christopher McGrath by just 780 votes was the latest in a recent spate of elections in the Tri-State area with extremely narrow margins of victory.
In 2014, Hector Ramirez challenged Victor Pichardo, a member of the New York State Assembly, for his Bronx-based seat. After the primary results came in, a recount was ordered. When the recount was finished, Pichardo had held onto his seat — by only two votes.
That same year, Emil Stern, a longtime member of New Jersey’s Teaneck Town Council, was defeated by only 51 votes. The following year, incumbent mayor Norman Schmelz bested his Democratic challenger by 18 votes in Bergenfield, New Jersey, and sitting Assemblywoman Donna Simon lost to her Democratic challenger by 76 votes in New Jersey’s 16th District.
Clearly, the reality is that just one vote could be the deciding factor in any local or state election.
Members of the Jewish community need to show up at the polls to support leaders who will work with us.
Local officials do more than make zoning laws and decide on dates for parades. They determine how critical resources are allocated. They have the power to promote or disregard our interests and needs. If we want Jewish institutions to benefit and improve, we need to let them know how much we care about our community issues.
But these officials can’t do it alone — they need us to partner with them. So our first step is to learn which candidates will best support our communities. And the next step is to get out and vote for them.
If we make our opinions heard in electing these local and state leaders, we can support our institutions, strengthen our neighborhoods, and secure the future of Jewish communities across the country.