POLITICS

Left-Wing Jewish Group Endorses Dianne Morales For New York City Mayor

The announcement marks Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s first-ever mayoral endorsement and a major pick-up for Morales.

The progressive group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice announced its endorsement of nonprofit leader Dianne Morales for mayor of New York City on Wednesday.

The nod from JFREJ is a coup for Morales, the most left-wing candidate in the race, and a milestone for JFREJ, which has never endorsed in the mayoral race before.

Since New York City Democrats are set to use a ranked-choice voting system in the June 22 primary, JFREJ also issued a dual endorsement of attorney Maya Wiley and city comptroller Scott Stringer for its second choice on the ballot.

Rachel McCullough, a Brooklynite who runs JFREJ’s political program, said the group’s members appreciate Morales’ “chutzpah” as a first-time political candidate unafraid to embrace ideas viewed by many as radical. 

“It’s a big deal for someone who has never run for office before and is not a career politician, but who nevertheless has the right kind of executive experience and lived experience,” McCullough said.

Among other things, Morales proposes halving the New York City Police Department’s budget and investing the savings in social services, housing the homeless in vacant hotel rooms and apartments, and forcibly ending racial segregation in public schools.

Morales has “the right kind of perspective on the sectors of our economy in New York City that have experienced such cruel divestment over the years, which is to say, social services,” McCullough said.

The endorsement is designed to build on the momentum Morales has picked up recently. Last Thursday, Morales, the former CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a nonprofit serving low-income residents of the South Bronx, qualified for $2.2 million in matching public funds from the New York City government.

“After being discounted for so long, she now has demonstrated what a truly grassroots, people-powered campaign can represent for our city,” McCullough said. “The enthusiasm is not an accident.”

Dianne Morales, the most left-wing candidate in the New York City mayoral race, won the endorsement of Jews for Racial and Ec
Dianne Morales, the most left-wing candidate in the New York City mayoral race, won the endorsement of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice on Wednesday.

JFREJ’s endorsement offsets some of the disappointment of left-wing activists that so few major progressive groups have rallied behind Morales. The New York Working Families Party, which represents a coalition of groups that includes JFREJ, listed Morales as its second choice after Stringer in an announcement last week.

JFREJ has a national grassroots membership of 6,000 people, 4,320 of whom live in New York City. It often conducts electoral work through its new campaign arm, the Jewish Vote. 

Members include major New York politicians like state Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, a lower Manhattan Democrat, and a core of active members with histories of door-knocking and phone-banking. 

Epstein argued in favor of the Morales endorsement in an open forum for hundreds of members. State Sen. Julia Salazar (D) and former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger made the case for Stringer, and state Assemblywoman Deborah Glick argued for Wiley’s candidacy. 

McCullough emphasized JFREJ’s appreciation for Stringer and Wiley, while noting that Morales was simply the candidate who made JFREJ members’ “hearts soar” the most.

“We are essentially coming out with the three progressives as a unity ticket,” she said. 

Like other progressive groups, JFREJ has committed itself to preventing the mayoral field’s two moderate front-runners, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, from prevailing.

“We’re very sober about Yang and Adams and recognize that we have a lot of work ahead of us,” McCullough said. “We need to really urgently deflate some of Yang’s numbers, especially among progressives.” 

One might wonder, then, why JFREJ would give its top slot to Morales, who received 2% in an AARP/Siena College poll conducted in late March and early April. Stringer and Wiley polled at 13% and 7%, respectively. 

But the progressive lane remains fluid, with more than one-quarter of voters still undecided.

What’s more, New York City’s ranked-choice voting system lessens the tradeoff between ideological purity and electoral pragmatism for groups like JFREJ. 

In a ranked-choice system, voters list candidates in order of preference, rather than casting a ballot for a single one. Should no candidate receive an outright majority of first-choice votes, voters’ next choices will be counted until someone emerges with 50% plus one.

We need to really urgently deflate some of [Andrew] Yang’s numbers, especially among progressives. Rachel McCullough, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

That system reduces the risk that Morales will act as a spoiler against potentially more formidable progressive candidates ― such as Stringer and Wiley ― even if she fails to break out. And JFREJ is encouraging the voters it reaches to omit Yang and Adams from their list of choices altogether.

“The left is coalescing around, first and foremost, this unity ticket ― the notion that these are the three choices,” McCullough said. “And then the dual strategy is to get people to not vote for Yang or Adams.”

Although New York City-based, legacy Jewish organizations are often known for their outspoken defense of the Israeli government, even at the level of municipal politics, JFREJ is mainly focused on advancing domestic priorities like Medicare for All and affordable housing. When it comes to Middle East policy, JFREJ only asks candidates seeking the group’s endorsement if they oppose the criminalization of participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement directed at Israel.

Much of JFREJ’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is instead to act as a shield against accusations of anti-Semitism so those charges do not drown out the appeal of progressive candidates’ core message.

“A pretty key role that we play in the ecosystem is not only bring Jewish New Yorkers into the grassroots movements behind these candidates, but also flanking these candidates against attacks from the right, especially as it relates to antisemitism and Jewish community issues,” McCullough said.

The group’s blessing provides Morales with the advantage of at least some Jewish institutional support as she faces down criticism of more conservative Jewish groups that play an outsize role in city politics. 

On Friday, the Forward reported that Morales had told a group of Jewish high school students in December that she considers Israel an “apartheid” state. The revelations about her remarks prompted immediate criticism from Jewish leaders.

In a preview of the role JFREJ hopes to play in the coming months, McCullough defended Morales’ remarks.

“Dianne’s comments about her experience in Israel are entirely consistent with her progressive message: that everyone has the right to equal rights and protections under the law, that no child should be denied the right to a home or to fulfill their potential, and that everyone deserves to live free of state violence,” McCullough said.

The Jewish Vote, JFREJ’s campaign arm, acted as a voice of support for Jamaal Bowman, who withstood multimillion-dollar attacks from hawkish pro-Israel groups in his bid to unseat then-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in June 2020.

Bowman subsequently credited the Jewish Vote for playing a “pivotal” role in his upset victory over Engel.