voter turnout

East New York Jewish community vital in ouster of controversial New York City councilmember 

Charles Barron, who recently returned to the City Council after a stint in the state Assembly, lost in the Democratic primary to Chris Banks

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Assemblymember Charles Barron speaks during a rally for reparations at the African Burial Ground National Monument on July 23, 2021, in New York City.

The small but politically active Jewish community in the East New York section of Brooklyn appears to have played a decisive role in ousting Charles Barron — a veteran city councilman long accused of antisemitism — from office last week. Among those working to boost voter turnout within the Jewish community was a newly created nonprofit advocacy group, New Yorkers for a Better Future, that spent approximately $30,000 on a targeted outreach campaign, according to two people familiar with the effort.

The group conducted multiple live phone calls over several days encouraging a sizable minority of Russian Jewish immigrants in Starrett City, a housing development in the Spring Creek section of Brooklyn, to make their voices heard in what was described as a pivotal election, sources told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. Most of the phone calls were conducted in Russian.

The nonprofit — which, owing to its tax-exempt status, was prohibited from advocating for one particular candidate — identified 500 likely primary voters who made up an estimated 9% of the voting population in the majority-Black district. The working assumption, sources said, was that voters wouldn’t choose Barron because of his well-known history of antagonizing the Jewish community.

During his tenure as an elected official, Barron, 72, has said that Israel should never have been created and suggested that Black people are the real “Semites,” among other incendiary statements. More recently, he was among a small number of Democratic Council members who abstained from voting for a resolution to recognize April 29 as “End Jew Hatred Day,” claiming that Jewish leaders had “supported apartheid in racist South Africa and said nothing about African people dying.”

In a stunning upset last Tuesday, Barron conceded to a top Democratic rival, Chris Banks, who drew support from organized labor as well as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). While the race hasn’t yet been officially called, preliminary results show that Banks, with 99% of scanners reported, maintains a 437-vote lead over Barron in the three-way primary. Banks performed best in the southern half of the district, where most Jewish voters reside.

One person involved with New Yorkers for a Better Future, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss a sensitive issue, said the current margin roughly aligns with the number of Jewish voters that the group believes it ultimately motivated to turn out on Election Day. “This definitely had the effect of more than 400 votes,” the person told JI. “I think it helped push Banks over the top.”

In a text message to JI on Tuesday, David Greenfield, a Jewish community activist and Met Council head who previously served with Barron in the City Council, said it was “especially gratifying that just weeks after going on an antisemitic rant in City Hall that Charles Barron was voted out of office with the help of immigrant Jews who were fleeing antisemitism themselves.”

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