Check out the New York Times map depicting the outcome of Tuesday’s mayoral Democratic primaries and you can pretty much guess what Williamsburg looks like. A clear line separates the north and south sides, revealing a politically (and otherwise) divided neighborhood. Whereas Bill de Blasio won the gentrified section north of Broadway, Bill Thompson swept the Hasidic-dominated section south of Broadway and east of Williamsburg Street.
But take a closer look at a blue blot on the South Side, representing districts where de Blasio won. This area sticks out like a sore thumb in the wash of green Thompson-voting districts. Located within this blot, IRL, is Kehilas Yetev Lev D’Satmar – a synagogue built furiously in just 14 days by the Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum (one of two men who claims the title in Williamsburg), and the symbol of a factional war over succession within the Satmar Hasidic community.
Clearly, it’s not just hipsters versus Hasids in Wiliamsburg. Since 2006 an internal feud within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has raged on, dividing the Satmars between supporters of Aaron Teitelbaum and those who back his brother Zalmen Teitelbaum. After the death of their father, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, the two brothers both claimed heir to the title. The ensuing battle bubbled over, leading to court-room drama, fisticuffs, and the opening of separate schools by Aaron’s faction. The hastily built synagogue, mentioned above, was part of a “parallel network of buildings” constructed in Williamsburg to match those on Zalmen Teitelbaum’s territory. This extreme case of sibling rivalry has even manifested itself in politics. The 2013 Democratic primaries were no exception.
Rabbi David Niederman, director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn who sides with the Zalmen faction, promised 11,000 votes to Thompson and officially endorsed him as candidate for mayor on behalf of “the Jewish community of Williamsburg.” Niederman’s promise of all the Satmar votes in Williamsburg was overly ambitious: according to a piece in the Forward about the mechanics of a Hasidic bloc vote, the Aaron Teitelbaum-led faction of the Hasidic community officially endorsed Bill de Blasio as their Democratic mayoral candidate of choice.
Admittedly, this split between the Satmars appears to have little bearing on the lives of Brooklynites who don’t count themselves as observers of the extremely insular, ultra-Orthodox religion. However, the political clout of the Hasidic population has been touted by community leaders and the press, and their votes enthusiastically courted by politicians in city and state elections.
But are these de Blasio-won precincts in an otherwise solidly Thompson-won South Williamsburg another indication that the supposedly infallible “Hasidic vote” is fracturing into a less predictable, more nuanced Brooklyn constituency? And if the factional war between the brothers Teitelbaum continues to divide the Satmar community, could the Hasidic vote eventually be split down the middle?
The solidarity of the Satmar Hasidic vote fronted by Rabbi Niederman seems to be standing on even shakier ground given the appearance Tuesday of what looked to be a cash-prizes-for-votes scheme. Gothamist spotted booths set up near polling stations in Williamsburg where voters could drop off tickets for entry into a raffle for “$250 cash prizes and gift certificates.”
It’s still unclear who exactly is behind the seemingly illegal raffle, however, one worker informed reporters the United Jewish Organization was sponsoring the booths. Rabbi Niederman of UJO has since denied any involvement with the raffle. Regardless of who’s behind the cash-for-votes scheme, it’s clear someone has an interest in ensuring votes are delivered for the “right candidate” in an ostensibly obedient constituency.