By voting as a bloc and turning out in high numbers, the Hasidic Jewish community has long been able to leverage its political power. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor visited the community the Friday before this year’s election to campaign for Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth, who ultimately lost to Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney.
The resources derived by Kiryas Joel from that power are needed: As the New York Times wrote last year, the enclave has the highest poverty rate of any village, town or city of at least 10,000 people in the country. The median age of its rapidly growing population is under 12.
But the last several elections, a fracture in the community has formed that diminishes the town’s political power.
Following the death of the Satmar leader Moshe Teitelbaum in 2006, a succession feud began between his sons, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum and Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, in two communities: southern Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and Kiryas Joel.
In the past two congressional elections, Kiryas Joel has split its vote between the rival factions. This time, Ms. Hayworth got 3,335 votes and Mr. Maloney got 1,518, according to unofficial results. Mr. Maloney won the race by about 8,500 votes.
Some observers say the community is less politically valuable to politicians if the two brothers’ factions take opposite sides in elections.
“It hurts them if they stop voting as a bloc and just cancel each other out,” said operative Michael Fragin, who did Jewish voter outreach for the Pataki administration.
The votes for Mr. Maloney were especially striking because he is openly gay, which would seemingly be anathema to socially conservative Satmar voters.
But others say there is value in the community hedging its bets. In a local Assembly race this year, the two factions did agree on their candidate—who ended up losing. If the two sides are at odds, politicians are compelled to pay it some attention, according to public relations consultant and Jewish politics blogger Yossi Gestetner.
“One side voted for Hayworth and lost,” said Mr. Gestetner, “but it can be argued that that’s better than both sides losing.”