Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota caused a mini-controversy Tuesday afternoon as he stepped into a Shul during a service prayer while campaigning on 13th avenue in Borough Park.
Mr. Lhota entered the Shomer Shabbos Shul trailed by a gaggle of aides, reporters and security officers, as he noticed it during a walking tour of the neighborhood. But one female reporter and two of Mr. Lhota’s entourage were asked to leave out of respect to the congregants praying Mincha at the time.
Word was spread about ‘female reporters barred from entering campaign event with Joe Lhota,’ as the New York Daily News City Hall reporter Erin Durkin tweeted: “Female reporters and staffers ejected from @joelhota4mayor event at Borough Park synagogue.”
WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein was the first to pick up on the story, describing it as an Ultra-Orthodox stunt in the presence of a candidate running for mayor. “Male reporters were allowed to cover a Joe Lhota for Mayor Tour of a Hasidic synagogue Tuesday afternoon, but a female reporter and staffers were not. It’s not at all unusual for candidates for public office to court the influential orthodox community. But meetings are usually kept private, and it’s rare to invite the press along and then have women escorted out,” Bernstein wrote.
The Daily News headlined its story: “Joe Lhota does nothing as Women are kicked out of Brooklyn Synagogue.”
However, as this reporter, covering the tour for YWN, noted in the article, “it wasn’t a planned event but a spontaneous entry as Mr. Loti was asked by a random guy to enter the Shul – which is considered to be the most famous Shul in Borough Park.” Nor was anyone kicked out.
Lhota’s spokeswoman, Jessica Proud, minimized Lhota’s affiliation with the synagogue and its policy: “This was not a planned stop on the schedule, but they were walking through the neighborhood and Joe was invited into a synagogue to look inside. They were having a service and he just popped in to see. He only stayed for a minute along the way to the next event.”
Meanwhile, the candidate himself, who left the shul after a brief moment, defended the synagogue’s rights of segregation in times of service.
“Throughout the Orthodox world, the Orthodox Jewish world as well as the Orthodox Muslim world, there are certain places that women are not involved in,” he said. “I will not as mayor violate their First Amendment constitutional rights for their religious practices.”
Notwithstanding Mr. Lhota’s defense amid the eruption on social media, the campaign of Bill de Blasio took a cheap shot at Mr. Lhota for the poor judgment and timing on his behalf. “[De Blasio]‘s never invited the press to a place where only some reporters would be allowed,” Dan Levitan, Bill de Blasio’s spokesman, told WNYC.
Speaking to reporters Thursday Morning, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio questioned his Republican opponent’s intent in ‘campaigning’ in a Borough Park synagogue that would not allow women to enter. “I find it perplexing that he would have organized an event in a situation women wouldn’t have access to, Obviously, when you plan a public event it needs to be in a space that is open to all,” he said.
At a campaign stop in Far Rockaway, Thursday afternoon, Mr. Lhota told YWN it wasn’t a planned campaign stop but a desire on his own behalf to enter the shul and say a private prayer.
“I had always heard about this synagogue and I was across the street. It was a desire of mine to walk across the street,” Mr. Lhota explained why he initially decided to enter the shul. “It was totally not on the schedule. It wasn’t one of the places I wanted to go to but I want to visit it. What I should have told everybody, that I wanted to go into the synagogue privately and personally. But as I walked in everybody walked in, and realizing it I walked out relatively quickly.”
“I think in the long run, I need to make sure that when I go into places I fully know what their religious practices are and make sure that everybody knows that before I go in,” he further acknowledged.
“What were you going to pray for? A NY Post reporter asked. “World peace,” Mr. Lhota quipped.