Monday, May 12, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Friday, the Department of Environmental Conservation is set to determine just which municipality will be lead agency in a bitterly contested environmental review process in the Town of Monroe. At stake is the annexation of 507 acres of undeveloped land to the Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County. The annexation would increase the nearly 25,000 person community's population by 15,000 and produce new zoning guidelines for the land that would permit construction of a thousand large apartments for big Hasidic families.
Toxic runoff from a battle over a proposed 396-unit Hasidic townhouse development in Sullivan County is playing a role in a state Department of Human Rights investigation of anti-Semitism in the Pine Bush School District. The potential influx of Hasidim has local residents demanding changes in state Education Law to diffuse the ability of new residents to elect representatives to the school board. They say they want to prevent "another East Ramapo." Earlier this week, village officials opposed to the Hasidim shut down the community's Jewish ritual bath and issued stop work orders for a Kosher restaurant and Judaica store.
Once mostly local disputes, these new flare-ups between the Hudson Valley's Hasidim and their neighbors are ensnaring a growing number of state agencies, placing the region's volatile debate over development, religious freedom and public education at the center of New York politics in a high profile election year. While Hasidim in New York City jockey for political advantage like many other ethnic communities, nasty debate over the community's explosive expansion in Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties is the dominant story in the region, whose newspapers thrive on exploiting the conflict.
Political operatives aiding Rob Astorino, Cuomo's likely Republican opponent, have already reached out to the region's locals for advice on how to tap into the anxiety about Hasidic development. Astorino himself has masterfully exploited anti-housing sentiment as Westchester's County Executive, balking at a federal court order to permit high density housing for the poor in the county's most affluent precincts. His 2013 campaign mailings (right) touted his resistance.
Democrats and Republicans have long courted the disciplined strength of the Hasidic "bloc" vote, a reliable ally for governors in political need. In 2007, New Square switched its thousands of votes from the incumbent Republican district attorney to his Democratic challenger after an in-person request to the Grand Rabbi from then-Governor Eliot Spitzer. Republicans hit the jackpot in 1999, when then-Governor Pataki successfully negotiated with Orthodox leaders on behalf of the GOP and held a critical state senate seat for his party. It remains nearly impossible to get elected to the Supreme Court in the 9th Judicial District, which stretches from 85 miles from Yonkers to northern Dutchess County, without the endorsement of Hasidic leaders.
Recent election results make clear that candidates supporting growing Hasidic needs for housing and improved infrastructure risk the wrath of nascent homegrown political parties determined to stop the expansion of the Hudson Valley's 100,000-person strong shtetlopolis.
Voter turnout in Monroe reached presidential election levels last year, as nearly every non-Hasidic voter turned out to support United Monroe, a new political party opposed to the Kiryas Joel annexation. Both candidates for Orange County Executive attacked Kiryas Joel's expansion plans; the sect opted to back Republican Steve Neuhaus who was widely thought the favorite in the race and offered a somewhat less strident critique of the community than his Democratic opponent.
Preserve Rockland, a third party formed by some Democrats to counter Hasidic voting strength, backed Republican Ed Day in his successful county executive bid last year. The party's line captured 12% of the vote in its first electoral outing, which combined with Republican votes to overcome a 2 to 1 Democratic voter enrollment edge. The Democratic candidate, backed by the 13,000 vote strong Orthodox bloc would have won the race but for the third party's endorsement of Day. In Suffern, miles away from the Hasidic areas, the Preserve Rockland candidate for mayor almost beat a popular Democrat.
In March, the incumbent mayor of Bloomingburg, the Sullivan County community with the controversial townhouse project, was defeated by anti-Hasidic forces. The project's developer accused opponents of anti-Semitism and invoked the Holocaust. The FBI is reportedly investigating allegations Shalom Lamm fraudulently registered dozens of yeshiva students to vote in the election by claiming they were village residents despite slim ties to the community. An expected legal tussle over the election in State Supreme Court fizzled when the developer declined to contest the voiding of the allegedly fraudulent registrations.
Hasidim- and Believe 'Em
The Hasidim are fortified by demographic trends that seem to make their dominance in the region's politics an inevitability- the same trends that agitate those determined to stop them. Population growth in the three exclusively Hasidic Villages of Kaser (Rockland), New Square (Rockland) and Kiryas Joel (Orange) averages 5% per year. The community's leadership has begun planning for the long game, worrying a bit less about beating Hasidic opponents in the short run and more about mapping a long term strategy for how to manage its substantial political clout.
The group's attack on Day's divisive rhetoric was backed up by David Greenfield, a powerful New York City councilman from Brooklyn, who said the comments "bordered on anti-Semitism." The significance of Greenfield's statement was clear: the city's Orthodox Jews, which send 100,000 children of their own to urban yeshivas every day, will stand in political solidarity with the suburban faithful.
Religious historians will have better hindsight to understand today's explosive Hasidic growth rate. Vibrant but insular communities, the Hasidim replicate the worldview, dress and social customs of pre-World War II Eastern European religious Jews. Tethered to the leadership of dynastic rabbinic families, the Hasidim have avoided the intermarriage, delayed marriage and assimilation that is roiling the larger American Jewish world.
By spreading a protective bubble of cradle-to-grave social services (augmented by taxpayer funds), new synagogues and dense housing where married children can continue to live close to their parents, the Hasidim drown out the cacophony of temptation that can lure the committed from their path. Non-Orthodox Jews may question the virtues of these self-imposed ghettos, but they offer nearly ironclad assurance for the continuation of traditional rituals and the creation of new Jewish families.
The price of this spiritual survival strategy is the fierce enmity of those being displaced by the community's unexpected growth. But another reality, never reported by the media and rarely articulated by Hasidic leaders- is that the Hasidic boom has created some of the region's strongest commercial districts and generated employment for thousands of non-Hasdim.
Building permit and inspection fees from the Hasidim are a financial lifeline for the fiscally stressed Town of Ramapo. There is continually increasing demand for commercial office space in Kiryas Joel, where community members are opening businesses close to home. While critics attempt to draw a direct line between rising regional social service costs and the growth of the less affluent Hasidic population, a fair analysis requires measuring the community's economic output as well. And while new synagogues and schools are exempt from property taxes, the loss in revenue is more than made up for by taxable new commercial and residential buildings.
As the Hasidic population grows, it also faces the broader challenge of whether it will elect its own members to high ranking public positions. An age-old Jewish text, Ethics of Our Fathers, instructs Jews to "avoid intimacy with the government." The Hasidic governing boards of the all-Hasidic municipalities are decidedly low profile. But other Hasidim see public office as a way to both protect their communities interests and, potentially, build bridges to some of the community's present adversaries.
Last September, Rabbi Israel Hager, one of the community's most influential rabbinic figures, urged his followers not to back a fellow Hasid for Mayor of Spring Valley, a hotbed of ethnic politics with a growing though not yet dominant Hasidic vote.
But it's only a question of time before Wieder or another Hasid carries his community's torch to Albany- a prospect that would have seemed impossible to both the lonely rabbis who brought their followers to the mostly vacant Hudson Valley more than 50 years ago and the farmers that greeted them.
New York can't afford twenty years of civil strife in this economically critical region, where officials hope a replacement for the aging Tappan Zee Bridge and planned megacasinos spark an economic surge.
Healthy growth doesn't take place in civil war zone and state leaders can ill afford to avoid the region's challenges entirely because of its fratricidal politics.
Perhaps the bridge
New York most urgently needs to help build is not across the Hudson River, but between the diverging communities that inhabit the valley that abuts it.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Here's what I found interesting:
1. Ghost of Mario- Andrew Cuomo has fully exorcised the ghost of Mario and shaken the political baggage with moderate voters that could come from being the son of one of the country's most eloquent liberal voices. 61% of all New York voters call Cuomo a moderate or conservative. But avoiding the caricature of a big government progressive carries a price with some elements of the Democratic base- 13% of Democrats call Andrew Cuomo a conservative, including 24% of African-American voters. But a primary from the left against Cuomo is a fool's errand, Astorino is taking hard right positions on social issues and left-of-center voters will stick with the pro-choice, pro-gun control incumbent. Cuomo has deftly kept himself popular and in the center, maximizing his leverage with Democratic interest groups in Albany while remaining a palatable moderate with whom Republican voters permit their senators to do business.
2. Nobama- But Cuomo's relationship with moderate and conservative voters could go south quickly if he bear hugs President Obama. Obama is a massive political liability upstate, where voters disapprove of him by a 58% to 39% margin. Even in the suburbs- which Obama won handily in 2012- voters are evenly divided on the President's performance, with 48% rating Obama unfavorably compared with 47% viewing him favorably. Expect Astorino and NY Senate Republicans to try to nationalize their campaigns with messages blasting Obamacare, while Cuomo and state Democrats try to keep the conversation about New York. Cuomo, by virtue of being a governor, will win this argument, but it spells trouble for Democrats running for Congress (see #3).
3.House of Bad Cards- Democrats need to hold congressional seats like the one Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney wrested from Hudson Valley Republican Nan Hayworth in 2012. This poll is not only a clear warning sign for Maloney, but also shows obstacles for Sean Eldridge's attempt to knock of GOP Rep. Chris Gibson and should cause pause by Congresswoman Nita Lowey. The bloom is off the Obama rose in the Hudson Valley. Maloney needs to distance himself from the President to get re-elected while raising records amount of cash from uber-liberal donors. Expect Hayworth to plaster the northern portions of this district with pictures of Maloney and the President. Eldridge, whose Facebook-founder husband Chris Hughes ran Obama's digital campaign in 2008, faces an uphill battle to knock off Rep. Chris Gibson, who has styled himself as moderate in the radical GOP house and tended to the local concerns of his sprawling 11-county district. Eldridge's bio makes no mention of his partisan leanings and refers to him as an "independent." Lowey is facing an ideologically charged challenge from Chris Day, an Army vet whose father was just elected the Rockland County Executive. Day, like Hayworth and Gibson, will also attempt to link his Democratic opponent to the damaged-Obama brand. He'll add a harsh critique of the President's Israel policy that can resonate with this district's hawkishly pro-Israel voters. Lowey is well-liked and favored to win, but she needs to gird for battle. Her campaign website hasn't been updated since August 2013.
4. Maybe I Inhaled too Deeply- Last week, I looked at a Quinnipiac College poll that showed NY Democrats favoring legal marijuana by a 65 to 31 margin and predicted legalization by 2016. Today's poll shows Democrats opposed 49 to 46. I think that is mostly because of the way the questions were worded: last week's poll referred to legalizing "small amounts" of weed and generated wide support while today's poll put no limit on the quantity and revealed markedly less enthusiasm. While Siena shows independent voters favoring legal weed by 10 points, the mixed data demonstrates why Cuomo and other state leaders are reluctant to enter the haze on the issue. Maybe Hillary doesn't need to light a pipe after all.
5. Downballot Democratic Blues- Eric Schneiderman has landed multiple front-pages as New York's attorney general, leading the national conversation on foreclosure settlements and presiding over high-profile drug busts. Nonetheless, he remains a total unknown to many voters, including 63% of voters in the politically crucial suburbs. Both Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom Dinapoli, the other statewide official seeking re-election this year, received favorable ratings only in the high-20s. The New York Times recently profiled Schneiderman's clash with Cuomo and DiNapoli and the governor have tangled as well. But neither official appears able to stand on their own as a statewide candidate in a year with ear-ringing political noise and both will swallow their pride and hoist hands with Cuomo to smooth their way to victory.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
22 years after Bill Clinton famously explained away his marijuana use at Oxford by saying "I didn't inhale", Quinnipiac College released a poll yesterday showing that Democrats in the home state he adopted with Hillary favor legalizing small amounts of recreational pot by an overwhelming 65%-31% margin.
The margin among New York voters aged 18 to 29? 83% to 14%.
With some already wondering aloud if the 66-year old former First Lady is too old to mount a presidential campaign in 2016, the glass ceiling crasher's frontrunner status could evaporate quickly if younger voters find her on the wrong side of a clear generational divide on a high-profile issue.
The Clintons saw that movie in 2008 when young voters favored hip Barack Obama (and his well documented pot smoking) over Hillary by 20 percentage points, delivering him both the Democratic Party's nomination and the presidency. Hillary's high profile hoisting of a shot of whiskey at Bronko's Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana snagged her a one point win in that state's primary but she lost voters there under 40 by 19 points. The Clintons don't make the same mistake twice.
Obama was never as much of the edgy cultural leader as his supporters dreamed him to be- witness his painful "evolution" on gay marriage-- but on legal weed the President has become positively nonchalant. He told the New Yorker's David Remnick last month that smoking pot was a vice no different than cigarettes or alcohol. The Democratic Party's leader clearly doesn't think law enforcement should be wasting its time policing adults getting high; his administration just permitted banks to maintain accounts for marijuana dispensaries.
Pew Poll says are under 30 can stand out from the crowd by endorsing legalized marijuana, now. It's a particularly appealing tactic for Hillary, who can make it clear she's not running for grandmother-in-chief with one decisive policy stance.
But the marijuana debate is not just a generational rift; it has a strong racial dimensions as well.
According to the FBI, blacks are three to four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite toking at the same rate. The racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws is serious and inescapable; in fact, it is only a matter of time before the courts could find it a discriminatory violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
The leading cause of disruption in the black community today is a prison system that holds too many African-American men for too long. Leaders increasingly discuss how the community's progress is stunted because of the more limited employment opportunities for men with arrest records for possession of a small amount of weed.
If Hillary doesn't back legalization, she will nonetheless need to squarely address the impact of current drug policy on the black community and offer alternatives of her own. But modest, federal criminal justice reforms will not break through the noise from the legalization movement or meaningfully reduce the state prison incarceration rate for those arrested.
A majority of Latinos support legalization too, even though a 2013 Pew study said they are less likely than either whites or blacks to have tried the drug.
Of course, the winner of the Democratic Primary still needs to pass through November on the way to The White House. A CNN poll found only 36% of Republicans support legalization. But 59% of politically independent swing voters nationwide back legal weed, suggesting it won't be a major issue for a Democrat in the general election. And voters of all parties can quickly become keen to the tax revenue that would be generated by legal pot.
So far, Hillary has shown little interest in puffing her way to the presidency and neither have her rivals. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, another potential candidate, was dubbed "buzzkill in chief"by the Huffington Post last month for calling marijuana a gateway that leads to the abuse of other drugs. 56% of New York Democrats polled disagree with him, including 68% of all voters under 29.
You can't make history if you are on the wrong side of it.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
is to be a defender of Israel.”
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
These are the five things to watch for as the results come in:
1. Rally in the Valley- Spring Valley is David Fried's home base and the center of his political gravity. He served there as a judge and represented the community as a county legislator. Spring Valley is Rockland's largest and most diverse village; an epic battle to succeed indicted Mayor Noramie Jasmin is underway and sucking up most of the political oxygen. That could drive up turnout in this most Democratic of Democratic neighborhoods and Fried is counting on a massive vote there to lift his political wings. Day has teamed up with Calherbe Monel, a Haitian-American television talk show host who is seeking the mayoralty on Day's Preserve Rockland line, in an effort to siphon Haitian-American Democrats from Fried. Spring Valley is 8 to 1 Democrat and Day should get clobbered there. If he doesn't, listen for the cheering at the Comfort Inn in Nanuet, where relieved Republicans will be celebrating.
2. Standing Room Only in the County Seat: If Fried is counting on Spring Valley, Day is looking to his political base in New City, a Democratic leaning area where he has successfully won his county legislative seat in multiple elections. Day needs to win the Town of Clarkstown, where New City is located, by big numbers. Fried supporters have pushed back hard there, reminding Clarkstown Democrats that Day is right of center on abortion. To win the race, Day needs a multi-thousand vote margin in Clarkstown. If Fried keeps it tight there, the whooping will be loud at the Casa Mia Manor House in Blauvelt where county Democrats are taking in the election returns.
3. Hasidim But I Don't Believe 'Em: When all else fails in Rockland, you can liven up any campaign by linking an opponent to the controversial Hasidic "bloc vote" in Ramapo township. The "bloc," which is an amalgam of rival religious factions that attempt to find common political purpose by voting for the same candidate, has lined up behind Fried despite his vocal opposition to expanded Hasidic housing. Why? Day's rhetoric opposing Hasidic growth has been even more heated and his campaign aligned itself with Preserve Ramapo, which has spent over a decade fighting the Hasidim. Day attacked the Hasidim from the beginning of the race, as he expected to face Ilan Schoenberger, a Hasidic-backed legislator who Fried bested in September's Democratic Primary. When Schoenberger lost, the community's leaders got behind Fried as the lesser of two evils. Whether they can generate enough turnout to support a candidate who has been openly critical of the community remains to be seen. But the leadership there is certainly trying and a Fried victory requires a high turnout in Monsey.
4. Down by the Riverside: Fried's primary victory was propelled by liberal activists in the Hudson Riverfront communities of Nyack, South Nyack and Piermont and the strong support of former Orangetown supervisor Thom Kleiner, a popular figure there who will land a high profile county job if Fried is victorious. Fried's opposition to the proposed United Water desalination plant and endorsement from Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club play very well here. A big vote for Fried in the Nyacks will offset heavy losses in conservative Pearl River and Blauvelt, where many law enforcement families are cheering Day, a retired cop. Fried took 85% of the vote here in the Primary and needs to post strong numbers here to emerge victorious countywide. Riverfront communities in Haverstraw, which have heavy Democratic enrollment, also need to deliver for Fried. If he hold the Democratic base in a county with a 2 to 1 Democratic enrollment edge, he wins. If Day's campaign to appeal to Democrats by stressing that the "R" after his name stands for Rockland not Republican erodes that base vote, the party of Jackson is in trouble.
5. Absentee Ballots: An unprecedented number of absentee ballots have been cast in this year's local elections, including many gathered by the Independence Party in Clarkstown. While absentees generally track the Election Day results, it's clear that political leaders have been trying to get as many votes in the pre-election bank as possible with the absentee ballot drive. That could boost Fried, who gained Independence Party backing when the party's preferred candidate, Schoenberger, lost the Democratic Primary in September. Absentee ballots will also play a critical role in Spring Valley's mayoral race; it is unlikely a definitive winner in that battle will emerge tonight.