By Larry Gordon
This is not about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. As they tend to say in the Obama administration, that happened a long time ago and we are therefore not really sure what happened. Those of you outside the Five Towns will have to excuse me, though, because what took place here over the last three or so months has practical as well as noteworthy implications in your community as well.
What we had here was an election in which people—like-minded members of the Orthodox community—ran against one another, for a variety of reasons.
We covered some of those elections in some detail, while others were covered quite minimally. There was, as you will recall, a referendum on the sale of a school property in Woodmere; a hard-fought school-board election; and then, just last week, a rather competitive election process for the Village of Lawrence trustees.
Except for the referendum, on which this newspaper took a definitive stand to reject the sale of the property to a medical facility, after much careful thought we (that is, I) decided to stay out of the fray.
In making that decision, I focused on more than the idea suggested by some of minimizing, or rather not exacerbating, the already existing friction between the parties. A closer look at what was going on made it clearer that in both instances—the school-board and the village trustee elections—there were no perceptible significant differences between the candidates and no line that could be drawn to illustrate any substantive differences on policy.
Sure, this one thought of doing that first and the other thing second, and the opposition would insist on introducing an agenda that would work in the opposite format. That, in my estimation, did not constitute a contrast that would have any impact on the people.
The referendum on the school property sale and the realization of $12.5 million into the school district’s coffers represented some real differences. That was a fundamental issue that needed to be addressed here. Do we decide to sacrifice a little and perhaps even take somewhat of a chance by altering the character of a community in exchange for what seemed to be a pretty hefty sum that could help keep real-estate taxes from increasing? Or is the nature, quality, and fabric of life in a neighborhood more important than anything else?
These were important issues, and while at first I deferred slightly to the school-board management team, which believed it was a good move for the community, I soon came to realize that this was not so, that there was risk and a great deal that was not formulated in this decision-making process, and therefore decided to urge readers to vote against the sale, which was defeated by a 2–1 ratio.
That was not the case in the school board vote that took place two months after the referendum. The coalition that had invented itself to fight the sale of the Number Six School in Woodmere felt—and perhaps rightfully—that they had earned a right to at least run for a board seat, if for nothing else than to protect the interests of the half of the Woodmere and Cedarhurst communities that are part of the district and are located adjacent to the school property.
And there was an interesting dynamism at play here. At a community meeting during the referendum campaign—a meeting that I believe was a turning point for the developer—I think I recognized the moment in the process when they decided they’d had enough and were ready to throw in the towel and walk away from the deal. And that was when they realized that very few people in attendance at the meeting really wanted a medical facility planted at the fields of the Number Six School. The developer’s supporters were holdovers from another day, people who had not tired of vocally opposing anything that would benefit the private-school community in the district. That is, anything that the Orthodox Jewish yeshiva-attending community supported, they opposed. The yeshiva community, for the most part, opposed the medical facility, so their detractors supported it. That’s not what anyone calls support or winning people over.
In a sense, the school-board election that followed the property referendum was an outgrowth of the battle over the $12.5 million sale. The campaign was not such a pretty one, and this paper decided not to take sides, because the election was not about the issues at hand. It was about personalities and personality clashes, and that is not something that needs to be reported upon or editorialized about.
Sure, it is to be expected that if people work together for an extended period and their order of priorities is rearranged, there will inevitably be some disagreements and even clashes. And the hostility and frustration that was pent up in the aftermath of the referendum transplanted itself into clashes between the candidates who opposed one another. Since the election, the personalities involved have met in a cool and calm atmosphere and are working together to hopefully avoid any future similar debacles, which unfortunately reflect poorly on our closely scrutinized community.
And those are just the plain facts. We live a different life and adhere to different standards on a multiplicity of levels. Though we have the right to conduct our affairs just like any other community, somehow it seems that this notion that we are held to a different standard or are looked at differently needs to perhaps be taken more seriously.
Though the school-board elections were somewhat contentious, at the end of the day things worked out well. Tova Plaut, a resident of Cedarhurst, bested Community Coalition of The Five Towns candidate Dov Herman and Atlantic Beach resident Jesse Lunin-Pack. The margin between Plaut and Lunin-Pack was 37 votes. Herman ran a great campaign and will have input going forward on the disposition of the Number Six School.
And then just last week the same thing took place in Lawrence. For some reason we displayed something other than our best side which had local Orthodox Jews running against one another. Again there was no endorsement forthcoming from this direction, because there were no real issues. Other papers that emanate from this area chose to take sides with people who had an agenda other than that which serves the best interests of the community. After all, what is the point of endorsing candidates who have nothing else but personal differences with their opponents? In both the village elections and the school-board elections, none of the candidates wanted to raise taxes or alter policy in any substantive way. I am not taking sides in puny disputes.
All the Lawrence candidates are good and well-meaning people. I would have liked to see my friend and colleague David Seidemann get into office, but we will do just as well with our other good friends Alex Edelman and Michael Fragin.
In David’s column this week, he says that he feels like he won anyway, and that’s great. The truth is, now that it is all behind us for another year, we are all winners. v
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