By Larry Gordon
Very often we indulge in something that from the distance looks like a really good time or a great idea. But then we get there and the experience looks not so good, or even bleak.
That was the feeling I had Tuesday night waiting for the results of the Lawrence school board elections. For those following this issue, Dr. David Sussman most deservingly won a resounding victory, while voters in the other two races expressed themselves with clarity by stating that division and derision is not what they want to see played out in this leading American Jewish community.
The result of that expression was that former board member Michael Hatten defeated incumbent Nahum Marcus handily. Newcomer Tova Plaut may have won a squeaker over Atlantic Beach resident Jesse Lunin-Pack. Dov Herman, the CC5T candidate, came in a distant third in that race. The Plaut—Lunin-Pack race results will not be finalized until Thursday. As of this morning, Tova is ahead of Jesse by 37 votes out of about 4,000 that were cast. The voting machines have been impounded and the expectation is that an official winner will be announced before the weekend.
The thing about this race is that everyone involved felt they had good intentions and desired nothing else but to do right by the community. But those good intentions collided at some point and, like some kind of potion, created a bad tasting or dangerous mixture.
Yes, political competitiveness is usually a good and even a healthy exercise. Upon reflection, however, I have to state that this is not the case 100% of the time. As an Orthodox Jewish community, the inescapable reality is that we are constantly under some kind of microscope and always under some aspect of scrutiny by those around us. As a result, the challenge and reality is that we cannot afford to conduct ourselves just like any other community.
Sure, we can manage and synthesize opposing opinions and differences, but we cannot afford basic derision and divisiveness that are natural and fundamental characteristics of political campaigns.
Of all the campaign literature and e-mails I perused over the last few weeks, the one that I will always clearly recall is Mr. Lunin-Pack’s communication announcing the good news—that the opposition, the Orthodox community, was divided. He wrote that this was the big chance of the community, that has a history of attempting to manipulate the system, to favor the dwindling public school population in the district over that of private school families to make a comeback after years of being consistently defeated.
This board is filled with sensible and responsible personalities such as Board President Dr. Asher Mansdorf, Dr. Sussman, Murray Forman, and Abel Feldhamer. They will now be joined by Mr. Hatten and Ms. Plaut (probably), both of whom are education professionals who bring an important and unique perspective to this important governing board.
Voter turnout was considered shockingly low to many observers. Some see that as broad communal apathy. But as TV news personality Glenn Beck is wont to say, “Not speaking out, is speaking out, and not standing up, is standing up.” So, sure, there may have been a lack of interest, but that large swatch of past voters who stayed home also may have been expressing their aversion to what at the end of the day was divisive and, in the end, counterproductive.
CC5T was not able to translate its success in the March referendum into a school board seat. This is not necessarily surprising, since the two votes were about drastically different and perhaps even incompatible issues. While CC5T suffered a double defeat on Tuesday, there is certainly a constructive role this organization can play in school board and other community matters going forward.
“I believe that the voters rejected divisiveness, and in the aftermath of this election we must unify and move in the direction of working together,” said board member Dr. Sussman.
Unfortunately, some bad and negative messages and characterizations emerged from both sides in the course of the campaign. If people want to lead, they have to be leaders and put the campaigns behind them. It is time now to look forward and make an effort to work together.
Over on the other side of Woodmere Boulevard, the Hewlett-Woodmere School District, District 14 also saw a low turnout, perhaps due to dissatisfaction with higher property taxes. Mitchell Greebel now joins the current board and Howard Kislik retains his seat. The $109 million budget passed, which will lead to an increase in taxes of 3.45 percent. A proposal to create a capital reserve fund as a “Technology Replacement Fund” was also voted in.
So, where is the grass greener? v