Teaneck: A nasty campaign in a nasty town

Let me overstate things - but not that much. A nasty campaign in a nasty town.

People in Teaneck must admit that the city lacks the veneer of friendliness of a small town community. Its proximity to "the city" and it enclaves of population contribute the sense that this is not the place you move to to find friendly neighbors.

Teaneck is where you move to be close to your family and old school chums; to get together with the people you liked before you moved to town.

The town politics merely reflects the town demographics and social realities.

Midwesterners from small towns know that political nastiness must be avoided if you expect to live as good neighbors after the election. The people of Teaneck have no such ambition.

Now that does not make them bad people. Just be aware of who they are and how they interact if you are considering a move to our heaven on the Hackensack.

TEANECK — The eight-candidate Township Council campaign has grown increasingly rancorous, leaving some observers fearful that lasting divisions are being forged between groups in this diverse town.

A rare sight in Teaneck during a contentious campaign: A fish market displays signs from two opponents.

Accusations of intimidation tactics, dirty politics and race- and religion-baiting echo those of the final days of the 2006 campaign, which created tensions that remain to this day.

In the last week, residents in the town's Northeast section – where the largest black population lives – received a campaign piece from the Team Teaneck slate attacking Councilwoman Monica Honis' voting record and asking them to support Robert Robinson.

At a community meeting Monday called by the Northeast Teaneck Block Presidents Association, several speakers denounced the piece as inaccurate and even racist for suggesting that they would only vote for a black candidate in Tuesday's non-partisan election for three council seats. Both Honis and Robinson are black.

Robinson, who lives in the Northeast, has defended the piece as a truthful reflection of Honis' record.

At that same meeting, Honis, who is running for a second term, said this week that reelecting her without her two running mates would be like sending her to the “gas chamber.” While she said she was referring to capital punishment and its disproportionate effect on minorities, her words drew criticism from several Jewish council members.

The uproar over the flier and Honis' comment was only the latest in a string of incidents reminiscent of 2006, when anonymous fliers accusing some candidates of anti-Semitism circulated in the Orthodox community. The fliers led to a fruitless investigation into mail fraud – some used a fake post office box number – by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

The level of passion on all sides this year is unusual for a municipal race – particularly a nonpartisan one.

“The way this has come down will really further divide this community,” said Councilwoman Jacqueline Kates, who chose not to run this year and is supporting Ned Goldman in part because of his independence from the two major slates. “I'm disturbed. I really am worried. It's going to take a lot of work to put the pieces back together.”

The campaign battle has largely been fought between supporters of two slates: Team Teaneck, which includes Councilman Elnatan Rudolph, Planning Board alternate Mohammed Hameeduddin and Robinson, a deacon at Hackensack's Mount Olive Church; and an informal slate consisting of Honis, former Planning Board member Barbara Ley Toffler and community activist Audra Jackson.

That slate was endorsed by the citizens groupTeaneck United and by the Northeast block presidents.

Planning Board members Howard Rose and Goldman, whose campaigns have focused on their long experience as members of various town boards and commissions, have for the most part avoided the fray. Both expressed optimism that residents who focus on the issues instead of rhetoric will vote for them.

“They're yelling at each other because they have nothing else to say,” Goldman said of the two slates.

The multicultural nature of the Team Teaneck slate – Rudolph is an Orthodox Jew, Hameeduddin is a Muslim and Robinson is a black Baptist – does not appear to have forestalled the tensions. A council meeting on Tuesday featured plenty of personal attacks mixed in with lamentations from residents bemoaning the tenor of the race.

“I'm appalled by the divisiveness and the nastiness in this campaign,” said Leslie McKeon, who is helping Barbara Toffler's campaign, during the meeting.

Supporters on either side have accused the other of putting up campaign signs without permission or of tearing them down.

“This campaign unfolded exactly the way I feared it might,” Councilman Kevie Feit, who has not endorsed anyone, said Thursday. “I think the foundation for this was established two years ago.”

There are other dynamics at work. Mayor Elie Katz has come under fire for his active role in the Team Teaneck campaign, while others see the race as a battle between proxies for state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who are rivals. Rudolph is a Ferriero ally and works for the county.

Whoever wins the election may face the task of bridging the gaps that have widened during the campaign.

“This is not the Teaneck that I grew up in,” said resident Zev Green at the contentious council meeting Tuesday. “And I certainly don't want it to be the Teaneck that I bring my children up in. The nastiness from all sides; it's enough.”

1 comment:

George Durman said...

As a Russian Jewish immigrant, I am ashamed at how eager American Jews are to become victims. Monica Honis made an awkward comment (which can happen to anyone) and most likely she will be more careful next time. But I am amazed that Teaneck Jews want to demean the Holocaust by exploiting it for political purposes.