Bare-knuckle Politics in East Ramapo

April 26, 2015 Bare-knuckle politics is now standard operating procedure in East Ramapo. For many years, opponents of the Democratic machine in Rockland have been accused of anti-Semitism, but this rhetoric reached a new low in the campaign for county executive in the Fall of 2013. David Fried’s supporters conducted a highly organized campaign of libel in social media. Ed Day and his wife were accused of anti-Semitism and fraudulent quotes were created to “prove” their bias. Despite appeals to David Fried, he never was willing to condemn or even acknowledge his supporters’ underground campaign against Ed.

Fortunately, the Days have devoted an enormous amount of time over the last 30 years supporting youth sports and participating in church and synagogue sponsored activities. Ed Day’s supporters took these vicious lies and circulated them broadly within the secular community. People who knew Ed or knew of his reputation were appalled and the vituperative campaign backfired. Ed, a Republican, won a clear victory in a strongly Democratic county despite a virtually unanimous vote for David Fried in the Hasidic community.

During the campaign, Ed supported the East Ramapo public school parents’ efforts to protect the education of their children. David Fried said nothing until almost the end of the campaign when he finally made vague comments that didn’t address the problems faced by East Ramapo.

Most recently, Ed went to Albany with public school supporters to plead for the passage of legislation that would create a state monitor with the authority to overrule the East Ramapo board.

A few weeks before Ed’s trip to Albany a majority of county legislators wrote a letter to the state legislature asking that a monitor be appointed to oversee the East Ramapo schools.   

When the letter was circulated it presented our local Democratic party with a serious dilemma. The Democratic machine did not want to alienate its liberal supporters, but at the same time it didn’t want to lose the support of the Hasidic community. I suspect that after consulting with Hasidic leadership the Democratic leadership decided that the three most important Democratic members of the county legislature (plus Phil Soskin) would not sign the letter while the rest of our Democratic members would maintain their liberal credentials by signing it.

The letter was signed by 4 of 5 Republican legislators and 8 of the 12 Democratic legislators. It is most informative to note the Democratic legislators who did not sign the letter.

The letter was NOT signed by Ilan Schoenberger who was elected years ago in a legislative district that was grotesquely gerrymandered just for him. It was a district that looked like a lopsided barbell where almost all of his supporters lived in New Square on the eastern side of Ramapo with a long narrow piece of Ramapo tying it to a much smaller area in the vicinity of his home in Wesley Hills on the far side of Ramapo. Ilan has always represented the interests of New Square even though he insists that he is the legislator from Wesley Hills. He has ruled both the Democratic caucus and the Rockland county legislature ever since he lost his position as the Rockland County attorney.

The second legislator who refused to sign the letter was Aron Wieder. Aron is currently the Democratic majority leader in the county legislature.

Aron was first introduced to the public as a member of the East Ramapo school board. He then became its president. Supporters of the public schools in East Ramapo regard him as the architect of the policies that have devastated the school district.

After Aron left the school board, he became an advisor to Noramie Jasmine, the former mayor of Spring Valley who was recently convicted of corruption. Aron seemed to have few responsibilities in Spring Valley, but as Noramie described his function to me, “He is very helpful. He tells me what the Hasidic community wants.” 

Aron was then elected to the county legislature from a heavily Haitian district through a strategy of divide and conquer. Jacques Michel, the Haitian representative from the district lost the democratic primary when he was forced to run against both Aron and Joseph Desmaret, then the deputy mayor of Spring Valley, another recently convicted politician.  The two Haitians received about 60% of the vote and Aron won the primary with just 40% of the vote.

In recent weeks Aron has been working almost full time in Albany lobbying against proposed legislation to appoint a monitor over the East Ramapo school board. The recommendation that a monitor should be appointed was made by Hank Greenberg, Governor Cuomo’s personal investigator who spent several months studying the East Ramapo schools. Aron’s message is very simple:  This school board was elected democratically so any oversight would be a violation of democracy. He believes that no matter how irresponsible or illegal its actions, no one should be able to challenge this rogue board.

Meanwhile, the East Ramapo school board is spending over $3 million a year for lawyers to fight the East Ramapo public school parents and the NYS Department of Education.

The third Democrat who refused to sign the letter is Alden Wolfe who was elected by the Democratic caucus to head the county legislature. Alden is now being groomed to run against Ed in the next election for county executive.

The last Democrat who declined to sign the letter was Phil Soskin, the longtime legislator from Monsey.

Now we return to bare knuckles. Today the East Ramapo school board is a law unto itself. Ramapo’s Hasidic leadership wants to demonstrate that it is so powerful that it can continue to ignore state mandates, and it wants to be able to do the same in other school districts in the future. It knows that if the state legislature approves legislation to appoint a monitor over the East Ramapo schools it will create a precedent.

Though Aron Wider is an excellent salesman, he can’t stop the state legislature from passing the bill to appoint a monitor over the East Ramapo schools all by himself. His efforts have been supplemented by the vicious and misleading video “The Jew in Rockland”, and most recently the statement signed by 100 rabbis attacking Ed Day as an anti-Semite.

If governor Cuomo really cares about the East Ramapo public schools this legislation should pass. On the other hand, if it is defeated, he can claim he tried and wash he hands of the problem. His efforts will be rewarded by continued Hasidic support for Democrats in Rockland and New York.

Where are the civil rights organizations that should be defending the East Ramapo public schools? 

Is it really possible that a highly organized religious minority can use a public school budget to fund religious schools that, contrary to state law, provide no meaningful secular education to its own students and deprive public schools students of a decent education?

Robert I. Rhodes, Chairman, Preserve Ramapo