Next week, the quaint, upscale, and internationally renowned Village of Lawrence will for the first time feature a competitive election for mayor between two like-minded Orthodox Jewish residents of the community.
Full disclosure requires that I say right up front that I am friendly with the incumbent mayor, businessman and philanthropist Alex Edelman, and with his challenger, the political strategist and consultant as well as 10-year veteran of the Lawrence Board of Trustees, Michael Fragin.
That said, there is a complicated dynamic at play here. No one I’ve spoken to about the matter is completely at peace or pleased with the details of the forthcoming election.
And herein is one of the intractable problems that, plainly and simply, the voters and residents of the village will have to decide on during Election Day, June 19. The tradition here in Lawrence, where our elected representatives serve on a volunteer basis, is that the incumbent mayor is extended the courtesy of running unopposed. Call it undemocratic or unfair — that matters very little and that is just the way it is and has always been.
To that end, Mr. Edelman, like all the mayors who have served before him dating back to the creation of the village in 1897, and as an expression of appreciation for his service and the fact that he has performed his duties in an exemplary fashion, deserves our vote on June 19.
While Mr. Fragin has served the village well and is looking forward to doing even more to benefit the community in the future, he feels that his time to serve as mayor of Lawrence has arrived. He believes that in 2016, as the longest-serving trustee on the village board, he should have been allowed to step up and be elected as mayor without opposition.
A backroom deal back then arranged for Mr. Fragin to defer to Mr. Edelman, who was also serving as a trustee, with the understanding that Mr. Edelman would serve just one term as mayor and then make way for Mr. Fragin.
Voters must now consider two interconnected matters when they approach the ballot box on Election Day. The first is the unwritten rule that allows an incumbent mayor to seek reelection without contest. Mr. Edelman is rightfully seeking to exercise that option. The other matter is the idea that there was at least a verbal agreement that Mr. Fragin would be the next person to serve as mayor.
For his part, Mayor Edelman says that he is in the midst of overseeing several important projects that will benefit the village and its residents. The details of the projects might bore the voters, but needless to say they are revenue-generating ventures that will enhance the attractiveness of the village, amongst other things.
While those are the main differences, the idea of an electoral faceoff seems to be troubling many. Even the candidates themselves have said that in terms of policy and vision of the future, they probably agree on 95 percent of all. To learn more about the candidates, you are encouraged to attend the Lawrence Association “Meet the Candidates Night” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, at the Lawrence Country Club.
From another perspective, the fundamental difference between the two candidates is style more than substance. Alex Edelman is a businessman and Michel Fragin has spent most of his career in politics and working inside political systems.
Democratic elections are a wonderful thing, a symbol of our civilized society. But it seems that sometimes people are placed in a position where they have to go to the polls and vote even though they would prefer not to. As we go to press this week, there are more than just a few who have stated that they wish that some kind of deal or arrangement can be struck where the community would not have to be split in this fashion.
But let’s make it clear — Alex Edelman has the closest thing to a right to run unopposed for mayor and to serve another term — or even two terms — as mayor if he so desires and if he continues to do the excellent job that he has been doing these last two years. Michael Fragin may have a legitimate gripe and even a valid complaint about it being his turn to assume the office of mayor of Lawrence, but that is the nature of political realities as they have just about always existed.
Part of political continuity is the ability to allow an elected official to see the realization of projects he or she has overseen be implemented and come to fruition. Changing personnel at the top every two years would not properly serve any community, and that is certainly true here in the Village of Lawrence. It is nice when there is a cordial process that gives each person who wants to serve his or her community an opportunity to do so, but that is not always possible, as is the case this time around.
For those who do not mind getting involved in the technical details, the two main issues where there are differences between the candidates is on the matter of the former sewage plan at the bottom of Rock Hall Road near Route 878 and the matter of building an aquatic center on part of the Lawrence golf course. Over the last year, the debate has been what to do with the 4.6-acre property that used to house the sewage plant.
Trustee Uri Kaufman, who is also up for reelection in next week’s vote, had advocated for the building of a hotel on the site, but has more recently revised that plan and has been calling for an assisted-living center at the location.
Alex Edelman says that the residents in the adjacent area that he has met with are adamantly opposed to any kind of commercial entity on the site. In response to an e-mail from the 5TJT, Mr. Kaufman said, “Houses are definitely a possibility — though how many houses is something we’d need to study. A park is also possible, but we would need to figure out how to pay for it.” Kaufman added that he is at this point opposed to the building of a hotel on the former site of the sewage plant.
Also running for a seat as a village board trustee is former school board member and local attorney Stanley Kopilow. Mr. Kopilow would add an interesting mix to the dynamic of the trustee board, but for those who follow these things it is difficult to forget how critical Mr. Kopilow was of the Orthodox Jewish community and our educational institutions when he was a sitting member of the school board.
But that was then and this is now. Mr. Edelman is urging voters to vote for him as mayor but also for Mr. Kopilow to replace Mr. Kaufman on the trustee board and to reelect Syma Diamond who seems to get along with all board members. I say that because Mr. Fragin, while promoting his own candidacy, is touting a ticket that includes Mr. Kaufman and Ms. Diamond.
Life here in Lawrence is good and peaceful and will in all likelihood remain that way regardless of who is the mayor. For now, however, we should honor the tradition of the incumbent having the prerogative of running unopposed. That is why it is important that you vote this year for Alex Edelman for mayor. Michael Fragin is a diligent public servant, and his day will come as well.
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