There was a glimpse of summer last Shabbos that quickly disappeared back into the seasonal storage vaults or wherever it is that our four annual climatic changes are stored. It seems that at least here in New York, where we are desperately yearning for some springtime warmth, we are being teased to a breaking point of sorts.
While we patiently wait for the warmer, more tolerable springtime weather to arrive, which it inevitably will, we are about to deal with the arrival of another season — the political season — as we head into the all-important midterm elections that will determine the direction of this country for the next couple of years.
Traditionally, the party that controls the White House does not do well in midterm elections and that might be especially true in the case of Donald Trump. The president is controversial, and people in this age of instant communication have particularly strong feelings about him and the job he is doing — or the job the mainstream media says he’s doing or not doing.
But at the same time, it is only April, a long time until we have to deal with the nitty-gritty of the November elections. In the meantime, there might be something even more intriguing brewing in the pristine Village of Lawrence in the famous Five Towns.
By way of introduction, let it be stated that out here in the incorporated Village of Lawrence, elections mostly come and go with hardly anyone noticing. However, over the last decade or so, since the Orthodox Jewish population has become dominant, on occasion there have been some competitive and even contentious elections for the position of mayor or trustee.
In the Five Towns, incumbents generally run unchallenged for a number of good reasons; chief amongst them is that these are nonpaying volunteer positions that demand a lot of time from the people who feel that it is vitally important that they serve their community in this fashion.
There are several factors to consider. A trustee can serve on the four-person board for as long as the people elect him or her. A mayor, by local law, is limited to three two-year terms. The current mayor, Alex Edelman, is presently completing his first two-year term. Alex was a trustee prior to being elected mayor of Lawrence, but there is a bit of a complicated story attached to his unchallenged ascendancy to the mayoralty.
You see, prior to Alex becoming mayor, Martin Oliner served three terms in the position. With Marty facing his term limit and not being able to run for a fourth term, though he may have wanted to, Trustee Michael Fragin, a longtime New York political operative and consultant, felt that his time had arrived. Though he was barely 40 years old at the time, he believed it was his turn to stand for an unchallenged election to become mayor of the village.
But it seems that Alex had the same idea. He is an accomplished entrepreneur and believed that his business background and experience would help to improve the economic as well as living conditions in this upscale and popular community.
So the story goes that community leaders interceded and were assured that Alex was only interested in serving one term as mayor and then he would not run again; he would defer to Mr. Fragin, who was waiting patiently for his time at the village helm.
Now, with the election scheduled for mid-June, Edelman is saying that he has unfinished business he has committed to complete, which will require that he continue to serve as mayor for another term if the voters agree.
Almost all agree that Alex Edelman has served the village with maximum efficiency and professionalism. He has proven to be an effective leader, smart and fiscally responsible on multiple levels. Taking those matters into consideration, there is really no reason for him to step aside at this point, considering the number of projects that are unfinished.
For his part, Mr. Fragin says that a deal is a deal and that he should be given the opportunity to run for mayor unchallenged just like the opportunity was afforded to Mr. Edelman two years ago. And therein lies our current political problem.
In addition, there is the matter of the differing positions on certain items that will need to be decided upon by the next mayor and his board of trustees. It’s not important at this juncture to go into details about the varying visions of village projects as there will be time to do that as we draw closer to the June election. The core subject here is the dynamic of the personalities involved, their identical values and interests, and the fact that they are upstanding and leading members of the Five Towns Orthodox Jewish communities and basically have been striving for similar objectives and goals.
But still there are differences, though they might be subtle and filled with nuance and are probably of no interest or concern to the overwhelming number of village residents. At the end of the day, who the mayor is or who the trustees are has no real impact on anyone’s life in the village.
Sure, we have new easy-to-read street signs, there is improved lighting on our main thoroughfare, Central Avenue, and some of our streets have been repaved and are not as cracked or bumpy as they used to be, and that is all good. But beyond these few things that the public deals with on a daily basis, who leads the village is really not a major issue.
So in the interest of full disclosure, I am friendly with both Mr. Edelman and Mr. Fragin. They get along well, as do all the trustees, as our hearts are pretty much in the same place when it comes to the better good and the interest of our little municipality here on the western edge of Long Island.
On the one hand, there is no reason that there should not be a proper democratic electoral process that allows the people to vote and select the person they prefer to lead us on local government matters. On the other hand, the “minhag” here has been courteous governing which allows those with the desire to serve voluntarily to do so unencumbered and without the questioning of their interests or priorities.
So why devote so much space in a newspaper to this subject? Is it of any interest to our significant readership outside the Five Towns and for the thousands around the world who read this material online? The answer is that local politics is intriguing and, on a small scale, a reflection of the bigger national governing picture. That is true of the electoral process here in Lawrence, in the neighboring village of Cedarhurst, and on the local school board, which has seen some fiercely competitive elections over the years.
This is mostly about airing it all out rather than taking sides — at this point anyway. There are some policy differences as well as personality differences and that is just a fact of life, whether we are discussing government, business, or even family life. And like all government, it is also about money and power and the authority to expend that money and exercise that power. The Lawrence village annual budget is a modest $6.2 million, a fraction of the school board budget, for example, which exceeds $100 million. The details of the budget and how the money is spent are available on the village website.
Aside from the potential mayoral race between Mr. Edelman and Mr. Fragin, the trustee seats of Uri Kaufman and Syma Diamond are up for election. They are facing opposition as well.
On Sunday, Lawrence resident David Englander announced his intention to seek a seat on the board, and Mr. Fragin said that former school board member Stanley Kopilow is also planning to seek a seat as a Lawrence trustee.
As usual, how this will unfold remains to be seen. The good news is that we are dealing with good people who volunteer a significant amount of time for the benefit of all village residents. So no matter who wins, we are in good shape. In a sense, we all win. n
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