By Stanley Kopilow
As a Republican party leader, I’ve been involved in elections for decades. My involvement was mostly in support of other people, and I’ve been pretty successful in making certain that our area, including the Village of Lawrence, has been represented by good people who have done the right thing. In all those elections combined, there was less mud slung than the mud that has been thrown my way in our local race for Lawrence Village trustee, which will be decided on June 19.
I’ve been a resident of Lawrence since 1977. I grew up in Cedarhurst. I got involved in this race because I thought there were people such as Uri Kaufman who wanted to take our village in the wrong direction.
Uri Kaufman, my former colleague on the Lawrence school board, recently wrote an article in which he praised my “intellect” and characterized me as a man of “integrity.” He also said that we were friends. True enough.
Unfortunately, that article, exceeding 1,500 words, was devoted to diverting the public’s attention from Uri’s failure to accomplish anything of significance in his two years as Lawrence Village trustee.
To divert that attention, Uri claims to have reviewed my record on the Lawrence School Board (an office that I am not seeking) in an attempt to divide the community into those he terms as frum and non-frum. In the process, he apparently believed it was necessary to misstate, mischaracterize, twist, and distort my record of public service in order to deceive the electorate.
I ran for the Lawrence school board, won, and served three years (July 2005 through June 2008). School board elections then were not just elections; they were warfare as a form of art. But, having been elected to the school board, I took seriously the fact that you run to perform the people’s work. You must be guided by the law, whether you are in the majority or the minority. The law requires nothing less. You may be in the majority, but you don’t get to do what you want to do just because you believe you are right.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t always vote the way Uri thought I should. But that’s what public service is about. I didn’t get elected to be a part of Uri’s team. I got elected on my own. I certainly didn’t get elected to do any group’s bidding. So before every vote, I asked legal counsel what the law allowed me as a board member to do. I followed that direction — without heed to the consequences.
It is my understanding that when you do the right thing, some people may not like it, but at least they will respect it. Now understand, I’m running to be a trustee in the Village of Lawrence. If I’m lucky enough to win, I expect to represent all residents of Lawrence. There are no frum or non-frum issues that divide us. But there are issues that have to be addressed, the first of which is Uri Kaufman’s lack of performance as a Lawrence Village trustee.
In the article he wrote in last week’s Five Towns Jewish Times, Uri could not point to a single accomplishment that required his reelection. He was critical of my actions of over a decade ago, most of which I will not dignify by addressing. However, sometimes the lie gets so big that one has to confront it. Uri’s lie has to do with the last contract the Lawrence Public School teachers ever got in 2006 when I was a member of the Lawrence School Board. Uri describes it as a “budget-busting teacher’s contract that cost taxpayers millions of dollars” that we “will be paying for … many years to come.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. A quick review shows the following: A six-year deal was made with the Lawrence teachers. It offered no raise in the first year. Each subsequent year the contract provided for raises of 2 percent or less. How this could be considered “budget busting” is beyond me.
But the contract had some enormously significant visionary provisions — revolutionary provisions. First, it required that class size be limited so that teachers could effectively teach what was increasingly becoming a population that spoke English as a second language. Second, by the end of the contract, Lawrence teachers (and thereafter every other bargaining unit) were required to pay 22 percent of their health-insurance premiums. This had never been done before in New York State — certainly not to the extent that the Lawrence teachers agreed to share the burden of healthcare costs. Third, at the urging of private-school parents, the yeshivas were no longer required to be staffed by Lawrence public-school teachers and were free to employ special-education teachers of their choice. As a result, 16 or 17 Lawrence school teachers lost their jobs, but the yeshivas were allowed to run their own operations and provide state-mandated special-education services at a cost they could afford.
Uri Kaufman wants me to run away from this contract. I can’t and I won’t. I believe that it was a contract that had something in it for everyone in the community — not just one faction. It had fiscal austerity. It protected the students in the public-school system while allowing the private-school system to flourish without being strangled by increasingly high teacher costs.
None of this was mentioned in Uri’s article. It is appalling that Uri has openly and unjustifiably used this contract to seek the votes of the “frum” community, claiming that I have an agenda other than that of serving the entire public. This is “religious baiting” at its extreme. It is something that long since should have been put to bed. There are no “frum” issues, or any other issues in Lawrence, that require a vote along religious lines. I just received a telephone call from my friend, Cindy Grosz, who, after being informed of the content of Uri’s article, had this to say:
“As one of the Five Town’s leading Jewish activists, and an Orthodox Jew, I can share firsthand knowledge and experience that Stanley Kopilow is a friend to the entire Orthodox Jewish community. The tactics of his opponent, as published in a recent article, is tasteless, classless, and smells of lashon ha’ra, or lying gossip. Stanley and I work to bring all Jewish and non-Jewish issues together in a productive way.
“Stanley has worked with me on one important issue his opponents have ignored — bringing all Jewish people together in our community, regardless of shul or religious affiliation.”
Here are the issues that we do face. In the first instance, Uri Kaufman is a self-styled expert real-estate developer. He says that he has been a real-estate developer for 24 years, and yet, for months he demanded that the village consider building a hotel on the old sewer plant property where Rock Hall Road meets 878. He said at the time, “Rely on my expertise. I’m a real-estate developer. The village can make millions.”
Now, when you get elected as a trustee, as the title clearly states, the people have the right to trust what you tell them. You don’t get to fly by the seat of your pants and champion ideas that you haven’t completely and thoroughly thought out. Unfortunately, my friend Uri Kaufman did just that. After championing the idea of bringing a hotel to the village of Lawrence, a commercial enterprise in a residential village, he suddenly decided that was not a good idea. As he said in his article, “fortunately after much careful study, I concluded the project made no sense. If the idea came before us, I’d vote against it.”
Uri, if you had thoroughly thought this idea out in the beginning, you would never have campaigned for it. That’s your current position. But either you didn’t think out your initial position before you asked the public to accept it and to trust you, or now you don’t have the good grace to admit that you changed your position when the public said, “We don’t want a hotel.” I’m not sure what careful study you have now made, Uri, but it certainly was not made when you were pushing that the Village Board vote in favor of it.
Second, Lawrence is the only village in the Five Towns to have its own recreational facility. Uri admitted he doesn’t use the facility. He doesn’t play golf, he doesn’t play tennis, and he doesn’t have a boat. That doesn’t make our recreational facility any less a jewel that has to be protected and nurtured. Uri says that we should give over the management of the facility to a company which would pay the village a guarantee of $120,000 a year, notwithstanding the fact that last year, the recreational facility contributed over $200,000 to the village coffers.
On top of this, Uri, the real-estate developer and the trustee, just found out there was a million dollars lying around somewhere in the recreational facility that has now been paid over to the village. He says he was informed of this by “the village administration.” Uri, aren’t you a part of the village administration? Again, this is a lack of attention by a man who was elected to protect us and to protect our investment.
Finally, Lawrence has a stake in how the property formerly owned by the Woodmere Club should be used — or not used. I am firmly against building houses on that land. Anybody who lives in the area knows that the former Woodmere Club is serviced by a two-lane road (Broadway).
Additional houses on that land will make it impossible to get in and out of Lawrence on a good day. There are those who say that we must compromise; there are those who say that we can’t win. To those people, I say, “Look at what happened on the Cerro Wire facility. Twelve years ago they wanted to build a shopping center. The public fought it. They have not put down one foot of concrete as of this date.”
I can only say this. If I am lucky enough to be elected as a Lawrence Village trustee, I intend to serve all the people — without consideration as to whether or not they are frum. I take my lead from Larry Gordon, the publisher/editor of the Five Towns Jewish Times, who, in his lead editorial in the June 8 edition, decried public displays “of criticism by Jews of other Jews.”
Mr. Gordon and members of the public: I am a Jew and I know of no law or rule or regulation that says that because I am not “frum,” I am any less capable of serving the entire Lawrence community.
We’ve come a long way in the last 15 years. People who use scare tactics and who practice the politics of division as Uri Kaufman has should be removed from office. We must all enter a new age in which those who show accomplishment should be reelected, and those who can’t should be voted out of office.
Vote your conscience. But before you vote, know the truth.