A town in the Hudson Valley has been accused by Letitia James — the state of New York’s attorney general — of engaging in “a systematic effort” to prevent Hasidic Jewish families from moving there.
James filed legal papers Thursday seeking to join a developer’s suit against Orange County and the town of Chester, about 60 miles northwest of Manhattan, The Associated Press reported on Friday.
The developer — The Greens at Chester project — had previously asserted that bias among local officials, dressed up as concern about infrastructure and building codes, was blocking hundreds of planned homes.
Also reporting on the dispute on Friday, The New York Times observed that Thursday’s filing marked James’s “first major effort to intervene in the heated housing disputes that have roiled suburban counties north of New York City, as Hasidic Jews seek to build new developments to accommodate their expanding numbers.”
In an interview with the paper, James said it was “critically important that I send a strong message to communities that would engage in discrimination on its face that it will not be tolerated either in Chester, or on Long Island, or in any community in the State of New York.”
Alexander Jamieson — the former Chester town supervisor who is named in the lawsuit — denied in a separate interview with The Times that antisemitism and discrimination were at the root of the town’s opposition to the development.
“We are not full of bigots, we are not antisemites,” Jamieson said of the town’s residents. “This is just about the size of the houses. The other stuff is just smoke and mirrors. It’s just a distraction.”
James’s decision to join the suit was effusively praised by one of the main organizations serving the large Orthodox Jewish community in the borough of Brooklyn.
“Finally, there is a sheriff in town committed to fight the blatant discrimination against Orthodox Jews occurring too often,” Rabbi David Niederman — president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn (UJO) — said in a statement on Thursday. “Attorney General James always stood ready to take on injustice, and isn’t shying away even when it means taking on powerful forces.”
Niederman said that the attorney general’s action “sends a powerful message that Orthodox Jews are also protected under the Fair Housing laws and discriminatory actions will not be tolerated.”