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Kiryas Joel, rhetoric & responsible politics

Kiryas Joel

As a resident of Monroe, New York, I began this website as a venture to bring together information with the public interest at heart. While we try to be fair and understand all sides of an issue, there will always be occasions where we need to take a position, especially if the other point of view’s concerns do not balance with the concerns of the greater community.

This post is no exception.

Recently, a number of people have heard the rhetoric about a specific grass-roots/political movement selecting a candidate for the vacant seat on the Monroe Town Board. Within lies a case of not pleasing all of the people all of the time, and it requires putting aside parochial self-interests for the greater good of the community. There will always be those who will disagree and create divisions to the bitter end, resulting in deep divides in a community least able to afford disharmony.

Monroe is effectively a two party town: Whoever the leadership of Kiryas Joel supports, and the candidate supported by the rest of the town’s voters. Anything beyond that becomes a spoiler and only siphons votes away from the mission of the residents outside of Kiryas Joel: Effective representation and uncorrupted leadership. That is the new reality that faces voters in our town outside the square mile of KJ.

Enter Ben Friedman, a long-time dissident of Kiryas Joel and the most recent addition to the spoiler column. While he may potentially be well-intentioned and have the ear of a few because of his ultra-orthodox (Satmar Hasidic) background, he suffers from several disadvantages in being anything more than a grass-roots activist.

1. Friedman’s social media comments are, at best, disjointed, and at worst, cryptic and inconsistent. Social media threads witnessed by many have varied writing styles, a fact that is continually explained by either his lack of facility in the English language (his native language is Yiddish), or the time that may be taken to craft or hone responses. Very likely, it may also be a question of those responses being handled to use Friedman as a mouthpiece for others’ more parochial interests.
2. Friedman’s standing within the Satmar community has for years been contentious, highlighted by several unsuccessful legal actions taken by him and others against the leadership of the Satmar village. His heart may be in the right place, but any ideas harken to statements of “taking a new direction”. When asked what that might be, the responses have been exceptionally vague or dwelled back on actions that were not decided in his favor dating back two decades, and now subject to double-jeopardy.
3. Friedman has been difficult from a collaborative perspective. Those who have chosen to assist his efforts have found themselves on the losing end of the arrangement, or the subject of vitriol from others who — including Friedman himself — who insist that things be done his way or not at all.
4. Friedman is vague on any positions other than being against corruption. When asked for planned actions on that position, he provides no proposals for his actions. Moreover, he has no positions, much less an opinion, on various other facets of government at a local level, including activities that he might face should he run for an elected office.

None of those hold much promise for a democratic process.

Kiryas JoelFriedman’s latest attempt at being the spoiler in the discussions has been to take to social media and decry the efforts of Monroe’s grass-roots party, United Monroe, in selecting and vetting a candidate to support for the unexpired term of the open Town Board seat (originally held by Harley Doles). His argument: “The danger of having a bloc vote decided by a few”. However, Friedman fails to understand a few basic premises.

1. United Monroe is a third-party. As a Third-Party, it seeks signatures and support for the candidates who have expressed interest in its endorsement, something Friedman had not done by not approaching United Monroe and asking to be vetted.
2. Third-parties, unlike established first-line parties such as Democrat, Independence or Working Families, do not have a primary election process. As such they need not participate and can run anyone who qualifies with enough signatures only during the general election. This is the process United Monroe followed in 2013 to qualify for inclusion on the ballot for November.

Friedman’s responses ring very true to those we might expect from anyone in Kiryas Joel, much to the dismay of others: They’re ones of ‘entitlement’, or that someone should sponsor and carry his candidacy. It’s a lot to ask for someone who has been either unable or unwilling to formulate and clearly articulate views on important matters, and doesn’t speak to qualification for the functions he would hold if faced with the potential (while remote) of being elected.

It’s unfair to many who have been patient or attempted to provide guidance in his activism, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the full democratic process. While the communities surrounding Kiryas Joel and its residents should have opportunities to bridge the chasms that have divided us — full understanding and dialogue on each other’s views in a democratic society without the interference of dogma — a Friedman candidacy holds no promise for that answer. While we applaud his courage as a Satmar activist, his outspoken stance on corruption and his attempts at activism on behalf of fair, ethical and responsible government, this doesn’t override other issues.  If Friedman was earnest in his efforts to seek public office, he would do his supporters the favor of educating himself on the democratic and elective process, as well as making the effort to validate his own electable potential by exploring the establishment of his own Third Party.

Sadly, though, those that know him don’t hold much hope for the change needed. And understandably, this site would not be in a position of supporting his candidacy.

Managing Editor