TOMS RIVER-Last week, the Toms River Township Council censured one of their own, Councilman Daniel Rodrick after a postcard mailer by his campaign detailed political and financial transactions between Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill and Scott Gartner, an Orthodox Jewish resident who threatened to sue the township over what he feels is an anti-Semitic zoning law.
That law which was passed many years ago by the township council requires that houses of worship require a minimum of 10 acres of land to build without applying for a land use variance.
Rodrick “outed” Hill’s newfound relationship with Gartner which included Gartner openly supporting Hill’s campaign and a $2,600 financial contribution. It was a political football that Rodrick tried to carry into the endzone on election day, but many residents didn’t believe the mailer at first.
Hill is known as the “Admirable Admiral” around town.
That is until the day before the election, the State of New Jersey released Hill’s campaign filings that documented the donation made by Gartner. Also released was Hill’s mayoral nomination petition which was endorsed by Gartner. Hill intentionally hid Gartner’s support and campaign donation from voters by reporting the donation at the latest possible opportunity with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
For that mailer and another one criticizing the welfare fraud amnesty program, Rodrick was branded a “bigot” by his fellow councilmembers which many see as nothing more than political retribution against an opponent. At that same meeting, the council also forced the resignation of Heather Barone, a candidate for council who lashed out at Hill, who received the coveted bloc vote from the township’s large Orthodox Jewish population in the North Dover section of town.
But using the “Orthodox Jew” or “Lakewood” card in political campaigns is nothing new in communities that surround Lakewood. Many sitting members of the government have also used the “Lakewood” card, but no others have been censured.
For instance, in 2017, a fake newspaper called the Toms River Tribune paid for by Democrats Terrance Turnbach and Lauri Huryk used scare tactics showing photos of Orthodox Jewish men walking in North Dover with the headline of “Republicans Pandering for Orthodox Jewish Votes?” Another story in that newspaper claimed, “Lakewood Money Flowing to Toms River Republicans”. The Democrats used that newspaper to win a narrow margin over Republicans, winning 3 out of 4 seats. It worked.
Turnbach and Huryk also used a letter of well being sent by the Toms River Police Department ahead of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah as evidence that even the township’s police department was in on some sort of plan to sell out the township to “Lakewood” and the “Orthodox Jews”. In the 12 page mailer, the Democrats referenced Orthodox Jews 8 times. Another article in the fake newspaper criticized then Republican Councilman Jeffrey Carr for being a partner in an engineering firm that worked on an Orthodox Jewish school in Lakewood, alluding that his construction work in Lakewood made him unsuitable to hold office in Toms River.
“Carr’s strong ties to Lakewood development projects are rumored to have forced him out of the Toms River Council race this year. Carr will finish the remainder of his term, which ends December 31,” Turnbach and Huryk claimed in the paper.
In the story against Police Chief Mitch Little, Huryk and Turnbach claimed the township Republicans and police chief were working with the Lakewood VAAD to gain a political endorsement.
“A LETTER RECENTLY SURFACED that has raised questions about whether township officials are showing favoritism toward Orthodox Jewish residents. Critics claim the letter is aimed at gaining the endorsement of the Vaad, a Lakewood organization which endorses candidates in local and state elections,” the Democrats said. The Lakewood VAAD never endorsed a candidate in that election.
Turnbach and Huryk were not censured for their mailing which included the same amount of “anti-semitism” and “bigotry” than Rodrick’s.
Another mailer sent that year by Huryk criticized her opponent Lou Gallipoli for receiving financial donations by professionals hired by the Township of Lakewood. That mailer used photos of engineers sitting in at a planning board meeting, which happened to also include Orthodox Jewish men who also serve on the planning board.
Using the fear of the growing Orthodox population is not only done in Toms River. In 2018, in Jackson, the campaign focused mostly around who was more “with the Orthodox Jewish community” and less about actual campaign platforms.
Democrat candidate Tracie Yostpille charged out of the gates with the above mailer painting a picture that Mayor Michael Reina had already sold out Jackson to Jewish developers in Lakewood.
Another postcard depicted Reina at a retirement party for a Jackson resident, Lenny Cohen who worked for the Lakewood Department of Public Works. Yostpille sent a mailer that incorrectly identified Cohen as Lenny Cohen, a Lakewood developer, calling the Jackson resident a “Lakewood Power Broker” and “Lakewood Developer”.
Using the fear of Lakewood and the Orthodox community to panic voters has not just been limited to the Democrats. The Jackson Republicans used the above mailer to connect Yostpille to Lakewood’s power base, even photoshopping the head of Yostpille campaign manager Mitch Seim on the body of another person.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind in Jackson or Toms River, that the Lakewood issue and the growth of the Orthodox Jewish population in both towns has become one of political importance, and while both sides have routinely used fear tactics to sway voters, is it now going to be deemed as “anti-semitic” or “bigoted” to even bring up the real issues facing both communities. Another question is will the township councils in those towns follow Toms River’s suit and censure all candidates who used the “Orthodox” card in previous elections or just those they fear could be strong political foes in the future.
There are many other mailers that have gone out by both Republicans and Democrats in Ocean County, all claiming opponents have “sold out” to either Lakewood Orthodox leaders, Lakewood developers or just “Lakewood” in general. A 2017 piece shows Hill’s running mate Kevin Geoghegan standing in front of a sign welcoming Lakewood developers. That same postcard was used against Mayor Michael Reina, but with Reina’s head photoshopped in place of Geoghegan’s.
The township council of Toms River should consider the censure of Haryk and Turnbach at their next meeting if they are going to persecute Rodrick and Barone for the same behavior. The only difference between Rodrick’s mailers and the ones sent out by Haryk and Turnbach were that Rodrick never mentioned the words Orthodox or Jew. Rodrick’s mailer against the relationship between Hill and Gartner proved to be factual after the election.