TOMS RIVER-Is Toms River Councilman Daniel Rodrick a bigot, or is he is a whistleblower fighting to keep high-density zoning out of Toms River? According to the Toms River council, he’s a bigot because he sent out campaign mailers exposing a connection between his opponent, Councilman Maurice Hill and the Orthodox Jewish Community which is rapidly growing in the township.
At issue is Rodrick’s campaign mailer, named “Mo Hill Gets Big Endorsement” where he published photos of Hill shaking hands and laughing with Scott Gartner, who threatened to sue the township over a 10-acre zoning law for houses of worship. In an Asbury Park Press story, Gartner said last summer, “Our community is growing. We want to do it the right way. The government is forcing us to do it the wrong way.”
Hill rebuked Gartner’s threat of a lawsuit against the township at that time.
“The ordinance has been in effect long before there was any movement into Toms River from Brooklyn or Lakewood,” Councilman Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr. said, citing the two locations where many of Toms River’s Orthodox Jews lived previously, the newspaper reported.
We don’t want to start abandoning ordinances that have been in effect for almost 10 years,” Hill was quoted as saying in the Asbury Park Press article. “It’s not like we decided last week that we wanted to do 10 acres. There are other options. They could seek a use variance.”
Fast-forward one year later and now it’s Rodrick who is on the hot seat for making Gartner’s lawsuit threat part of his campaign platform. Some residents online considered Rodrick’s actions blowing the whistle on the support Hill received from Gartner during the 2019 Toms River Republican Primary Election. Others claim it was Rodrick exploiting antipathy towards Lakewood style growth in Toms River, sometimes blamed unfairly on the general population of the Orthodox Jewish community.
In the mailer sent by Rodrick’s campaign, he referenced the above linked Asbury Park Press article about Gartner’s threat to sue the township and claimed Hill was working to reduce the 10 acre requirement that would be required to build a house of worship in the township.
In other campaign messages, Rodrick claimed Hill was receiving support from Gartner and members of the Orthodox Jewish community representing the political bloc vote that the community can carry to aid favorable candidates in elections. Discussing a bloc vote or campaign support has never been deemed an attack on a race, religion or occupation in Toms River until this past election. Many bloc votes exist in the community. There are teacher’s union bloc votes, police and fire bloc votes and union bloc votes among others. Many communities in New Jersey have racial block votes that are always openly discussed as candidates often open lobby for support of block votes such as Hispanic or African American bloc votes. Towns such as Lakewood, Jackson and Toms River now have a sizeable and well organized Orthodox Jewish bloc vote. It is now a fact of life in politics in Ocean County. The Orthodox bloc vote has in recent years become one of the most highly coveted community bloc votes, but unlike union bloc votes, has also been highly secretive due to the possible negative impact it could have on the campaign with voters outside of the bloc.
In the end, the town council unanimously voted to “censure” Rodrick, which is purely a symbolic gesture that carries no legal or legislative repercussions.
Towards the end of the election, evidence that Rodrick’s mailers highlighting Hill and Gartner’s newfound relationship were indeed based on factual information. Public documents began surfacing, first in the form of Hill’s council election nominating petition, signed and endorsed by Gartner, then by a New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission filing by Hill’s campaign documenting a $2,600 campaign contribution by Gartner. Those filings were included on Hill’s election filing 48 hours before the polls opened last Tuesday.
Rodrick said he resented the notion that his mailer was bigoted because it depicted a relationship between Hill and Gartner that now exists, evidenced by Gartner’s open support for Hill’s campaign.
“This is what happens when you go against the establishment,” Rodrick said during the council vote in which he was the lone “no” vote.
Leveraging the negative sentiment some in the community have against the Orthodox Jewish community has been prevalent in Toms River election during the past few election cycles. Later this week, we’ll compare borderline bigoted campaign postcards sent between 2015 and 2019 by Democrats, Republicans and other members of the township governing body that make Rodrick’s mailers look like child’s play.
Do you think Rodrick’s mailer was anti-Semitic or is he indeed a whistleblower exposing a relationship that was kept under wraps during the entire campaign?