Ulster County, NY - County Executive Hein In The Middle Of Satmar Summer Camp War
Ulster County, NY - This story has been generating a lot of buzz on the Orthodox Jewish blogs, but has yet to break through to the mainstream press. It‚Äôs just a matter of time, though, and when it does, it‚Äôs going to be a pretty uncomfortable situation for Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.
Hein, a Democratic rising star who declined to challenge GOP freshman Rep. Chris Gibson in the newly-drawn NY-19, though he was the DCCC‚Äôs first choice to run, is smack in the middle of the latest battle between the infamous warring Satmar brothers: Aaron and Zalman.
The latest dispute has to do with four summer camps in Ulster County that were once collectively owned and run by the Satmar congregation. Even after the brothers went their separate ways in the late 1990s, the two sides somehow managed to avoid drawing the camps ‚Äď and the kids they served from both communities ‚Äď into their holy war that has put a number of lurcrative jointly-owned properties into limbo, thanks to a 2006 state Supreme Court decision.
Until now, that is.
These camps apparently require annual permits from the county Health Department in order to open. According to HasidicNews.com, both the Zalmanites and the Aaronites (or Aaronies, if you prefer) applied for, and recived, permits this year, which promptly touched off a massive dispute over whose permit was actually valid.
A source in the Hein administration disputes this report, saying no permits were ever actually issued to either side. Both have requested them, this source insists, but neither ‚Äď so far ‚Äď has received one.
Frustrated, Hein revoked both permits and urged the two sides to work out a compromise. Instead, both enlisted their various political patrons to lobby Hein on their behalf.
According to multiple sources, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and a longtime ally of the Zalman faction, has made at least two in-person trips to Hein‚Äôs office in Kingston. The Aaronites reportedly have Sen. Dan Squadron, a reform-minded Democrat, also from Brooklyn, on their side.
A reader with insight into this situation writes:
‚ÄúThe most important ally of the Aronites, pressuring for them, is Rep. Nydia Velazquez. This may have a real effect on her upcoming primary. (She‚Äôs being challenged by NYC Councilman Erik Dilan, who is backed by Lopez, who has long been an enemy of Velazquez). Squadron (is keeping a) low-profile in this battle, since he‚Äôs trying to maintain good relations with the Zalmanites ‚Äď dominant Brooklyn group ‚Äď as well.‚ÄĚ
Another reader notes that apart from these four disputed camps in Ulster County, the Aronites have one camp, and the Zalmanites have four camps in Sullivan County. But that‚Äôs not sufficient in either case, and now both communities need additional space for their children. The Aronites, in particular, are in a bad way, as they currently have no camp at all for their girls.
Also, it should be noted that the Zalmanites have been running the four Ulster County camps up to this point, so the disagreement is very recent.
I spoke to someone allied with the Aaronites over the weekend, who advocated in favor of a Solomonic split-the-baby decision that would leave both sides with something. But so far, no one appears willing to give much ground in this tug-of-war.
There‚Äôs a lot more than camps at stake here.
The Satmars like to claim that they can swing close elections by voting in a bloc (assuming they manage to actually turn out the vote, which is another story entirely). As a result, their support is highly sought after, and their interests often merit special attention in the halls of power ‚Äď both in NYC and Albany ‚Äď despite the fact that they are relatively small, numbers-wise, compared to other interest groups.
I did reach Hein yesterday, but he declined to comment on the record about this issue. He did say that there is no formal timeline for a decision, while also acknowledging that the inherent need to have this matter settled by the time school lets out, or several thousand Satmar kids will be stuck spending the summer in the sticky city.
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