Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, the Republican freshman who represents the area at the center of the Kiryas Joel annexation controversy, offered some of the harshest criticism of Kiryas Joel’s leaders of any speaker at Wednesday’s marathon public hearing, calling the village government a “self-serving neighbor” that has resorted to “name-calling.”
Reading from a statement, he said:
“Your baseless charges of anti‐Semitism, talk of ‘our way or the highway,’ only serves to insult your neighbors and push both sides further apart. Make no mistake; this isn’t about your customs, your religion, or your way of life. It’s about your behavior. Your style of dress is irrelevant. Your insisting otherwise isn’t right and it must stop, once and for all! Your neighbors have valid concerns and questions and they must be heard.”
He concluded by urging Kiryas Joel Mayor Abraham Wieder and the village board to “withdraw your annexation petition and sit down and negotiate in good faith.”
No elected officials from Orange County spoke in support of the 507-acre and 164-acre annexation petitions at the hearing in Kiryas Joel, which stretched past midnight. But Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former New York City police officer and state senator who represents the large Hasidic communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park, traveled to Orange County that night to deliver a testimonial on behalf of the Hasidim and their expansion rights, winning loud applause from the Kiryas Joel spectators.
After remarking on the absence of crime by Hasidic residents in his borough, Adams declared that “there is nothing more American than having the right to expand.” He went on:
“It is anti-American to believe that people do not have the right and the ability to expand and grow … If people want to have children and want to expand and allow themselves to grow, that is American.”
Adams’ office later provided a statement from him that said the following about the Orthodox community: “They are a hard-working, close knit community and add to the fabric that makes Brooklyn a safe place to raise healthy children and families. Anyone should be proud to call them neighbors.”
Two attorneys for the United Monroe citizens group spoke at Wednesday’s hearing and offered the Kiryas Joel and Monroe boards a litany of reasons — both technical and substantive — to reject the annexation petitions, including Dan Richmond‘s argument that Kiryas Joel “cannot use annexation to evade existing zoning laws” in the Town of Monroe. Susan Shapiro, an attorney for Preserve Hudson Valley, submitted a lengthy critique that argued the annexation would solely benefit “a private club, known as the Hasidic Satmar.”
United Monroe Chairwoman Emily Convers compared the homogenous culture of Kiryas Joel to the racial segregation that preceded the civil rights movement, using quotes from Martin Luther King and others to describe the corrosive effects of segregation. She said:
“The Village of KJ leaders have been actively carving out what the leaders themselves refer to as a “Holy City” consisting of only people of one color, one faith. This institutionalized segregation, or defacto segregation, is illegal. And those of us who were not born into this faith, this color, this culture, must stand aside, move aside, and succumb to the wishes of the power brokers who are orchestrating these land grabs. These actions are unconstitutional and immoral.”
Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles, who presided over the hearing, made no public remarks that night on the proposed annexation, but gave an interview to the Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias in which he talked about “providing service to Hashem” — the Hebrew word for God — and invoked Kiryas Joel’s founder, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum.
“I can only say that we trust in Him and that He will make sure that we will do right for His children, all of His children,” Doles was quoted as saying.
According to the website, Doles elaborated in this way:
“I am happy that Rabbi Joel was guided by G-d’s hand to come here, because this is where the Lord wanted His children to come and survive and thrive. That is what I understand, and whatever I have to do to be able to provide this service to Hashem, that is what I am going to do.”
Lorraine McNeill, a former Woodbury councilwoman, questioned during Wednesday’s hearing how the annexation would serve the “overall public interest,” the term used in state law to describe the reason for such border shifts. She asked:
“How does it benefit Monroe, or for that matter, Woodbury, Blooming Grove and the County, to have a city forced upon them? Because that is what we are talking about here. And please note, Smart Growth involves more than sidewalks and public transportation. It involves open space and wise use of resources and no reliance on taxis as public transportation. Is it in the overall public interest for one municipality to impose its lifestyle on its neighbors through a hostile takeover?”