When Mahwah needed leadership, their leaders chose silence

This Thursday, Mahwah will vote on the second reading of Ordinance 18201, which rolls back the ban on out-of-State residents using Township parks. The ban was put in place after hysterical recountings of a “Jewish invasion” spread throughout social media and within the halls of Town Council meetings.

The vitriol on display since the summer has been deplorable.  It’s good that the pendulum has started to swing back.  But Mawah’s Council President, Robert Hermansen, wants it to stop on a dime — right back in the center where this all began.  That’s not how pendulums work.  In order to reverse course, it’s helpful to know how you got into the ditch. When it comes to confronting the animosity, fear and hatred which is infused in Mahwah’s discriminatory ordinances, the Council has shown no sign of being self-aware.

I and many others have been calling for the repeal of this ill-advised gambit against neighboring Hasidic Jews, since July.  So have a handful of Mahwah residents.

Watch and contrast how the Council treated vile comments from a resident at the last  meeting, with comments from the East Coast Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center: 

At the December 14th Council meeting, a resident approached me (who requested anonymity) and accused those coming out to oppose the Council’s actions, of tearing their town apart.  She expressed to me her sincere belief that what I and several others have done has lead to hard conversations around dinner tables and left residents full of anger.

Calling for the Constitutional rights of all to be respected should not be controversial.  It’s not an issue with two valid sides.  The cause of this discord rests squarely on the shoulders of Robert Hermansen and Mahwah’s Township Council.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about eruvs and related lawsuits

LITIGATION: Click here to see the status of all current Eruv related litigation 

BACKGROUND: Click here to see the developments that led to the litigation

Mr. Hermansen was wrong when he pressed for a ban on Jews coming to parks and a ban on the creation of an eruv at the edge of town.  He knows it.  And as Mayor Laforet noted, everyone with a conscience knows it.  But even as they rescind the damage wrought by Ord. 1806, Mr. Hermansen finds others to blame2.  He blames the Media, the Mayor3, the Township attorney and the “outsiders”.  He seems insistent that the Mayor should be censured (again) for having the temerity to say that what was wrong was actually wrong.  All this move for a censure does, is underscore what Robert Hermansen truly believes; that he would have gotten away with it, had he not been caught.  And for that abdication of moral authority in his public life, he deserves to get the boot.

As a friend of mine noted in his musings about Judge Moore, “there’s not a lot of moral authority in public life anymore… worse, in this age of whataboutism, moral relativism is the order of the day. It’s no longer about whether Personality X’s actions were wrong: it’s whether they were more or less execrable than those of Personality Y, who campaigns for the other party.”

He’s exactly right.  And next week, in Mahwah, NJ, this drama will continue playing out between the Council President, Robert Hermansen and Mayor Laforet.

Mr. Hermansen, had been running full steam ahead (as bullies typically do), since this summer.  At Council meetings, he regularly cut off residents and non-residents alike, if they tried in vain to get the Council to reconsider ill-conceived and poorly executed plans aimed at banning Hasidic Jews from town.  And that WAS the plan, no matter how he wishes to characterize it in some post-hoc rationalizations.

Robert Hermansen is a bully that backed a policy of bigotry and racism.

Fortunately, for everyone, save a handful of xenophobic residents, the world doesn’t seem be letting Mr. Hermansen get his way — and that has put him in a tough spot.  He clearly doesn’t want to appear as if he made a terrible blunder that cost his town hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Instead, he’s come out blaming nearly everyone but himself.

Reluctant as he may now be to do so, the Council stepped back from the gas pedal last meeting, and the started (begrudgingly) to acquiesce to the rule of law.  The Council introduced a new Ordinance, which restores the Mahwah parks policy to its pre-spring-hysteria settings.  But as has been noted, there’s been no acknowledgment that the Council did anything wrong.  No indication that the policy was abhorrent. No recognition that the divisions it created have everlasting effects on the real people of Mahwah and Bergen County.

As General David Morrison once stated, “the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.”  Take a cold hard look at the standard they chose in the video above.

Robert Hermansen should resign.  The Town should embrace their role and show proper contrition.  They should lead the way forward in a responsible manner.

  1. When the Township posts an agenda, we’ll link to it
  2. Prior to last week, Hermansen stated how the attorney wrote the ordinances, not the council, in an attempt to deflect blame onto Brian Chewcaskie, the Township attorney.  Now it’s the Mayor’s turn.  At last weeks meeting, he placed the blame for ordinances banning Hasidic Jews from neighboring Rockland County, on the Mayor who signed them into law, William Laforet.
  3. As for the censure and claims the Mayor shares in the responsibility for the Ordinances which prompted the litigation — yes, it’s true that Mayor Laforet signed Ordinance 1806 back in June. But in July, something changed.  The Chief of Police wrote to the Council and Mayor regarding issues he had regarding enforcement of the ordinance. That was the moment where those in power had a choice.  They were made aware of problems.  That was the moment paths diverged.  The Mayor took the path that led to respect for Constitutional rights and Rob Hermansen took the dark path towards exclusion and alienation.  See the History of the ordinances below.

The history of Ordinances 1806 and 1812:

For those that haven’t been following the story, there was an issue of overcrowding in parks last spring/summer when Hasidic Jews from neighboring Rockland County came to use Winters Park (and some others) in Mahwah, NJ, just over the NY border.

The public was demanding action and their screams were ugly. They contained hateful rhetoric about the nature of the “invasion” from “those people”. The Council and Mayor sought out solutions and Ordinance 1806 was introduced in early June and adopted on June 29th.  It was signed by the Mayor. All parties seemingly were ok with it.

This is pointed out by many trying to ban Hasidic Jews from Mahwah as some type of evidence that the Mayor was at fault here, the Township attorney was at fault here.   Robert Hermansen has intimated the same from the dais at council meetings.  Moral relativism is the word of the day.  Let’s look at the history.

Parks related timeline:
March 23rd: Rich Wolf writes to Council Members regarding “concern and aggravation” of residents regarding “inappropriate use of our local parks” citing large groups or parties in the parks. (email)
March 26th: Mayor Laforet cites Open Space requirements and requests the Township attorney reviews any ordinances. (email)
April 20th: Robert Hermansen confirms that Mayor Laforet is having issues regarding the enforcement of ordinance 1806 (email)
June 8th: Ordinance 1806 is introduced banning non-NJ residents from the parks.
June 29th: Ordinance 1806 is adopted banning non-NJ residents from the parks.
July 19th: Chief Batelli sends an email to the Mahwah Business Administrator & Mayor indicating problems with enforcement of the parks ordinance. (email)
July 27th: Correspondence between Mayor Laforet and Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal regarding request from Robert Hermansen wanting to install signs despite inability to legally enforce Ordinance 1806. (email)

Eruv related timeline:
July 19th: Mayor Laforet responds publicly regarding the Eruv indicating that an Eruv has gone up and explaining how the BPU “is obligated to allow these ERUV markings” and “they have NO OBLIGATION to notify the municipality” (emphasis in original email).
July 21st: Mayor Laforet emails the Council to inform thaem that he ordered the zoning official to take action regarding the placement of PVC popes on public utility poles. (email)
July 21st: Mahwah’s zoning officer sent a letter to the South Monsey Eruv Fund stating the Township requires remove of the lechis comprising the eruv from utility poles. (Letter)
July 23rd: In an email exchange, Mayor Laforet tells Pres. Hermansen that a news story was out there, Hermansen says the problem is “plain and simple” that “we want nothing on our poles” and the Mayor agrees. (email)
July 24th: Mahwah’s attorney sent a letter to Orange & Rockland stating the Township requires removal of the lechis comprising the eruv from utility poles. (Letter)


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