The Will of the People Counts, Too

Politics, it seems, is more or less the same on every level. Lobbyists and campaign cash bundlers work tirelessly and devote a lot of resources to protect and advance the interests of the wealthy and the powerful. Oftentimes, this comes at the cost of the interests of the “regular” people.

A case in point, on the national level, is Obamacare. The interests of the big labor unions, for example, were protected by the White House when it exempted them from paying a fee whose purpose was to help defray the cost of covering pre-existing conditions on the health-care exchange — causing everyone else’s premiums to go up. The same is more or less true on a local level, where politicians who are usually beholden to the figures that hold the keys to elected office make decisions to help the well connected, often at the cost of the “little guy.”

Most people think that the only difference between local politics and national (or even state) politics, is how high the stakes are. They think that it is congressmen and senators who have the biggest impact on people’s lives. But while the federal government can pass sweeping legislation that affects the lives of citizens, it is municipal government that actually has an even greater effect. Issues that range from local ordinances and property taxes to budget cuts and public works departments touch the lives of every single citizen. Big money and the well connected carry a lot of weight there as well, as local politicians also need to be able to raise money for political campaigns. And as in the case of the U.S. Congress, there is the propensity for looking at the big picture, and often there are details that get overlooked. These details are usually the things most important to the average resident. In order to make sure the “regular people” and the issues that are important to them aren’t completely marginalized, it takes a very special kind of politician.

A politician who cares more about doing what is right than doing what is easy.

A politician who will make the hard call, even if it may be against his own political interests.

A politician who was accurately described as “not in the right profession, because he doesn’t make the calculations other politicians make; all he cares about is helping people.”

In Lakewood, that man is the mayor, Isaac Akerman.

Lakewood residents will not be surprised to hear him described this way. As anyone knows who has needed a helping hand when facing the bureaucracy of the rapidly growing town Lakewood has become, Mayor Akerman is the one you can turn to for help. From making sure the snow is plowed and filling potholes, to working tirelessly to bring the “Tent City” issue to a conclusion, his entire day is taken up with working on bettering the lives of all the residents of Lakewood.

It is important to point out that these are just some of the many things Isaac Akerman does that serve him no political benefit. They are the things he does because he sees his position as mayor as a vehicle to help people.

This past Thursday night, I had the opportunity to witness the mayor in action firsthand, as a proposed rezoning ordinance in my neighborhood necessitated my presence at a Township Committee meeting. Under previous administrations, the proposal (pushed by developers) would have had no problem passing, although a large portion of residents of the affected area were opposed to it. I watched as Akerman, after consulting with the township attorney, announced that since many people had issues with the plan — some requesting that their properties also be included in the rezoning, and others opposed to any wholesale change in the suburban nature of the area — it would not proceed as proposed.

After the meeting was over, many people approached him to express their opinions on this issue and thank him for the fine work he does. He described how his philosophy on issues like this one differs from that of other politicians. His attitude is that when you are proposing to do something that will impact many people’s lives, it isn’t right to force it on them by way of an ordinance. First, all the parties should sit down together and work something out that protects everyone’s interests, not just those with power. If his help is needed to work out a compromise, he is happy to help — and he has in the past. The power of the government should not be used to force things down residents’ throats.

Taking all this into account, it came as a big surprise when local media reported that it was still “undecided” who would serve as mayor in 2014. (In Lakewood, the position of mayor is filled by a member of the committee, and is chosen by the committee members every year.) For most people, on a committee that seats three Republicans and two Democrats, Akerman seems to be an obvious shoo-in for another term.

Consider this: Akerman is coming off a year in which, as the incumbent mayor, he won reelection by an overwhelming 53.6 percent. His two rivals for the position include one committeeman who was mayor the previous two years (establishing a precedent that further makes the fact that Akerman’s reappointment isn’t a given a head-scratcher) and another that got 4,500 fewer votes and won his reelection by a margin that was almost 30 percent smaller than the current mayor’s.

It seems that the fact that he routinely stands up for the rights of the regular people is not universally appreciated. The truth is, that is one of the things that makes him uniquely qualified for the position. It is safe to say that were the position of mayor a full-time job (as many say it should be) and up for direct election, Isaac would win the popular vote overwhelmingly.

I’ll close with a story that illustrates how Isaac Akerman fulfills his mandate as an ambassador for the frum community at large, and how Shem Shamayim is misahev al yado.

One night, he was concluding a speech to a crowd of about 300 constituents when his cell phone rang. As Akerman picked up his phone, he addressed the crowd.

“I’m really sorry,” he said, “but I need to take this call. It is my son, who is away at yeshivah, and he calls every night at 9:30 to study Torah with me. I will step out for a few minutes, and then I will return to take your questions for as long as youlike.”

All the political calculations could have justified Isaac missing the seder with his son just that one time. Who knows how the people who came to hear his speech would react when he made that announcement?

The non-Jewish crowd gave their mayor a standing ovation.

This is the man we are lucky to have representing us, and the man we need to continue to represent us in 2014 and beyond. A man who has his priorities in the right place, who understands what is important and what is not.

For Isaac Akerman is indeed the Lakewood community’s mayor.