Crying Out for a Veto

For much of the past two centuries, the New York region — like much of the country — has seen significant population growth. As a direct result of this increase of inhabitants, many municipalities saw fit to annex surrounding areas.

Consider Brooklyn, for instance.

The area was once comprised of numerous small towns and villages with names like Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, New Utrecht and New Lots. One by one, what was then known as the City of Brooklyn annexed all these little towns, before Brooklyn itself became part of New York City in 1898, in a similar process known as consolidation.

At the time, many Brooklynites were deeply opposed to becoming part of New York City. In the end, the locals in both cities cast ballots and the pro-consolidation forces eked out a narrow victory.

During the next 100 years, annexation continued to be part and parcel of life in New York state. After David Paterson took over as governor in 2008, the state even released a special pamphlet titled “Consolidation, Dissolution, and Annexation of Towns and Villages How-to Guide.”

The system in which state law allows for annexation is complex and thorough. Petitions have to be submitted by the present owners of the land, and a detailed and lengthy review takes place to gauge any effect that annexation would have on the area.

The process was long considered satisfactory by the state legislature — until now, when it saw fit to pass two bills making it significantly harder for homeowners and landowners seeking to become part of an adjoining town or village.

The assemblyman who sponsored the legislation made no secret of what inspired this sudden change. In a press release, Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) was blunt about it. “It is clear that our state’s annexation process is deeply flawed. This package of legislation will enact real and effective oversight to the proposed Kiryas Joel annexation and other controversial annexation bids throughout New York,” Skoufis declared.

The bills were specifically tailored to target Kiryas Joel, even to the degree of applying one of them retroactively only to an annexation petition for which the requisite public hearing “has not been held as of May 30, 2015.” It is hardly coincidental that the public hearing seeking to annex land to Kiryas Joel was scheduled for June 10, 2015.

Unlike the Brooklynites of 1898, all of the owners of the land that would be annexed under the proposal Skoufis is seeking to prevent, have signed petitions seeking to join the village of Kiryas Joel. All of them are chassidic Jews, who would benefit from the host of services and amenities joining the village would give them.

In contrast, those who are leading the battle against the annexation don’t live on the land in question. At that contentious aforementioned hearing, those opposing the annexation made no effort to hide their motives.

“If the Hassidic community were not to grow in Brooklyn, where would you like them to go to?” the attorney for the opposition asked.

“Back to Brooklyn!” members of the audience shouted back.

While the proponents of the bills cite environmental and jurisdictional concerns, it is telling that these matters suddenly became an issue when the village in question is comprised of chassidic families.  While it is no longer politically correct — and in fact it is illegal — to discriminate against individuals because of the color of their skin, it appears to be perfectly acceptable to do so on the basis of the color of one’s hat or the length of one’s suit coat. The vitriolic rhetoric being spewed by some of those fighting against the expansion of Kiryas Joel have made it clear that no matter how well it is cloaked in nicer sounding argument, at the heart of the issue is a deep-seated hostility to “Hassidic Jews” and their way of life.

Even if these pieces of legislation wouldn’t target Kiryas Joel, there would be ample reason why they should be vetoed. As the New York State Conference of Mayors put it, in explaining its opposition to one of the two bills: “This bill would impose a significant and unnecessary impediment on the ability of local governments to create cohesive, well-planned communities that can grow and change as part of ever-evolving demographics and economies.” They also expressed opposition to the other bill.

Fortunately for the people of the state of New York, though this bill was passed by both houses of the N.Y.S. legislature, it isn’t yet law.

It is precisely for ill-advised bills like these that the N.Y.S. Constitution has granted the governor the power of the veto.

We join the call of Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union and others who are urging Governor Cuomo to exercise his authority and to veto A07629 and A07639. The people of New York deserve better.