Orange County Official Denies Anti-Orthodox Comments

NEW YORK -

Comments attributed to an Orange County official that two initiatives that his town of Chester was taking were aimed at blocking Orthodox Jews from establishing a presence drew considerable controversy. Yet in the fallout over his remarks, Town Supervisor Alex Jamieson repudiated the statements, saying that both his words and intentions had been falsified and misrepresented by the Times Herald-Record, which quoted the town supervisor in an article titled, “Chester Buying Property ‘To Keep the Hasidic Out.”

Chester is about a 12-minute drive from Kiryas Joel. Since plans for a 431-unit housing development in the town geared for members of the Chassidic community became known, public meetings and social media have been rife with anti-Orthodox sentiment.

The article in question focused on a move by the town to purchase an 8.8-acre property currently occupied by a performing arts center.

“People realize what the possibilities are,” Mr. Jamieson was quoted as saying in the Herald-Record. “The fear of KJ expanding into Chester is scaring people half to death. It’s not just the Greens at Chester [the aforementioned development]. They are buying property all around it.”

Also discussed in the article is a referendum to enact a ward system of voting, which several Rockland and Orange county municipalities have recently pursued in what is largely seen as an attempt to limit the potential influence of “block voting” by growing Orthodox communities.

On this topic, the Herald-Record quoted Mr. Jamieson, as saying that “the idea is to keep the Hasidic out so that they can’t control the town board.”

Town supervisor is itself of one several elected position in Chester’s municipal government.

In an interview with Hamodia, Mr. Jamieson flatly denied making the comments printed in his name and emphasized that he had worked closely with members of the Kiryas Joel community.

“I would never say it because I don’t believe it, and even if I did, why would I say anything as stupid as that?” he said. “I’ve respected and done business with the Hasidic community for the last 10 years here in Chester. I did not say these comments and anybody who knows me knows that I would never say that.”

Mr. Jamieson added that as Orthodox-owned businesses had opened, he had defended their right to operate and had faced strong public criticism for his accommodating stance on the Greens development.

“In the beginning, I was the one being called a ‘Jew lover’ and [they said] that I was bending over backwards for them,” he said, going on to place blame for the present controversy on the Herald-Record’s editorial staff.

“If you look at the Times Herald-Record, they look to make a story about anything going on with Hasidic development, and feed off of negativity,” said Mr. Jamieson.

Barry Lewis, Executive Editor of the Herald-Record told Hamodia on Monday that the paper stands by its story.

“Since the story about the Town of Chester buying property was published early Friday morning, Mr. Jamieson has not reached out to anyone at the Times Herald-Record to say he was misquoted and to ask for any kind of correction” he said.

A Kiryas Joel-based activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Hamodia that he found Mr. Jamieson’s denial hard to believe, and pointed to his involvement in an ongoing lawsuit on behalf of several towns widely viewed as aimed at curbing Kiryas Joel’s expansion.

Yet, Mendy Weider, who operates a business in Chester, corroborated that Mr. Jamieson had been helpful to the local Orthodox community and doubted that his intentions were to block expansion.

“He’s [Mr. Jamieson] the one that got the Greens their zoning and said at a public meeting that they should be treated like everybody else,” he said. “He’s under a lot of heat right now from people in the town, but based on my experience with him, I believe him more than the Herald-Record, which is known as an anti-Semitic paper.”