On January 23, the newly formed Coalition to Combat Hatred and Promote Unity, a coalition of Rockland County supervisors, held their first forum at the Crowne Plaza in Suffern, New York. The forum was open to the public and was attended by a capacity crowd of approximately 300 people, representing a diverse cross-section of residents of Rockland County.
The participating supervisors include Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann, Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips, Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny, Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht, and Stony Point Supervisor Jim Monaghan. The police chiefs from each town joined the supervisors on the dais. There was a large police presence, providing additional security and ensuring the event ran smoothly.
The forum began with the five town supervisors announcing their goals to unify the community and restore a sense of peace and safety to the people of Rockland County, and their plans to begin that process. Following these announcements, the attendees broke out into small, moderated brainstorming groups for fruitful, open and respectful discussions about the current climate in the county, and how the community can best promote unity, equality and justice for all. The moderator of each group then shared the ideas with the entire forum and presented the notes from their group to the supervisors for review.
Additional opening and closing remarks were given by Monsignor Emmett Nevin, Rabbi YY Jacobson and Bishop George Langberg.
Mrs. Shoshana Bernstein of SB Writing and Communications moderated one of the breakout sessions and described what took place. “In my group, it was, overall, pleasantly uncontentious. The main questions discussed were, ‘What do you see as the big issues?’ ‘What has your town done about it so far?’ and ‘What else should be done about these issues?’ Everyone had a name tag and was given an opportunity to voice their opinion and respond to the questions. There was definite emotion and strong opinions, but people were courteous and kept their comments succinct. Rockland County is very diverse, and we are seeking ways to embrace our diversity and make it work.
“There are some very real issues,” Mrs. Bernstein continued. “For example, if zoning accommodations are made in one town, there are repercussions in the next one. We need to find a commonality in terms of acceptance of one another, more opportunities for the poor, balance the lack of appropriate housing with issues of overdevelopment, and more. The coalition plans to use the feedback from the meeting as a springboard — it is really baby steps, but at least we are taking those steps. This meeting will by no means solve all the problems, but it was a beginning, a way to get to know and understand each other. The definite consensus was that something has to change. It is deeply unfortunate that it took recent horrific events as the catalyst, but at least, inroads are being made.”
The next meeting is planned for April 30 at 7:00 p.m. in Clarkstown, tentatively at Nanuet High School.