Friday, February 4, 2011
Rothschild loses fire commission seat, goes to court
Nathan Rothschild, who lost a re-election bid for the Monsey Board of Fire Commissioners during a heavy voter turnout, has asked a state judge to overturn the results and put him back in office.
Rothschild, a businessman who also is president of the East Ramapo Board of Education, contends Orthodox Jewish community members illegally told voters at the polling place that rabbis wanted them to pull the lever for his opponent, Elye Kramer, who denies the accusations.
Rothschild said the poll watchers spoke to voters in either Yiddish or Hebrew.
In legal papers, Rothschild claims the opposition intimidated voters and a violated his civil rights.
Kramer's lawyers dismissed Rothschild's argument as sour grapes and exaggerations, contending Kramer won because of a groundswell of opposition to Rothschild and his policies after 15 years on the board.
Kramer won the Dec. 14 election 187 to 113, with an additional 51 affidavit votes cast. In previous elections, Rothschild won with 70 to 80 votes.
In legal papers seeking dismissal of Rothschild's legal action, Kramer states that "it defies credulity to think that in a three-hour period of voting during which 351 people appear and cast votes that the poll watchers spoke to and convinced 40-plus people to switch their vote from one candidate to another."
Kramer had an election team that drove more than 80 supporters to the polling place, according to his legal papers.
Kramer argued that even if some voters were told to switch from Rothschild and did so, Kramer's margin of victory was too decisive for that to matter.
"The allegations that the results of the election would have been different are stated so generally that it cannot be given credence — Rothschild failed to identify even a single voter who switched votes as a result of the alleged intimidation," Kramer's legal papers said.
State Supreme Court Justice Linda Jamieson dismissed Rothschild's claim based on state law but allowed the legal action to continue based on federal civil rights law.
Jamieson, sitting at the Rockland Courthouse in New City, ruled last month that she will allow both sides to make arguments under civil rights law before deciding the future of the lawsuit.
The Monsey Fire District, also named in the lawsuit, maintains the election complied with the law.
Rothschild, a commissioner for 15 years, said certain community leaders targeted him because he stood up for the firefighters and initiated programs for the department.
One program was to allow volunteers to get health insurance through the district, an initiative recently killed by the Board of Commissioners on the grounds of dubious legality. Thirteen volunteers are now without insurance.
"I refused to do anything that would jeopardize the entire community," Rothschild said. "My refusal incurred the political wrath of powerful people. I was told because of my responsible positions — opposition to cutting funding for firefighting activities — I would be targeted."
Rothschild said his opponents crossed the line by stationing poll watchers who told people how to vote.
"They illegally rigged the election, telling people that the rabbis changed their mind and were not supporting Rothschild and they should vote for the other guy," Rothschild's legal papers stated.
Rothschild's legal papers include affidavits from people who claim to have heard the poll watchers speaking to people in a non-English language.
Rothschild's wife, Toba, swore that poll watchers spoke with many Hasidic voters in Yiddish.
She wrote that when people said they were voting for Nathan Rothschild, the poll watchers told them the "rabbis said they changed their mind and were told by the rabbis to tell all the voters to vote for ... Kramer."
She said when one voter maintained allegiance to Rothschild, the poll watchers "brutally harassed this person."
Others who signed affidavits didn't understand Yiddish or Hebrew but swore the poll watchers spoke to voters, leading to one instance in which Ramapo police were called.
Kramer's legal papers include affidavits from poll watchers and others who swore there was no voter intimidation or politicking for Kramer.
Rothschild not only wanted the election voided and himself returned to office, he didn't want Kramer seated. Kramer was sworn in by Spring Valley Justice David Fried.
The Monsey Board of Fire Commissioners is controlled by Orthodox Jews, including Rothschild.
Only one firefighter remains on the board. The board makes decisions about the operation and funding of the fire district.
Kramer argued the lawsuit resulted from Rothschild's anger at losing the election and his loss of influence.
Kramer's legal papers claimed Rothschild tried to keep his seat by resigning with another board member. The plan was for him to then get appointed to one of the vacant seats, the papers stated.
Rothschild also is not seeking re-election to the East Ramapo school board in May, ending a 15-year run. His lawyer, Brian Nugent, works for the law firm of Dennis Lynch, once an interim lawyer for the East Ramapo School Board