Satmar Summer Camps in Catskills Battle continue, May Spill Into Brooklyn Congressional Race
Every summer, thousands of children from the Satmar Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn head upstate for summer camp, but a decade-long dispute may prevent the camp from opening this year, and the fight is seeping into a congressional race in Brooklyn. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.
A fight over cabins in the woods of the Catskills is complicating Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez's re-election bid.
"Someone injected politics here, it wasn't me. I am trying to be the voice of reason," said Velazquez.
Control over the Jewish kids' camps in Ellenville in Ulster County, a two-hour drive from Velazquez's Brooklyn district, is kicking up a decade-long feud between two sects of the Satmar Jewish community in Brooklyn: the Zalmans and the Aaronites.
"The people that are going to get hurt here won't be the politicians, it won't be the lawyers. It will be the children," said Hank Sheinkopf, a consultant for the Zalmans faction.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic Party leader, is on the Zalmans' side.
"It's a poor political decision on [Velazquez's] part, because the overwhelming number of people, if majority rules and 80 percent of them are in need and support this, it's sad that she has taken the minority position," said Lopez.
"The person that you mention [Lopez] went up there to advocate for the four camps to be given to one group," said Velazquez. "I am not advocating for that. I am advocating for all the girls."
The dispute over these camps actually began several years ago, but did not come to a head until this year. It looks like this fight could end up affecting the Democratic primary for Congress, as the Satmar Jewish community in Williamsburg has turned the tide in past elections.
Velazquez faces her first serious Democratic primary challenge in 20 years, from City Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, who is backed by Lopez.
"I cannot back someone who has no respect for what I am doing," Lopez said.
But Velazquez has others in her corner.
"Vito Lopez does not even represent this community," said Abe Rubin of UJ Care.
The Ulster County executive met with representatives of both sides on Monday, but it is still unclear whether the camp's gates will be open at all this summer.