Supervisor denies making comments universally condemned as bigoted

20 Sep 2018 | 12:20

— The town of Chester's deputy supervisor, the Anti-Defamation League, and Preserve Chester have all condemned comments made by Supervisor Alex Jamieson to The Times-Herald Record last week, in which he said the town's plan to buy the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center and other properties was meant to "keep the Hasidic out so that they can't control the Town Board."
Jamieson responded to The Chronicle's request for comment in an email this week: "I'm assisting residents in North Carolina affected by hurricane. Will be back Thursday."
In a Facebook post today, Thursday, Sept. 20, he denied making the comments: "As I stated to midhudsonnews and News 12, I never made the comments that were printed in the record. I also never made the comments about Hasidim and the ward vote in the town as well. Lastly, I also did not make mention of properties that the town was interested in purchasing as well."
Preserve Chester has called for Jamieson's resignation. Civil rights lawyer and Chester resident Michael Sussman said blocking property purchases based on religion is illegal and promised to fight the plan. The Anti-Defamation League of New York/Jersey is urging the New York State Attorney General to investigate.
Deputy supervisor Robert Valentine on Tuesday posted a comment online that he shared with The Chronicle stating that he and town board members Cindy Smith, Ryan Wensley, and Brendan Medican "disavow the anti-Semitic, bigoted and insensitive statements" quoted in the article.
"Having spoken to members of the Chester Town Board, I must go on record to unequivocally state that neither I nor any colleagues that serve on the Town Board have ever, nor will ever, support or condone the type of rhetoric stated in the Times Herald Record article last week," he wrote. "This headline is untrue, inaccurate, and inflammatory."
He went on to say that the land acquisition project stems from the town's comprehensive plan, adopted in 2015, that seeks to preserve "scenic vistas, farmland preservation, ridgeline preservation, historical and artistic property, wetland and endangered species areas, to name a few."
The purchases will be funded by a community preservation transfer tax, "much like our neighboring town Warwick has instituted," and bonded over time, he wrote. He said the town has over the years identified key parcels for their "unique characteristics," and compared the current initiative to the popular 2004 purchase of the Knapp's View public open space parcel on Kings Highway, which cost the town $4.1 million.
"During these planning stages, there was never any discussion about who would be living in Chester," Valentine states. "Let's be clear, The Greens of Chester was approved long ago — a dormant project without a developer at that time. The Ward System of Government was an idea brought to the town board by Preserve Chester, a group of Chester residents. This was not an endeavor of the town or any of its board members. Preserve Chester brought forth this notion clearly stating that it was to provide equal representation in all areas of the town. When it was clear that a petition to bring the Ward System to a special election would easily be provided, the town board voted unanimously to place this on the November ballot."
The 431-unit Greens of Chester housing development now under construction in the town is expected to be a mostly Hasidic community.
Valentine said every property owner in town has the right to develop their property as they see fit, as long as it is done in accordance with town code. The town board "would never look at excluding any single person or group of persons from enjoying the benefits of Chester," he wrote.
Jamieson's troubles pile upJamieson is due back in court in Albany on Sept. 25 to face charges that he stole unemployment compensation while employed as a town official. He faces one count of third-degree grand larceny and 22 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, all felonies.
But a bright spot for him was the town's decision last Wednesday night to borrow $3.5 million to buy the performing arts center from the nonprofit Mid-Hudson Civic Center for its continued use as a cultural center, and to acquire other properties for outdoor recreational activities, like swimming and running. Those attending the meeting, reported last Thursday at chroniclenewspaper.com, applauded the proposal.
Then came Jamieson's comments about blocking Hasidics. Preserve Chester says his comments were a "stain" on the community. Attorney Sussman vowed to "do what needs to be done both to petition to stop this obscene abuse of power and, if called upon, to litigate should the community support such behavior at the polls." The Anti-Defamation League is urging the Attorney General to "investigate further," not only the comments made to the Record but also the town's proposal to adopt a ward system to elect town board members, which will be on the ballot this November.
Gerald Benjamin, a professor and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, spoke to Chester residents at the senior center on June 21 about the proposed ward system.
"Hasidic citizens define their community religiously, not geographically, register to vote at high rates, are socially conservative, do not adhere consistently to one or the other major political party, and tend to vote in a block, directed by religious community leadership," he said at the time.
The following month, Benjamin apologized for a comment he made in The New York Times about Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado, who is running as a Democrat in the 19th Congressional District.
"Who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyles and values?" he was quoted as saying. He later said that commentary "is reasonably read as racist."
The statements from Deputy Supervisor Valentine, Preserve Chester, the Anti-Defamation League, and Michael Sussman are provided in full on our Viewpoints pages:
Deputy Supervisor Robert Valentine — "Long-planned preservation initiative, not bigotry, are behind property purchases": https://bit.ly/2PRUyxo
Preserve Chester — "Supervisor has done great things for Chester, but his recent comments have stained the community": https://bit.ly/2Deq2N2
Anti-Defamation League of New York/Jersey — "ADL New York/New Jersey condemns anti-Semitic comments from Chester supervisor": https://bit.ly/2PMrh7e
Michael Sussman — "I will work to block property purchases based on supervisor's bigoted comments": https://bit.ly/2PQVbaA
Related stories:"Chester to buy performing arts center": bit.ly/2piPaIF
"Ward election system to be on November ballot": bit.ly/2OCc3S7
"Vacancy by Sept. 19 will allow election of new Chester supervisor": bit.ly/2xmYHTh
"Angry residents say Chester disregards ethics": bit.ly/2wAaLAr
Editor's note: This article was updated from the original to include Jamieson's Thursday Facebook post.