LAKEWOOD – Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski, the unelected political boss of Lakewood, and a leading member of the Lakewood Vaad, made some telling remarks about local politics in a recent interview with a local news outlet.
The selection of Democrat Ray Coles as the new mayor of Republican-heavy Lakewood took many by surprise, but the words of Orthodox-heavy Lakewood’s most politically influential rabbi were perhaps the most revealing.
“We felt … that it doesn’t make a difference if the Township Committee members are Republicans or Democrats,” Rabbi Schenkolewski told a reporter from The Lakewood Voice in an interview following the selection of Coles.
Democrat Now Mayor, But GOP Professional Services Contracts Remain Intact
Elaborating, the rabbi, who also serves as a commissioner on the Ocean County Board of Elections, said that Coles, a Democrat, being selected as mayor was inconsequential, since many of the professionals hired by the township are still aligned with the Republican party.
“[However] since there is a Republican majority we left all of the other jobs Republican like the engineer,” he added.
The engineering firm hired by Lakewood is none other than GOP firm Remington, Vernick & Vena, a firm hired throughout Ocean County for municipal engineering work in Republican-controlled towns.
But despite those comments, Rabbi Schenkolewski still praised the pro-growth & development Mayor Coles as a “mentsch” and a unifier despite not being affiliated with the township’s Republican majority.
“With all of the divisiveness this year, we felt that we should get someone up there who would be agreeable to everybody.”
Lakewood Vaad Remains Politically Powerful
The Lakewood Vaad, Lakewood’s rabbinical council, continues to show its influence in political affairs, with Schenkolewski’s comments being indicative of this trend.
In Lakewood, the über-influential Vaad controls a sizable bloc of voters, a bargaining chip that gives Lakewood’s political leaders extra leverage with county Republican leaders. The Vaad’s endorsement has been known to make or break candidates in many cases, with the Vaad having successfully backed write-in campaigns in the past, a feat that has been nearly impossible in most cases elsewhere. Candidates seeking the Vaad’s endorsement have been known to appear before Rabbi Schenkolewksi, among other Vaad representatives before the organization makes their official endorsements.
Notably, before State Senator Bob Singer (R-Island Heights) secured a state bailout bill for Lakewood courtesy busing earlier in 2016, Rabbi Schenkolewski once encouraged Lakewood parents to drive their children to school in a coordinated display intended to congest Lakewood’s already congested streets to protest a cut to courtesy busing in 2014.
Schenkolewski, for his part, remains influential both at the Lakewood level and in dealings with the county. At Wednesday’s reorganization meeting of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the freeholders repeatedly mentioned and thanked Rabbi Schenkolewski, among other dignitaries in attendance at the meeting.