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Fresh War Over Hasidic Bloomingburg Looms as Opponents of Hasidic Development Vow Fight

Bloomingburg is heading back to war.

Officials in an upstate New York town are preparing new efforts to fight the construction of a Satmar Hasidic village after prosecutors indicted the project’s developer, Shalom Lamm, on charges that he conspired to rig local elections.

Lamm has worked for years on a secret plan to build 5,000 homes for Hasidic families in Bloomingburg. Hasidim are already moving into his 396-unit development now under construction just outside of the village. A Satmar school is slated to open in a matter of months.

Now, opponents of Lamm’s development, which seemed a done deal just days ago, say they are discussing ways to reopen the fight.

“We will pursue every avenue available to us,” said Bill Herrmann, the supervisor of the town of Mamakating, which envelops Bloomingburg.

Herrmann, a strident opponent of Lamm’s development, said that he is in talks with the town board and its attorneys about revisiting crucial decisions made as much as a decade ago that form the foundation of Lamm’s project.

“All of the things that have gone on up until now, can all of that be reopened?” Hermann asked. “I believe that [they] can be.”

In a indictment entered in federal court on Thursday, prosecutors accused Lamm and two co-defendants of conspiring to corrupt a mayoral election in Bloomingburg by registering non-residents to vote.

A storefront on Bloomingburg’s main street in 2014, left, and late 2016. Image by Martyna Starosta / Josh Nathan-Kazis

Lamm’s attorneys have denied the allegations.

According to the indictment, Lamm and his co-defendants attempted to rig Bloomingburg’s 2014 elections after the village planning board blocked progress on their development at the end of 2013. Lamm and his colleagues allegedly submitted voter registrations listing Bloomingburg addresses for people who, some cases, had never even visited the village.

To make the registrations seem real, the indictment charges, Lamm and his associates created back-dated leases, put toothbrushes and toothpaste in empty apartments to make them look lived-in, and picked up mail from mailboxes.

For the local officials who opposed Lamm’s development, the indictment was a vindication.

“I honestly feel like Christmas came early this year,” said Kathy Roemer, a former member of Bloomingburg’s village board who was critical of Lamm’s development, and who lost her seat to a Hasidic man last year. “I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to be saying this is wrong, this is wrong, and people are like, ‘Oh, shut up, you’re being a big baby.’’”

Now, many of those current and former local officials are waiting to find out whether the prosecution of Lamm could allow them to revisit past defeats.

“Can we get our seats back?” asked James Johnson, a former Bloomingburg village board member who lost his seat to an Orthodox woman earlier this year.

While Herrmann is not ready to say what, exactly, his next move will be, he has a few ideas. He said that the village will look into reviving the many lawsuits in which it had been involved in connection with Lamm’s development. He thinks it could even be possible to revisit the original decision made in 2006 to annex Lamm’s first development, the 396-unit Chestnut Ridge, to the town of Bloomingburg. Past lawsuits aiming at reversing that decision have failed.

Mamakating’s village attorney, J. Benjamin Gailey, said that the village would consider actions in response to the indictments, but has yet to make definite plans.

Hermann also said he that he hopes to file a class action defamation lawsuit on behalf of the entire town against those who have called Mamakating’s residents anti-Semites in connection with their opposition to Lamm’s development.

In October, both Mamakating and Bloomingburg settled a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by Lamm’s company. The two municipalities’ insurance companies paid Lamm’s firm a total of $2.9 million.

A former warehouse in Bloomingburg will soon be ready to house a Satmar yeshiva for boys. Image by Josh Nathan-Kazis

The attorney who defended Mamakating in the lawsuit said that if Lamm were convicted, it would validate the concerns of the Lamm’s opponents. “If the allegations in the federal indictment prove to be true, then those people who felt that something wasn’t right here were not crazy, were not anti-Semitic,” said Brian Sokoloff.

Despite the indictment, Lamm’s firm says that his development isn’t going anywhere. “We will continue to build,” said Michael Fragin, a spokesman for the company. “And we’re going to continue to sell homes. And people will continue to move in, and the community will grow.”

Among the developments’ opponents, there is much speculation about further action against the developers by law enforcement. Herrmann said that the town has been in touch with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for years.

“We have reason to believe that more will come of this,” Herrmann said.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.


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