No end to tensions in Teaneck

TEANECK — Both sides in the hotly contested council election in this town play down their part in the long-standing feud between Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joe Ferriero and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

But here on Weinberg’s home town, that rift is impossible to avoid.

Sitting down for a roast beef and chopped liver sandwich at a kosher eatery called Noah’s Ark on Cedar Avenue, councilman Elnatan Rudolph said that, while he doesn’t hide his ties to Ferriero, his opponents are the ones making the rift an issue. He noted a campaign piece that depicted him as a wind up toy, with Ferriero doing the winding.

While Honis and the two other candidates who act as her semi-official running mates dismiss partisan politics, Rudolph doesn’t buy it.

“They can tell you that. But it’s the same people who worked for (Weinberg), the same county committee men and women, who are supporting them in the race,” he said.

Audra Jackson, one of Rudolph’s opponents, said that neither she nor any of the other candidates put out the flyer.

“It had nothing to do with any of our campaigns. It was an independent mailer,” she said. “This election has nothing to do with Loretta Weinberg.”

Rudolph is enmeshed in a particularly divisive municipal election. He and Honis are up for reelection, and Councilwoman Jacqueline Kates’s decision not to seek another term has left her seat open. Rudolph is on the town’s only official slate — “Team Teaneck” — along with Mohammed Hameeduddin and Rev. Robert Robertson. Honis, Jackson and Barbara Toffler, don’t consider themselves a slate, but for all intents and purposes have become de facto running mates. Also running independently are Ned Goldman and Howard Rose.

The tensions had already bubbled over today. Rudolph had just come from a small scuffle at a polling station in the northeast part of town, where Rudolph’s friend and campaign consultant, Keith Carbone, requested voting totals.

Poll workers at first refused. Carbone said that he had merely asked poll workers why they would not provide him with the information, at which point they argued with him and called the police. Audra Jackson, who wasn’t there, said that she understands both sides had heated words.

“It was not a pleasant exchange on either side,” she said.

A controversial comment made by Honis earlier last month had already sent political passions into overdrive. At a block association meeting, she said that electing her and not her running mates would be like sending her to the “gas chamber” – a reference to capital punishment, she said, but that her opponents, including Rudolph, an Orthodox Jew, took offense to as a holocaust reference.

“I think it’s hurt her somewhat. I’m amazed that people are not more outraged by what she said,” said Rudolph.

Rudolph’s slate seems to have the political machinery working hard on their behalf, with an RV and van – dubbed “Air Force One” and “Air Force Two” – and with signs for their candidacy plastered across town that refer to them as “The Katz Ticket,” in reference to their endorsement by Mayor Elie Katz.

Rudolph, 26, grew up in Brooklyn and moved next to his in-laws here in his wife’s native town in 2005. The next year, he won a council seat in a special election. Since then, he’s found himself frequently at odds with Honis on the council, with him most often siding with the mayor.

As the Deputy Director of the Bergen County Improvement Authority and a relative newcomer to the town, he’s been criticized as a Ferriero plant. But Rudolph says that, while he’s tight with the Chairman, it was his own decision and only because he wanted to get involved in local politics.

Rudolph said that he’s worked to get resources to a town he said has been neglected by the state and federal government, like going down to Washington to lobby for a new firetruck. A lobbyist by trade who got his start as a 13-year-old campaign volunteer for Rudy Giuliani, he said that he brings his lobbying talents to his role as a councilman. His opponents, he fears, would turn the council back into a debate society that would rather hold votes on condemning the Iraq War than address local issues.

And Weinberg, he said, is part of that problem.

“I think she’s a delightful woman. She’s like everyone’s grandma – you’ve got to love her,” he said. “But she’s not delivering for the people of Teaneck.”

Honis, a teacher, was in class and could not be reached for comment. Jackson, for her part, said that she didn’t need to specifically dispute any of Rudolph’s contentions.

“His reputation in the community has already spoken for itself,” she said. “So there’s no need to refute anything he has to say, because the residents of Teaneck already have a very good idea of what Mr. Rudolph is really about.”

No end to tensions in Teaneck