It is easy to dismiss the recent political posturing in Teaneck as mere filler during a summer lull in township affairs. With nothing substantive to fight about, one might simply suppose that Teaneck's factions are sparring with one another out of sheer boredom. All signs, however, point to the current clashes being the first engagements of the 2008 Council campaign season.
While the opposition may yet have a few surprises in store, the New Beginnings crowd and its fellow travelers seem to have tipped their hand as to their message well in advance of what could prove to be one of the most bitterly contested Council elections in recent memory. With a coordinated effort that involves packing public meetings and engaging in constant letter writing to local media outlets hammering away at the same themes, the main objective seems to be to undermine the credibility of Council majority first, and to raise questions about policy issues second. With perhaps as much to lose as it has to gain in the 2008 Council race, this faction has clearly opted to go negative, arguing that Mayor Katz and Councilmen Feit, Rudolph, and Gussen are themselves the problem. If they can gain traction with that idea, it is not much of a leap for them to attempt to persuade voters to avoid electing anyone who might align with the Council majority in the future.
It is a bit harder to discern how the Mayor will go to bat for whomever he backs for Council next year. A recent e-mail from Mayor Katz, however, seems to hold some clues. In a "Teaneck Tid-bits" message dated August 6, the Mayor includes a laundry list of accomplishments that he claims have produced "$3.6 million in tax savings this year alone." As a result of the steps taken, the Mayor writes, "we are on the road to tax savings and equity, without sacrifice to our ideals and way of life." Might the Mayor be laying the groundwork for a campaign in which he will present the record of his administration to the voters as the basis for an appeal to support like-minded candidates that will help him build on it?
Though it would certainly make for an interesting race, it is questionable whether it would make sense for the Mayor to involve himself very much in the next Council race. Why risk a repudiation by the voters in an election during which his term is not even up? Calling the question of whether the electorate is pleased with how he has performed makes little sense at this stage. While policy wonks may appreciate some of his accomplishments, the majority of the electorate knows only of what it hears and what it reads (including what it reads in its tax bills). It is doubtful that the Mayor, under continuous attack from a vocal group of detractors and powerless to deliver on his main issue in the near term- stemming the rising tide of property taxes- has enough political capital to spend much when his own seat on the Council is not at stake. On the other hand, he cannot sit idly by and allow his opponents to frame the debate and potentially snatch away his majority on the Council.
Instead of dismissing the current battles as political theater, Teaneck voters should recognize that the confrontation over the makeup of the next Township Council is already underway, with serious implications for the future course of our town.