Mayor Richard Muti addresses Ramsey residents in Veterans Park on Memorial Day, 2012.


Reports from a native son.

Ramsey and Mahwah residents are not anti-Semites

Orthodox Jews from Rockland County, New York, have been venturing into northwestern Bergen County towns – most notably, Mahwah and Ramsey – not to take up residence (at least not yet), but to use local taxpayer-supported parks and recreational facilities and to set up outdoor zones (eruvs) where members of their sect can avoid its strict prohibitions on Sabbath activities. Opposition to this intrusion has been met with accusations of anti-Semitism, by lawyers representing the Orthodox community and, most recently, by the editorial page editor of The Record, Alfred P. Doblin.

Mr. Doblin calls attempts to exclude out-of-staters from local parks and to block the establishment of eruvs within Mahwah "a civil and a moral crime." To be blunt, he adds, "[t]he people who say they don't want THOSE people are bigots, and in this case, also anti-Semite. If you don't want Jews living in your neighborhood, you're an anti-Semite. It is what it is by definition." Mr. Doblin fails, I think, to give adequate weight to a legitimate and not irrational concern of residents. We've seen what has happened in Rockland County and in Lakewood, New Jersey, where large settlements of Orthodox Jews, who constitute a monolithic voting bloc, have taken control of local government and school systems, to the detriment of public education. And we don't want that to happen to our communities.

Frankly, towns like Ramsey and Mahwah were no different from the rest of society in the early part of the 20th century, when not only anti-Semitism, but anti-Catholicism, anti-foreigner and anti-everyone with a darker skin tone were prevailing sentiments. My two southern Italian grandparents – illiterate and poor, as well as dark-skinned – settled in Ramsey in 1911, when only a handful of Jews and Italians lived there. My father distinctly remembered watching, as a nine- or ten-year-old, a Ku Klux Klan parade down our Main Street. Who knows which Ramsey government leaders were proudly marching through the center of town under cover of their white hoods and sheets? My father's age would have put the event in 1922 or 1923, a time when the Klan was resurgent in the nation and gaining a foothold in northern states like New Jersey.

The Ramsey Golf and Country Club, first developed in the late 1930s/​early 1940s, had deed restrictions preventing the sale of property to Jews and blacks, as did most exclusive enclaves at the time. In the 1950s, the Ramsey Board of Education blocked a popular and qualified sixth-grade teacher, a Jew, from appointment as a principal in the Ramsey school system because of his religion. It wasn't publicly given as the reason, but according to one school board member's account, related to the teacher, himself, that was the reason. (He was my sixth-grade teacher and is still alive--a friend and mentor to this day.)

But Ramsey has evolved, just as the nation has, despite the horrible occurrence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the disgusting response to that outrage by our president. Those deed restrictions at the RGCC are gone, and blacks and Jews have served on that club's board of directors and, indeed, as president of the club. My father grew up to become a prominent businessman in Ramsey, president of the Chamber of Commerce, president of the Republican Club, and president of the Borough Council. That same Jewish sixth-grade teacher later became superintendent of Ramsey public schools.

On a recent Sunday, I stopped by Finch Park, Ramsey's large recreational complex. A half-dozen New York-licensed cars were parked in the lot adjoining the children's playground, and I could see kids cavorting in the sandbox and on the swings and other paraphernalia, under the watchful eyes of their parents. Six of the seven ball fields at Finch lay unused in the afternoon sun. On the one field in use, a father, dressed in traditional Orthodox clothing, pitched batting practice to his 10- or 11-year-old son – a vision of the great American pastime in microcosm. The scene reminded me of Chaim Potok's great book, The Chosen, set in late 1940s Brooklyn. An anti-Zionist Hasidic sect was at odds with more secular Jews, who favored a free Jewish state in the Middle East. The warring factions were brought together by the two sons of their respective leaders, sons who met on a ball field.

Personally, I don't mind if Orthodox Jewish families from Rockland County take an afternoon's worth of recreation in Ramsey, so long as Ramsey residents are not deprived of access because of overcrowding. But I won't stand still for one minute if I see a threat to my hometown or the school system that educated my father and me and dozens of my family members. Our community is not bigoted and not anti-Semitic, just as Mahwah and other communities facing this dilemma are not bigoted and not anti-Semitic. And we resent being labeled as such.

Ramsey's Downtown Train Station

One of the many things that define Ramsey is its unique downtown, anchored by the train station that has served our town, originally named "Ramsey Station," for more than a century. That structure, beautifully restored by the state during my term as mayor, at no cost to local taxpayers, also happens to be the oldest continuously-operated train station in America.

Apart from aesthetics, the downtown train station is the backbone of our business district. Close it to the hundreds of commuters who use it every day and you risk shuttering dozens of local businesses that depend on those transients for a good part of their revenue.

I support Mayor Dillon and the borough council in their efforts to make the downtown station and its crossing safer for everyone while, at the same time, keeping that vital link to our past, our present and our future open for business.

Governor Christie's Book Deal

New Jerseyans determined to dynamite the political swamp down in Washington should look closer to home for quagmires to drain – like the one just off exit 7A. In a deal that smells more like out-and-out bribery than statesman-like compromise, the Democrat-controlled legislature is about to scuttle a law that prohibits Governor Christie from cashing in on a book contract while in office, in exchange for Christie's acquiescence on increasing each legislator's office budget by $30,000.

I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies – "A Man for All Seasons." Richard Rich has just lied through his teeth to help convict Sir Thomas More of treason. As Rich leaves the witness stand, More, in the dock, notices a badge of office dangling from the man's belt.

"Master Rich," More says, "may I inquire – what does that badge signify?" Rich responds that it is the badge of his new post as Attorney General for Wales. Sir Thomas' retort is magnificent: "It profits not a man to give up his soul for the world, Richard . . . but for Wales? For Wales?"

I'll paraphrase another great movie, "Casablanca." Rick listens to Ugarte brag about he visas he helps refugees get at a cheaper price than Ferrari, his competitor. Rick replies that he doesn't object to a thief who preys on the weak and helpless. He merely objects to "a cut-rate one."

Trenton politicians should go to the movies more.

Is the Ramsey pool the right site for a community/​senior center?

Practically all those attending the June 1 public hearing in Ramsey about the proposed community/​senior center approved of the idea of a new community/​senior center. The only point of contention seemed to be the site the mayor and council had chosen for the facility. Many, including the chair of the Ramsey Pool Commission, felt that grafting a community/​senior center onto an award-winning pool facility would detract from the enjoyment that 3,500 Ramsey citizens receive from using the pool each summer.

About half the standing-room only audience on June 1 – mostly younger parents – opposed the pool site for the project and wanted assurances that the mayor and council had explored all other alternatives; the other half – mostly seniors – would brook no further delay in replacing the inadequate building seniors are now using at Finch Park. In my opinion, both sides may be right. Seniors deserve a proper setting, as do other community groups who have insufficient space for carrying out their activities.

If the mayor and council did thoroughly explore other sites for the new center, they haven't made that case to the public. One citizen suggested a large, under-utilized parking lot across from Borough Hall as a potential site for the community-senior center and received no response that the governing boy had even considered that location. There may be other sites. For example, we have, right in the center of town, a dirty, unsightly recycling center that occupies several acres of borough-owned land. Why not explore a potential agreement with Mahwah to jointly use its new recycling center off Franklin Turnpike and convert our existing facility into a higher and better use?

This issue threatens to drive a generational wedge through the heart of our community. The mayor and council should heed the warning signs and act accordingly.

Free speech, even when it's not politically correct

You have to admire politicians who stand on principle, even when the unpopularity of their stance threatens their reelection. Rep. Scott Garrett voted against a bill banning the display of the Confederate flag on graves in federal cemeteries, calling it a violation of the First Amendment. He's right.

In 1977 the Nationalist Socialist Party of America (NSPA) wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois. At the time, Skokie had the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Local officials denied the neo-Nazis a parade permit, and the NSPA sued. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which referred the matter back to Illinois courts.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that “the display of the swastika, as offensive to the principles of a free nation as the memories it recalls may be, is symbolic political speech intended to convey to the public the beliefs of those who display it.” Later, a federal court upheld the ruling, declaring unconstitutional local ordinances designed to block the march.

We wouldn't need the First Amendment if all it protected was popular speech. It was designed by the Framers to protect unpopular speech, speech that goes against the accepted grain of thought. Speech that upsets, that disturbs the status quo. It is that very principle that sets us apart, that makes this country great . . . great right now. Politicians who stand on principle are rare. We should keep them around, even when we don't agree with them on every issue.

President Donald J. Trump

Remember when we speculated that NJ Governor Chris Christie's abrasive manner wouldn't play well in the heartland of America, where people were too polite and civil to accept an obnoxious bully as a presidential candidate? Ta---daaa! Introducing Donald J. Trump, the "presumptive" Republican nominee for President of the United States and leader of the free world and, in my opinion, probable next president. In 1920, the great American satirist and acerbic wit, H. L. Mencken, gave his take on the future of the American presidency. Take a moment to read it and reflect.

"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Selected Works

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"Richard Muti's essays are smart and provocative, personal and political."
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As this eBook is published, Gov. Chris Christie enjoys a 72 percent approval rating, the highest level attained by any governor in New Jersey history. Yet, the man still evokes passionate feelings from supporters and foes, alike.
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