By David Seifman (NY Daily News)
December 16, 2012
The downfall of Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez could yield a political détente in the fierce war that has been raging for years among the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn.
The once tight-knit community has been bitterly split since the death of Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum in 2006 left two sons, Aaron and Zalman, in a blood feud over succession rights.
Lopez, the borough’s Democratic Party boss, long ago formed an alliance with the larger Zalman-led faction, which controls a huge social-services apparatus in Williamsburg.
When the “Zalies” needed government help, especially on housing issues, he was there as chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee.
When Lopez needed their 6,000 to 7,000 votes at election time, they dutifully marched in lock step to the polls.
Any friend of the Zalies was an enemy of the Aaronites, who control about 3,000 to 4,000 votes.
That made for high drama in some hard-fought elections. But it also diluted the political strength of each side.
With Lopez facing sexual-harassment charges and stripped of many of his powers, some political observers see an opening for a possible political rapprochement.
“We have never been in this situation before,” observed political consultant Michael Tobman. “Vito’s absence, combined with open countywide and citywide races where 10,000 Brooklyn votes can make a very real difference, makes a compelling case.”
Former City Councilman Ken Fisher said common sense would dictate an end to the hostilities.
“When the community was united and elected officials knew they could deliver a bloc of 10,000 votes or more, the door to the statehouse and City Hall was open to them,” said Fisher.
“When it’s net a couple of thousand votes for one side or the other and it means getting involved in controversy for those votes, it’s a less effective proposition for candidates.”
Officials who’ve had to deal with the opposing sides for years remain skeptical.
“I don’t see any evidence of this happening,” said one elected official.
But Rabbi David Niederman, who oversees the huge social-services network run by the Zalies, said practicality has always been at the heart of the community’s relationship with politicians who come looking for endorsements.
“We don’t work on political decisions,” he said. “We work on meat and potatoes.”
Niederman also disputed the notion that Lopez — his longtime ally — was a factor.
“Vito, what does he have to do with the two sides?” he asked.