This Time Around, Barbara Toffler’s Surrogate for Teaneck Town Council Is Her Husband

Apr 29, 2018 by

This year, Dr. Barbara Ley Toffler is not on the ballot herself for Teaneck Town Council, elections for which are scheduled for Tuesday, May 8, but the controversial Teaneck activist, whose antisemitic statements and extremist behavior have made her a divisive figure in the community, seems to have two surrogates who are running: her husband, Charles (Chuck) Powers, and his running mate, incumbent Alan Sohn.

Messrs. Powers and Sohn are two of seven candidates vying for four open seats on the council.

Although all candidates for Teaneck Town Council run individually without party affiliations or official running mates, they do sometimes choose to merge their campaign efforts.

Opposing the Yeshiva

Over the years, Dr. Toffler and Mr. Powers have often opposed measures seen to be beneficial to the local observant-Jewish community, especially if they might encourage more observant Jews to relocate to Teaneck.

In 2015, when parents of the highly successful Yeshiva He’Atid went before the Teaneck Town Council seeking approval to remodel an old industrial building, Mr. Powers, who was not on the council, was the only person at the meeting who spoke out in opposition. The yeshiva’s plan, which was praised by everyone else in attendance, was passed unanimously by the council.

But now Mr. Powers is running for council himself, and many are wary of the prospect.

“People love Teaneck because it is such an open and welcoming community to all. We in the observant-Jewish community have been the recipients of this warm and friendly attitude. It’s allowed us to build synagogues and schools as well as commercial establishments, but with someone like Powers on the council, it could all disappear,” said a local resident who asked that his name be withheld.

The results of the Teaneck Council elections will be felt beyond the borders of the town primarily because Teaneck is seen as a cultural and commercial center of the wider Jewish community. Many in Bergen, Passaic, and Rockland Counties, and beyond will be watching this election.

Hostile Rhetoric

The Toffler/Powers team first came to the attention of the local Jewish community in 2008 when Dr. Toffler, who, even then was viewed by many Teaneck Jews as insensitive, at best, and openly hostile, at worst, decided to run for Town Council.

Her campaign at that time consisted of rhetoric blasting “the current council majority” and “controlling members,” terms used as codes to single out the Orthodox-Jewish members of the Teaneck Town Council and their supporters.

One of her running mates that year told a campaign rally that if she were elected without Dr. Toffler, “it will be like sending me to the gas chambers.”

Dr. Toffler, a self-proclaimed “ethicist” who has been quoted in the press as saying, “I think I am one of the most ethical people I know,” never criticized her running mate for the slur.

Prejudice in the New York Times

In actions that pre-dated Mr. Powers’ objection to Yeshiva He’Atid, Dr. Toffler and her supporters publicly opposed all commercial and residential development in Teaneck, including the development of new synagogues and the expansion of existing ones.

While many in Teaneck were outraged by Dr. Toffler’s actions, few were surprised. In February 2007, she was quoted in a New York Times article about Teaneck and the growth of its observant-Jewish community.

“People worry that there’s a group that wants [Teaneck] to become an Orthodox community like some of the ones in Rockland County. [Teaneck] has always been an incredibly diverse community, and, from my perspective, I don’t want it to become any one thing,” she told Peter Applebome.

Lying

But Dr. Toffler was not through. When it became clear that her quote was proving to be politically detrimental, she reached out to former Teaneck Councilman Emil “Yitz” Stern, one of the observant community’s most popular and respected leaders, asking for guidance on how to gain the trust of the people she had offended.

Mr. Stern responded to her email by suggesting she apologize for her quote in the New York Times and then try to educate herself on the issues the observant community considers important, such as supporting synagogue expansions and bringing ratables to the community at large.

His recommendations were not to Dr. Toffler’s liking, and she rewarded him by reading his email out loud at a Teaneck Town Council meeting, neglecting to explain that she had initiated the correspondence by asking for his advice. She made it seem as though he had sent her his counsel as a demand on his own initiative, out of the blue.

At no time did either she or her husband apologize for her actions against Mr. Stern or the suggestion that observant Jews were trying to take over Teaneck and turn it into “Monsey.”

Censured

The one term that Dr. Toffler served on the council from 2008-2012 was stormy.  In 2011, she was involved in a hit-and-run fender bender in a Teaneck parking lot and did not report it. The incident, however, was caught on camera.

Her reaction after being sent a summons prompted the council to censure her for making “erroneous and unsupported” accusations against Teaneck’s police chief, town manager, and then-deputy mayor. The council’s condemnation resolution also cited Dr. Toffler’s interference with public requests for documents under the Open Public Records Act and for creating a “hostile work environment.” According to the report, she actively tried to prevent a resident from discovering information relating to her hit-and-run incident.

Her bid to have the Teaneck Town Council’s censure overturned was denied.

Adding insult to injury, Dr. Toffler also tried unsuccessfully to force Teaneck to cover her legal fees for the futile suit.

Racism

It was not the first time Dr. Toffler had made accusations against members of the Teaneck Town Council. At a council meeting in 2010, she compared racial relations in Teaneck to South African apartheid, prompting at least one resident to characterize her as a “race-baiter” who had belittled not only Teaneck’s councilmembers, but “all citizens of Teaneck.”

Over the years, Dr. Toffler has publicly accused Orthodox-Jewish council members of “racism” and of blackmailing an activist in Teaneck’s African-American community in order to win his support. Both the accused councilmen and the African-American activist vehemently denied her charges.

Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, the town’s first Muslim elected official whose close relationship with the observant-Jewish community has been cited as an example of interfaith relations at its best, publicly concluded that Dr. Toffler “does not even understand the definition of the word ‘racism.’”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Toffler never managed to win a seat on the council again, but many consider her husband, Mr. Powers, to be little more than a stand-in for the former censured councilwoman.

There is no indication that Mr. Powers ever distanced himself from his wife’s actions or words.

The same is true of Mr. Powers’ running mate, Mr. Sohn, a member of the Orthodox community and a long-time political ally of Dr. Toffler. Her involvement in Mr. Sohn’s candidacy in 2014 caused him to be dubbed her “token Orthodox Jew.”

Besides Messrs. Powers and Sohn, the others competing for the four open seats on the Teaneck Town Council are incumbents Elie Y Katz, currently Deputy-Mayor, and Gervonn Romney Rice; James Dunleavy and Keith Kaplan, who are running together on a slate called “Teaneck Citizens Working for You;” and Clara Williams.

Related Posts

Tags

Share This