Mayor revisits reasons for recall election in Roosevelt

Neil Marko says yeshiva issue revealed town’s character


Neil Marko says yeshiva issue revealed town’s character
Staff Writer

Mayor Neil Marko said there is only one reason why a recall campaign is under way in Roosevelt, but others disagreed.

Marko said residents have petitioned to remove him from office due to the presence of a boys yeshiva, or an Orthodox Jewish high school, on Homestead Lane. However, resident Jeff Ellentuck, spokesperson for the Committee to Recall Marko, said the committee and others have various reasons for wanting to see Marko removed from office.

The recall committee consists of Roosevelt residents Delores Chasan, Virginia Edwards and Jill Joyce. Beginning in mid-2005, the committee circulated a petition, which garnered enough signatures to demand a recall election, but because the wrong forms were filled out, the committee had to circulate a second petition. The second petition was also denied when the committee failed to provide a reason or reasons to recall the mayor. A third petition was later accepted, and a recall election has been scheduled for Feb. 7.

Marko said he is not planning to actively campaign to stay in office, but he wants to make people aware of his accomplishments as mayor. He said people on the recall committee have said things that were entirely untrue about his activities in office. According to Marko, the accusations that he brought the yeshiva into town were “overt lies.”

Until early 2005, Marko served as president of Congregation Anshei Roosevelt, the synagogue that now houses the yeshiva. After members of the congregation made their plans for the yeshiva known, residents alleged that Marko had a conflict of interest.

Marko said he first heard about the yeshiva proposal in late March. He said he was at borough hall when then-borough administrator, Harold Klein, told him some men had come in to discuss the possibility of putting a yeshiva in the synagogue. After the yeshiva representatives approached the borough, Marko said he told them that he would contact the synagogue to see if the congregation would be interested in meeting with them.

Once Marko learned of the yeshiva’s proposal, he said he immediately resigned his position as synagogue president, though he remained on the congregation’s board of trustees. He said Planning Board members learned about the yeshiva plans by April.

Resident Jeff Ellentuck, spokesperson for the recall committee, said, “Neil Marko is not being recalled because there is a yeshiva in town. He is being recalled for many reasons.”

While the movement to recall Marko started before the yeshiva issue arose, Ellentuck said the issue “has given him a skirt behind which to hide.”

“The yeshiva issue is primarily a zoning issue,” Ellentuck said. “However, it has highlighted [Marko’s] attitudes and approach to many people who were not previously involved in politics. These people are now galvanized.”

Ellentuck alleged that Marko has changed stories, called his opponents names, failed to disclose information and put his personal interests before those of the borough.

Ellentuck said the committee wants Marko removed from office because of his inability to work with the borough government and civic organizations, including the council, the Board of Education, the fire department and the Planning Board.

Ellentuck alleged that Marko has refused to help the public school, has used “bullying and insult” to reach his goals, has contempt for people he serves and works with, and has obfuscated and evaded the truth.

“No one I know cares what Marko’s position is on the yeshiva,” Ellentuck said. “They care that he has lied [and] been evasive, and [that he] failed to recuse himself. They are angry at his accusations and slurs.”

When asked if he is for or against the yeshiva, Marko said he thought it would be good for the synagogue.

“I think it is extremely important that government keep its nose out of affairs of religious institutions,” he said.

Marko said if he had tried to stop the yeshiva from coming into town as a public official, the move would have resulted in a lawsuit. With regard to the alleged conflict of interest, Marko said he would like to hear from his opposition what he has done to give the yeshiva favorable treatment.

Most members of the Borough Council have voiced opposition to the yeshiva, and some have made their animosity toward Marko clear. With regard to such strained relationships, Marko said he could still work with the council, adding that people who work together do not have to like one another. He said he could be effective as mayor without the council’s support.

When asked why he still wants to continue as mayor, Marko said the borough has a lot of problems and his attitude is not “just let the next guy [in office] do it.”

He estimates he puts in between 10 and 15 hours a week on borough activities. During his tenure, he said, a modern voice-mail system has replaced a cheap answering machine for the borough hall; the computer system has been upgraded; and e-mail and a broadband connection are both now available.