Gov. Hochul Visits New Square and Kiryas Joel as an Advocate and a Friend
By Yehudit Garmaise
Three months after assuming office as the leader of New York state, on Monday afternoon, Gov. Kathy Hochul took the time to visit two heimish communities to get to know her constituents and to talk about the policy issues that are relevant to the neighborhoods’ residents.
Gov. Hochul, who community members agreed was “warm and personable,” joked that she was thankful to be invited to New Square because she was “ready to leave Albany for a change of scenery,” said Shimon Posen of Monsey.
First, Gov. Hochul visited in a friendly meeting with community leaders at the Refuah Health Center in New Square to discuss the variety of healthcare services and the large number of vaccinations the center provides.
“Gov. Hochul said that everyone should get vaccinated because that is the only way we will stop COVID,” said Posen, who noted a sign in the health center that keeps track of the tens of thousands of vaccines the center administers. “Most people are getting vaccinated because the grand rabbi of New Square got vaccinated early on.”
Gov. Hochul, who said she loves newborns, was happy to hear about Em b’Yisroel, which is downstairs in the building of Refuah Health.
“When I was a new mother, I never had such a nice experience or facility,” Gov. Hochul said about the special space in which kimputerim can relax and recuperate.
Community members were sure to express their gratitude to Gov. Hochul for both her strong condemnation of anti-Semitism and hate crimes, and her release of state funding that will finally go to provide extra security for Jewish schools and institutions.
“We were waiting for the funds for a few years, and Cuomo never did it,” Posen pointed out, “but Gov. Hochul made it happen three weeks after she was sworn in.”
“Hate has no place here or anywhere,” said Gov. Hochul said, who told a story about a Jewish boy who was asked her, after a terrible spate of hate crimes in New York, whether he should wear his yarmulka.
“She told the boy to wear his kippa, that this can’t happen in NY, and that he should not be scared to walk around with his head covered,” said Posen, who recalled that Gov. Hochul said, “There will be no hate crimes in this state.”
After discussing the needs of New Square to improve its roads, Gov. Hochul made the 30-minute drive to Kiryas Joel, where she was welcomed by Mayor Abraham Weider, Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin, and 10 other community leaders to discuss the $94 million 13.5 mile pipeline that is currently under construction to deliver more water to the community: the state’s fastest growing municipality.
“Without access to clean water, there is no way the community can continue to grow at the pace it is,” explained Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, who explained that KJ, whose population has grown to 33,000 in the last 44 years, has enough water for now, however as the community continues to grow, more water will be needed: not just for drinking, but for showers, washing dishes, and mikvaos.”
As Gov. Hochul considers how to spend New York’s share of the $555 billion infrastructure bill that the US House of Representatives passed on Friday night, she asked to be briefed on how she could help KJ to create its new pipeline and help to shoulder its financial burden, which would be arduous to the town’s taxpayers.
In fact, Mayor Weider, who is KJ’s longest serving mayor joked that he doesn’t want to raise the taxes on his residents of KJ because then “term limits might be imposed.”
“She was extremely sympathetic, and she understood that greater access to water is vitally needed to ensure the growth of the community,” said Friedlander, who explained that while KJ currently accesses its water through wells, the pipeline will connect the village to the same vast system of aqueducts that supply fresh water to New York City.
While the Senate has yet to vote on the infrastructure bill, Gov. Hochul’s meeting with KJ’s officials was instrumental in jumpstarting the process of securing infrastructure funding for the pipeline.
Gov. Hochul, who is from Buffalo, where she served in local politics for many years, could better understand KJ’s need for better access to water than would a New York City-based elected official, Friedlander said.
“All the water upstate is well-based, and so she really could relate to and understand the preciousness of a large water source, such as the city’s vast aqueduct system, which is one of the world’s largest,” Friedlander said.
All the community members who attended the meeting with the governor in both New Square and Kiryas Joel reported that she is much more personable and sympathetic than New York’s former governor Andrew Cuomo.
“She was very eager to learn,” said Friedlander, who said that in KJ, Gov. Hochul was especially delighted to visit the Kimpaturim Heim: a type of facility about which she didn’t know, but about which she was pleasantly surprised to see exists for heimish women.
“Gov. Hochul had never seen anything like that before, and she was very amazed,” said Ushi Teitelbaum, who attended the meeting. “She loved it, and she got to see, from the facility’s third floor, very nice view of the community’s sprawling and beautiful vistas.”
Unlike Cuomo, Teitlebaum explained, Gov. Hochul is trying to cultivate good relationships with heimish communities.
“She is really friendly and sincere,” said Teitlebaum, who added that the governor was “personal, charming, and articulate.” “Gov. Cuomo would have never come to Monroe to listen to the people, listen to the community leaders, and she did.
“She wants to be there for the people: listen to issues and problems, and solve everything and anything that she has the power to do.”
“She is very collegial,” Friedlander echoed. “She has a very pleasant demeanor surrounding her: with no drama.
“You don’t get the sense that you are sitting across the table from this powerful governor. She makes everyone feel very comfortable.
“You can get the sense that you are addressing an advocate who wants to help you.”
Photo by Shimon Posen