Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Seder Lessons: When $11.5M Won't Buy You $8.5M

My family has a new tradition - Chabad sponsored seders in Orange County for one of the two nights. As a small, outsider, not-especially-social group, our foursome usually gets our own table.

This year however, the Rabbi sat another gentleman at our table - a Christian (more on that in a bit) realtor named Bob Lawrence, who owns the Hudson Valley Realty Company. He was a nice, polite man, but he was not shy, and quickly began talking about how he has been in the news. A quick Google search verifies this.

The story revolves around Camp LaGuardia, a massive homeless shelter in Orange County, where New York City housed many homeless people. Of course, this was hugely unpopular in that community, which fought back, and won, as Camp LaGuardia was recently closed. New York City sold the property to Orange County for $8.5M.

According to Bob Lawrence, Orange County is now refusing a $11.5M offer for that same property, the reason for which is alluded to in a seemingly unrelated point in the Times Herald-Record article:
Lawrence's client has been an issue of quiet speculation. Some believe his buyer is somehow related to the Village of Kiryas Joel, a claim he disputed yesterday.

"This is not KJ," he said, referring to the densely populated Hasidic Jewish community. "My client is not part of KJ."

Why bring up Kiryas Joel? It is a Hasidic village upstate, which is, frankly, HUGELY unpopular by the other residents of the area. This has led to many clashes. The Wikipedia article does a good job of fleshing them out - disputes over water, sewage, taxation, and voting fraud. There was also a Supreme Court battle, which began over the funding for educating disabled children, but which rested on the legality of funding the schools themselves (the decision - no, state funding of religious schools is not allowed. Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist dissented).

Back to Lawrence's point - he says that the only reason Orange County won't deal with him is because he has dealt with Kiryas Joel before, and because of antisemitism generally. He claims that the first question he was asked by reporters, at the press conference he held on the subject, was if his client was Jewish. He refused to answer. The second question was why hold the press conference - to which he replied because of the first question. He says he sees similar antisemitism in many of his real estate dealings, in the press upstate. I admit, I was kind of shocked to hear all this, but don't know what to make of it. More on this is coming - I was talking to him shortly after an hour and a half interview he had with the Record.

Beyond the above, there was some interesting banter. Lawrence is meeting with Donald Trump in the next couple weeks. He mentioned his affinity to Jewish people derives from his religious beliefs, solidly Christian, unlike Catholics, whose belief in Purgatory precludes them from Christianity (I didn't really push to question him more on this point). He even mentioned that atheists admit God, when they say they don't believe in him (as I sat there quietly).

All in all, an interesting seder. This will probably spawn a few follow-ups.

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