Readers Write: Reflections on the Great Neck school board election

The Island Now

Now, thankfully, that the Great Neck Board of Education election is behind us, it is important to reflect on what this election was really all about and why there were such strong feelings on both sides.

But first, it is important to note that while the turnout was somewhat higher than in previous elections the percentage and the actual number of eligible voters who did so was still embarrassingly low.

This was a watershed election with respect to the future of our schools and community and we failed to arouse the residents.  I think people are so used to having a smooth-running, highly successful public school district, with superb professional administrators, that they assume that it really doesn’t matter who is on the board. This is especially true for those who do not have children in the system.

As for the candidates and the campaigns, in truth, there were really no substantive issues.

Mr. Glickman’s platform came down to his assertion that Ms. Berkowitz has been serving too long and it is time for a change.  He could not point to any specific complaints, problems or issues. Just that it was time for her to go.

Her years of experience and historical knowledge of how our schools operate and how issues have been addressed over time were totally discounted.

Furthermore, Mr. Glickman offered no new or creative proposals for how he would improve the performance of the Board.  And if a new, fresh and younger perspective is needed, Mr. Toch, the successor to Don Ashkenase, was guaranteed a spot on the board.

Ms. Berkowitz clearly was able to tell her story of years of highly competent, respected and successful leadership, and had the strong support of all the education professionals, past and present, and leading representatives of the parents of current students.

No one ever claimed that the Great Neck Public Schools are perfect, but any comparison with other districts, locally and nationally, has consistently shown us at the top.

So, again, what was this all about and why did so many people vote for Mr. Glickman?

The majority of his votes came from people not concerned about any specific complaints about our schools or the board.  There were those with personal animosities and agendas, but the charge against Ms. Berkowitz was led by people whose actual objective was to further divisions in our community.

Attacking a long-time respected member of the board, and replacing her with someone over whom they had great influence was their goal.  And it was fueled by two Big Lies they promoted.

The first Big Lie was told by well-known extreme right-wing provocateur Jeffrey Wiesenfeld.

In a letter to this newspaper, he once again claimed that the Berkowitz campaign was part of an effort, led by me, to have a Democratic Party takeover of school leadership.  This was a repeat of the same strategy he utilized in the last election in the Village of Great Neck.

The Berkowitz campaign had the involvement of people of all political leanings and I challenge Mr. Wiesenfeld to find one scintilla of evidence of political partisanship.  (He also repeated, in his original letter, his scandalous accusations that I harbor antisemitic and anti-Orthodox intentions.

Outcries of protest from prominent members of the community, including from Ms. Andrea Bolender, my successor as chair of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, led the editor of this paper to remove that accusation from Mr. Wiesenfeld’s letter.)

His goal was to encourage people to vote as if this was a political and ideological battle and he spouted nonsense about the liberal and antisemitic environment in our schools and curricula.

We are well aware of the political divisions in Great Neck, which are occurring all over the country, and there is nothing wrong with that.  It just doesn’t belong in a school board election.

The second Big Lie is even more dangerous.  A Mr. Emil Hakimi, someone I do not or care to know, posted this on social media: “Barbara Berkowitz is openly hostile towards all the Persian Communities here on Great Neck.  We have an opportunity to remove her today, by voting Michael Glickman for the Board of Education seat.”

There could not be a more blatant effort to smear a candidate and appeal to his fellow Persians to vote out of fear or hate.  This kind of thinking could be the death of our community and the environment of tolerance, respect and comity that we’ve worked so hard to foster.

So, Big Lie number one was that the election of Mr. Glickman was critical to stopping a liberal Democratic takeover of the Great Neck schools, and BIG Lie number two was that it was urgent to remove an anti-Persian bigot.

Unfortunately, too many people fell for the lies and apparently did not care what it meant for the future of the community. Mr. Glickman should have shown some integrity and disassociated himself from these lies and I urge him to do so now.

We owe a great deal to those who voted for Ms. Berkowitz based on her record and the success of our schools, and to those who understood who was behind the Glickman campaign and their true intentions.

Steven Markowitz
Great Neck

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