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Kaplan and Dunleavy Aim for Teaneck Council

Last summer included a shocking wake-up call for many Jewish residents of Teaneck, considering that at the northern end of the county an eruv built by Orthodox Jews was fought with the most astounding show of anti-Semitism the county had witnessed in decades. Keith Kaplan, who is teaming up with fellow Teaneck resident Jim Dunleavy to stand for Teaneck Town Council, was one of the strongest and clearest voices defending the Jewish community’s constitutional right to religious�freedom, this time in the form of the Rockland-Bergen Eruv.

Kaplan has lived in Teaneck for the past 11 years. His family are members of Shaare Tefillah, associate members at Netivot Shalom and with his wife, Stacy, an in-house corporate attorney, they have three children and are BPY parents. Kaplan’s 20 years of experience as a law clerk at an international law firm has given him extensive experience in reviewing and advising attorneys on rules and regulations, as well as keeping track of every aspect of complex cases throughout various courts. This particular skill led him to discover that Mahwah had taken Green Acres funding, thus ensuring that the various rules and regulations Mahwah had established to keep undesirable persons out of their parks were against state law. It was Kaplan’s work as a tireless reviewer of regulations, in fact, that led the Bergen County District Attorney’s office, and later the State Attorney General’s office, to begin investigating and eventually charging Mahwah with a three-pronged lawsuit alleging bias-related violations.

“The work I did fighting for civil rights in Mahwah, Upper Saddle River and the surrounding towns had a profound impact on me,” Kaplan told The Jewish Link. “We were able to bring together groups that typically may not be on the same side of many issues (e.g., CAIR, the Council on Islamic Relations, The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the NAACP) as well as other local and state officials—because I stressed the importance of civil rights for everyone. This wasn’t a battle for Jews alone. It was a battle for our shared values,” he said.

Those diverse but shared core values have brought Kaplan to stand for council with Dunleavy, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bogota, and to work and play closely over the years as well with neighbors on his block who are Turkish, Quaker, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and Asian, among other nationalities. “We have seven languages spoken that I know of, and the smells from the food are fantastic,” he said. “That’s the type of Teaneck we should be looking to replicate. We need to bring groups together and seriously discuss what binds us. That’s what eventually crushed the hate and vitriol permeating through Mahwah. Well, that and leaders who wouldn’t let it pass unnoticed,” Kaplan said.

Dunleavy also learned something important from the Mahwah experience, commending Kaplan for his role. “While not Jewish, I am an American, and any form of quashing a religious group’s ability to practice their religion, especially when it does not encroach on others’ ability to live and worship, is unacceptable to me. Teaneck is a much more inclusive community, to be sure. It is something, though, that has to be worked on and continually nurtured. More interaction between all our communities in town is necessary for us to continue to be the example that other towns look up to,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy is a 31-year resident of Teaneck, having grown up in the Bronx and Yonkers. He is a doctor of physical therapy and works as the administrative director of rehabilitation services at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. Jim has been married for 35 years; he and his wife Mary have two daughters who attended Teaneck public schools. He has been active for many years in youth sports in Teaneck, especially soccer.

Dunleavy was a trustee on the Teaneck Junior Soccer League, where he also served as vice president during Dr. Ken Hoffman’s term as president. During that time “I ran practically every age division at some point, but most of my work was organizing and running our instructional division. Imagine 150 to 200 5-year-olds, in team uniforms, playing organized soccer for the first time! It was great fun. In addition, I coached our teams in the winter indoor program where we traveled around the county playing teams from other towns. Wonderful learning experiences for our children. My wife and I were avid supporters of the Teaneck High School soccer program that our two daughters played in,” he added.

“While I am not on the Teaneck Junior Soccer League Board anymore, I am still active in youth soccer. We developed, under TJSL, a soccer program for children with special needs, at the time the only one in Bergen County. We currently run six-week sessions in the fall and winter and we are looking to expand the program to spring and summer,” Dunleavy said.

In addition to national boards he has served on related to his work in physical therapy, Dunleavy sits on the Votee Environmental Advisory Board, and Kaplan has been a member of the Teaneck Planning Board since 2012, having served as secretary and now as vice chairman. “I’m a member of the PPRAB (parks, playgrounds and recreation advisory board), which advises the council. I was also the liaison and commissioner on the environmental commission,” Keith added.

Kaplan’s experience on the planning board gave him tips he hopes to bring to council. “The planning board has taught me how to effectively collaborate on issues as well as the ‘not always obvious’ ways in which municipal government operates. It’s given me a perspective on how the rules were crafted as well as enabled me to find solutions within the system to problems that stymie residents and businesses alike,” he said.

Kaplan added that his approach to dealing with township challenges starts with education and learning about the issues in-depth. “I want to find out why the particular challenge exists. Was it created as part of a solution to another problem? That’s crucial, because simply eliminating a fence without knowing why it was put up could bring the old problems back. After I learn about an issue, I go to those in charge of the departments affected, the manager and my colleagues to discuss ideas and solutions. I want to make sure that if we address, say, parking issues, we aren’t merely punting the issue to the next block,” said Kaplan.

On the planning board, Kaplan said he found success in removing requirements for homeowners to obtain pricey property surveys to repair things like walkways or AC slabs for simple but essential work. “I was also able to eliminate issues that made businesses less likely to choose to open in Teaneck, such as uniformity clauses that towns around us had abandoned a long time ago and required costly appeals and experts, as business owners appeared before boards like mine.”

Kaplan was enthusiastic in supporting Dunleavy as his running mate. “I’ve known Jim for years and he’s a true leader when it comes to shaping the futures for our kids through the rec programs,” said Kaplan. “He has a strong foundation in strategic planning through his professional affiliations at Trinitas. But one of the best things about him and why I chose to run on a bracket with him was the fact that when we discuss ideas and our vision for Teaneck, we each bounce ideas off of each other and they are just a little better than before.

“He’s not afraid to tell you why you may be wrong, and he comes from a place of collaboration rather than hostility. That’s something we sorely need more of today,” said Kaplan.

“I want to be sure we can pass on to our children a township they are proud of and want to live in,” said Dunleavy. “I believe over the past four years our council has been too dysfunctional and focused at times on personal rather than the residents’ agendas. Arguments simply to obstruct others are not productive. My experience in working on many boards, with persons from throughout the country, gives me the experience to be an effective leader in a council structure.

“I am an open, contemplative decision-maker who prides himself on listening to all sides before making a decision. My focus in decision-making will be what is best for the township, not special interests. I want to contribute to a positive change in the functioning of our council.

I also wanted to run to see how I can help with a more strategic planning approach to our issues. We can get caught in just-in-time thinking that may cost us more money than a more planned approach might. Certainly emergencies happen and have to be addressed, but with better planning we may be able to be more cost-effective in our township management,” added Dunleavy.

Kaplan and Dunleavy are running for two of four available seats on the township council. The election is May 8, 2018. Running for reelection are Councilmembers Elie Y. Katz, Gervonn Rice, Alan Sohn. Clara Williams and Chuck Powers are also running.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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