Lakewood, NJ – For a man who had lived here only one year, Bill Hobday felt remarkably secure as a candidate for Township Committee in early 2002. He already had Republican Party backing and faced no opponent in the June primary.
The only matter left was a meeting … a courtesy, he thought … with local Orthodox Jewish leaders who called themselves the Vaad.
Hobday wasn’t prepared for what followed. Within a week of that interview, the Vaad issued a newsletter telling the Jewish community to write in another candidate’s name on Election Day, that of 28-year-old Air Force chaplain Menashe Miller. The bulletin was headlined, “We MUST Knock Out Bill Hobday!!!”
Five days later, 3,732 ballots were cast for Miller, defeating Hobday by a 60 percent margin. It was one of only a handful of times in Ocean County history that a write-in challenger ousted an official candidate in a municipal election.
“I was unfamiliar with the power structure here,” said Hobday, now 68. “It was a terrible shock to us.”
Scroll forward eight years to 2010, and it’s the Vaad that’s now experiencing a jolt … one so intense a local official likened it to an “Orthodox Tea Party” backlash.
Known as a potent political force able to steer entire voting blocs, this body of rabbis, businessmen and government liaisons was unable in recent months to muster enough Orthodox community support for its most established darling.
In this bubble of rigid customs and clear hierarchies, a consensus has formed that the grip of the old order is slipping as technology and new thinking take hold.
It is struggling, they say, to keep up with an expanding Orthodox population as fresh voices speak out and the economy shifts personal priorities.
“We’re at a point where the community has minds of its own and does not just follow recommendations without understanding them,” Vaad member Avrohom Moshe Muller said. “It puts us in a different position.”
Some Lakewood leaders argue that a splintered Orthodox constituency may hurt the town’s influence at the state level. Others see the diminished leadership role as a healthy swing toward an open political system.