2006-02-16 / Front Page

Recall voters give Marko the boot

New mayor, Beth Battel, says she will focus on water system, parking and school

Staff Writer

Roosevelt resident Barbara Clark goes into the voting booth to cast her ballot for mayor, while Herbert Johnson chats with Louise Baranowitz (l) and Edna Patterson at Borough Hall in Roosevelt during the recall election on Feb. 7 JEFF GRANIT staff Roosevelt resident Barbara Clark goes into the voting booth to cast her ballot for mayor, while Herbert Johnson chats with Louise Baranowitz (l) and Edna Patterson at Borough Hall in Roosevelt during the recall election on Feb. 7 The borough of Roosevelt has elected a new mayor.An overwhelming majority of voters recalled Mayor Neil Marko in a special election held on Feb. 7. During the recall election, 282 residents voted to remove Marko from office, while 68 residents wanted him to stay.

Approximately 55 percent of the borough’s registered voters cast ballots in the recall election. Of the 631 registered voters, 346 went to the polls, according to the Borough Clerk’s Office.

Residents chose to elect Borough Council President Elsbeth “Beth” Battel to replace Marko as mayor. She received 291 votes to Marko’s 67. Battel will serve as mayor until Dec. 31, 2007, when Marko’s term would have expired.

Battel, who owns and operates Footlight Farm on Route 571, said that as mayor, she will do her best to listen to everyone’s point of view and try to encourage people with opposing viewpoints to reach a consensus.

“I will listen to everyone’s input for the best of the borough,” she said.

Regarding the former mayor, Battel said, “Neil Marko’s heart is in the right place.

“He tried to do what he thought [was] best for the community,” she said, “but the way he went about trying to fulfill his ideas was not what other people felt should be done.”

Marko had held the mayoral position since 2004. Prior to that, he had served on the Borough Council.

“Neil Marko has been a good mayor,” said resident Herb Johnson while at the polls the day of the election.

Johnson, who worked with Marko on the borough’s first aid squad, voted against the recall and said that Marko contributed a lot to the town.

“The job pays nothing,” Johnson said, “but [the mayor] takes serious complaints.”

The Committee to Recall Neil Marko of the Borough of Roosevelt started garnering support last year to hold a special election in Roosevelt.

Although the committee — led by residents Dolores Chasan, Jill Joyce and Virginia M. Edwards — only needed Borough Clerk Krystyna Olejnik to verify 150 signatures on a petition to recall the mayor, Olejnik ultimately validated 210 of them. The committee then got the go-ahead to hold the special election in November.

At the polls, Judith Goetzmann, who also voted against the recall, said she was very unhappy with the recall movement. However, other residents such as Laura Gowatny had a different opinion.

Gowatny had heard both sides of the recall argument during the many borough meetings she attended. She voted in favor of the recall, saying she did so for many reasons.

“I don’t feel Neil Marko represents Roosevelt as a whole,” Gowatny said, “and when he started name calling, I took it personally.

She said she didn’t like that Marko referred to residents who opposed him as bigots.

“I am part of Roosevelt,” she said, “and I am not a bigot.”

Another resident at the polls, who declined to give his name but said he voted against the recall, said he thought the recall issue was all about the boys yeshiva, just as Marko had claimed.

The yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish high school, moved into the Homestead Lane synagogue last year while Marko was serving as the mayor, a Planning Board member and a member of the synagogue’s board of trustees.

Residents took issue with Marko for not relating what he knew about the yeshiva when he initially found out about its plans. However, recall committee members said the yeshiva issue alone and Marko’s potential conflict of interest regarding the matter were not the only reasons for the recall. Committee members also cited Marko’s failing relationships with the Borough Council and the Board of Education as reasons for the recall.

Throughout the recall process, Marko adamantly denied any impropriety on his part relating to the yeshiva. He also maintained that the sole reason for the recall was his support of the yeshiva, which opened in September at Congregation Anshei Roosevelt on Homestead Lane.

Once the election results were in, Marko said he thought he would have done better in the election.

“That’s the breaks,” he said.

Marko said the committee that formed to oust him had at least two people working on the issue full time. He called committee members “accomplished liars,” saying that if they are not anti-Semitic, they are certainly anti-Orthodox.

Marko said he will continue to be active in borough affairs, and that he plans to attend the upcoming Planning Board meeting on whether the yeshiva is violating borough zoning.

An earlier investigation conducted by borough Zoning Officer Robert Francis concluded that the yeshiva is not in violation of borough zoning. A resident has appealed the decision with the borough’s Planning Board.

Marko alleged there are people in the town who are intent on kicking the yeshiva out and destroying the synagogue.

During Marko’s last council meeting serving as mayor, which took place Feb. 6, Josh Prusansky, the executive vice president of yeshiva Me’on Hatorah, publicly thanked Marko for his support.

Referring to a famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Prusansky slightly altered it, saying, “Don’t judge us by the color of our ‘hats’ but by the content of our character.”

“No matter what,” he added, “you will always be Mayor Marko to us.”

Aside from trying to heal a divided town, Battel said that as mayor she wants to address ongoing problems with parking and the borough’s water system.

Battel’s pet project is the abandoned gas station at the entrance to the town on Route 571. She called the station an eyesore. After the borough has the property cleaned up, she said, it will either sell the land or use it as part of the borough’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) obligation.

Although she would also like to improve the town’s appearance, Battel stressed that she does not want “a police state or gated community with all kinds of rules.” She said people should be able to do what they want with their property as long as it doesn’t interfere with the community activities or affect property values.

Battel’s other priorities include the Roosevelt Public School. The borough’s elementary school has been affected by declining enrollment and state-funding limitations. Battel said she just became the liaison to the school board and plans to become more informed on the issue.

Battel said she depends on and is grateful for the help of borough employees, whom she said all go beyond the call of duty in performing their functions. She especially cited Borough Administrator Robert Clark, whom she called “very hardworking and knowledgeable.

“Clark is someone who puts in a great deal of time and lends expertise to the town,” she said.

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