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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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First chassidic woman elected in Quebec in Outremont borough

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Mindy Pollak

MONTREAL — In Outremont borough, Mindy Pollak became the first chassidic woman elected a Montreal city councillor – or to any political office in Quebec – in the Nov. 3 municipal election.

She will not, however, sit at Montreal city hall, but only on the borough council.

Pollak’s victory was also significant because her nearest rival in the Claude Ryan district was independent Pierre Lacerte, who has been a harsh critic of the chassidic communities for years.

Pollak, 24, a member of the Vishnitzer community, running under Richard Bergeron’s Project Montréal’s banner, took 35 per cent of the vote compared to Lacerte’s 28 per cent, or 860 versus 692 votes.

Pollak, who has been active in promoting intercultural harmony, appeared to be an early favourite from the time she declared her candidacy in July. But the Claude Ryan race grew more interesting with the entry of Lacerte and, then in September, of another strictly Orthodox, but non-chassidic, candidate, Sheldon (Shloime) Goldberg for the team of Denis Coderre, who won the mayoralty. Goldberg, a volunteer with the Orthodox community’s Hatzolah emergency service, came third ahead of candidates for Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal and the local Equipe conservons Outremont.

Right up until election day, the sizeable chassidic communities remained mum on which way they would vote, or even if they would act as a bloc.

Pollak is one of five Outremont councillors, including re-elected borough mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, creator of Conservons Outremont, whose goal is to prevent the borough, which has a population of just 25,000, from being merged with Le Plateau Mont-Royal.

Still uncertain the day after the election were the results in Outremont’s Joseph Beaubien district.

Independent Céline Forget, who like Lacerte, has long sounded alarms over the chassidim’s alleged violations of zoning, parking and other bylaws and the borough’s (previously a separate city’s) supposed laxity in enforcing the bylaws, was only 11 votes ahead of Projet Montréal’s Philipe Tomlinson.

None of the five councillors will sit at Montreal city hall. 

Lubavitcher Saulie Zajdel was the first and only chassid to sit on city council, representing Côte des Neiges for a quarter century.

On her campaign website, Pollak states that she “strongly believes in good neighbourly relations between citizens.”

She co-founded Friends of Hutchison with her neighbor, Leah Marshy, who is of Palestinian descent. The group is a grassroots association created in the aftermath of a bitter dispute two years ago over a chassidic shul’s plans to renovate and slightly expand on that street.

Lacerte, who operates the blog Accomodements Outremont, was a leading voice against the project, which went to a referendum that the congregation lost.

The Friends of Hutchison have held two public meetings that have been unprecedented opportunities for citizens of all backgrounds to get to know each other better.

Since 2012, Pollak, an esthetician by occupation, has also sat on Outremont’s Committee on Intercommunity Relations, and manages a food blog titled Ess Eat.

Pollak said she chose Projet Montréal, which had been the second opposition party at Montreal city hall, because she believed it was sincerely interested in bridging “the wide gap between the Outremont council administration and the chassidic community.”

Leader Bergeron is now considering his political future after his third-place finish.

Coderre found himself in hot water in the final couple of days of the campaign after a week-old video surfaced of him addressing a chassidic audience.

His opponents charge that he was engaging in blackmail and old-style tit-for-tat politics when he told his listeners: “If you want my friendship, if you want my support, don’t divide the vote,” reminding them that he is fighting against the proposed charter of Quebec values.

However, the Quebec Jewish Council, a body claiming to speak for chassidim, said that Coderre’s remarks were in no way interpreted as a threat and that the clip that aired in the media was taken out of context.

In a press release, the council stated: “We asked Mr. Coderre his opinion on a letter that circulated within our community and in which the members were invited to divide the vote between the candidates of Mr. Coderre’s team and those of another political group,” said spokesperson Mayer Feig, refusing to elaborate.

“Mr. Coderre invited our community members to support his team by voting for all the candidates of Equipe Denis Coderre in Outremont.”

Feig added that the meeting was private, and a request was made at the beginning that no recording be made.

“We denounce the fact that a meeting in our community was used for partisan political ends,” Feig stated.

Voters in Outremont cast three ballots: for city mayor, for borough mayor, and for councillor of one of the four districts.

Elsewhere, Lionel Perez, a strictly Orthodox Jew and member of Coderre’s party, was re-elected in the Darlington district in Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce. He had been serving as interim borough mayor since Michael Applebaum’s resignation in June.

The new borough mayor is Russell Copeman, a former Liberal MNA and Concordia University vice-president, who ran on Côté’s ticket. He is a convert to Judaism and a member of the Reconstructionist Congregation Dorshei Emet.

First elected in 1982, councilor Marvin Rotrand was returned to office once again in that borough.

Another three-decade veteran, Maurice Cohen, was re-elected as a borough councillor in St. Laurent.

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