Column: Did pol judge nominees by shul ties?
Sen. Whelan calls issue ‘nonsense’; pundit cites ‘multiple sources’
A blogger and radio broadcaster from Atlantic County has accused a state senator of blocking two of Gov. Chris Christie’s possible judicial nominees because they are “both from the same synagogue.”
The legislator, James Whelan (D-Dist. 2), called the issue “nonsense.”
In an April 5 column in Shore News Today, Harry Hurley wrote, “Several sources in Trenton have confirmed to me that Whelan directly objected” to the appointment of two attorneys from the town of Northfield, Jeffrey Light and Norman Zlotnick, because “they are both from the same synagogue.”
Both men are members of Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in their hometown.
Six days after Hurley’s column appeared, Christie nominated Light — but not Zlotnick — to a seat on the Atlantic County Superior Court.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence that right after my column came out the Jeffrey Light nomination was furthered,” Hurley told NJ Jewish News in an April 18 phone interview.
Hurley said he “preferred not to” explain where he heard the synagogue comment.
“Whelan did not complain when I wrote the column,” he said. “The main point is that he said it, and he did say it. Since he did not say it to me, I can’t say I am 100 percent sure he said it.”
In an April 19 interview, an NJJN reporter asked Whelan if he made such a statement.
“I am not going to get into that,” he replied. “I signed off on Jeff Light’s nomination and I will support it through the process. I have been supporting Jeff Light and advocating for him all along. Beyond that, to start trying to create some kind of anti-Semitic thing when I am in fact supporting Light — I’m just not going to go there.”
Added Whelan: “The people who have started this nonsense — and it is nonsense — are doing so for political reasons. They frankly don’t care about Jeff Light or who the next nominee is. The statement is nonsensical, and I am not going to respond to this kind of nonsense.”
In his column, Hurley asserted that Assembly Member Vincent Polistina (R-Dist. 2) “directly heard the same thing” — that is, heard about Whalen’s comment from sources.
“I heard it from somebody who said he actually heard it from Whelan directly,” Polistina told NJJN. “I would tell you it was somebody in the Christie administration but I don’t know that I would want to say the person’s name.”
“People nominated for the bench based on what synagogue they belong to is clearly inappropriate,” Polistina added.
Light is a commercial litigator at the firm of Goldenberg, Mackler, Sayegh, Mintz, Pfeffer, Bonchi & Gill, PA, in Northfield.
“Sen. Whelan has always been a supporter of mine,” Light told NJJN. “That has never been a question in my mind. I am not getting involved in this. Sen. Whelan has been close to the Jewish community for as long as I can remember. He has participated in events at our synagogue. There has never even been an issue. To imply he was anti-Semitic would be an injustice to Sen. Whelan.”
Hurley stands by his column.
“I do have every reason to believe my multiple sources that Whelan made the comment he did, that they are both from the same synagogue,” he said. “I think that is absolutely disgusting. It is reprehensible. Whelan is not denying it.”
Saying he was in “a very delicate spot,” Zlotnick, a litigator at Biel, Zlotnick & Feinberg in Northfield, declined to comment for this article.