TEANECK Kevie Feit, a 34-year-old resident of this second-largest Bergen County municipality, was unanimously chosen as mayor by the town council on July 1. He is the town’s fourth Jewish mayor in succession, and is the second in a row to identify himself as Orthodox.
His appointment coincided with the swearing-in of Mohammed Hameeduddin as the council’s first Muslim member.
Dr. Margit Kaufman and Kevie Feit hold their son, J.J.
The son of Dr. Carl and Shelly Feit, the new mayor has lived here since he was 3. He graduated from the Moriah School in Englewood and the Frisch School in Paramus before earning a psychology degree at Yeshiva College and a master’s degree in public administration from Long Island University. He was elected to the Town Council in ‘006, and has an additional two years to serve as mayor.
Married to Dr. Margit Kaufman, an intern at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, Feit works for a pharmaceutical company. He and his wife have a son, J.J., almost 5, who will start attending Moriah in September.
Feit and Kaufman met while they were members of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, of which Feit formerly served as president. He remains active on the corps and retains life membership as did Elie Y. Katz, the previous mayor.
Jewish Standard: Why did you run for the Town Council in the first place?
Kevie Feit: My experience on the ambulance corps gave me a unique perspective on being involved in township affairs, but not from the perspective of a local government official. I think being in local government gives you the opportunity to try to influence the way things are run. Two years ago, there were five seats available so I figured that was a good time to throw my hat in the ring. There were a couple of specific things I wanted to get done in the areas of emergency management and customer service for our residents. I think I was successful in moving forward with both endeavors.
J.S.: Do you feel a special responsibility to the town’s large Jewish population?
K.F.: We’re all councilmen-at-large, so we represent everyone. It’s important not to get caught up in little demographic boxes.
J.S.: Aside from the ambulance corps, in what other communal endeavors have you been involved?
K.F.: Around ’00’ to ‘004, I was part of the town’s "visioning process," a long-term planning process where a number of residents came together to identify the main issues that needed addressing. I have been one of the moderators for Teaneckshuls [a Yahoo chat group] since ‘004. I’m an active member of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, and in addition I am the ba’al koreh [Torah reader] at Cong. Keter Torah. I first started when I was in high school, when the shul was in its infancy, and it turned into a weekly position about 15 years ago.
J.S.: In May, several residents came to a council meeting wearing yellow Jewish star armbands in protest of Councilwoman Monica Honis’ remark that electing her without her running mates would be like sending her to the gas chamber. How did you feel this situation ought to have been handled?
K.F.: I understood what the residents’ intent was. They made their point and that was appropriate. The councilwoman’s comments were unfortunate and I wish she had apologized, but I don’t think she meant the things people are accusing her of. Now the elections are over, she was re-elected, and we have to move on.
J.S.: Do racial and religious issues often arise in the course of council sessions?
K.F.: Over the past few years we heard a lot of people speak about the "council majority," and it’s possible they were talking about political positions, but I think they were really trying to isolate the four Orthodox council members [Feit, Katz, Adam Gussen, and Elnatan Rudolph, who was not re-elected this year]. The truth is, you couldn’t find four men who have more different political and personal outlooks, yet unfortunately some people had a "your people versus our people" mindset and we couldn’t build a cohesive relationship with other parts of the community. That’s one of the things I’m committed to doing over the next two years, so we don’t continue to have a split. Nobody wins when we do.
J.S.: You were recently characterized by a non-Jewish council member as a "strong unifier." How do you hope to unify the council as mayor?
K.F.: We have to take baby steps to begin with. The way we treat each other while stating issues is an important starting point. It’s OK to disagree, but when the rhetoric becomes nasty the public feeds off that, and they get defensive because "their" council member is getting attacked. I want to encourage council members to focus on issues and not personalities. We need better dialogue among council members; we need to articulate our positions a little better. It’s important for all of us to make it clear why we’re voting the way we’re voting, especially if the issue is controversial.
J.S.: How might the election of a Muslim councilman impact on such unity?
K.F.: Teaneck has a history of diversity, and having a Muslim council member is an important step because we like to make sure all our residents are being represented. I feel he is going to have a positive impact because of his personality and dedication to all of Teaneck.
J.S.: What do you see as the greatest challenges of a Jewish mayor?
K.F.: I believe we are held to a higher standard. We have to answer not just to what is legally right but also to what is morally and ethically correct. To me, the demographic label is not important, but obviously, to some people it is. I will have to prove myself through my actions.
J.S.: What is your philosophy of public service?
K.F.: You have to pick your battles carefully because even if you win all the battles you can still lose the war. Also, the public’s perceptions of your actions is very important.
J.S.: What is your overall message?
K.F.: The bottom line is that Teaneck residents all want the same things: to be able to trust the local government, and to get leaves picked up and snow plowed. Some of the other things that have happened in the past two years have eclipsed these basic quality-of-life issues.