Eliminating the state’s kosher food inspection unit was a regrettable, but necessary decision forced by the state’s $10 billion deficit, Gov. David Paterson told The Jewish Week on Wednesday.
“We’re in a recession and I’m not going to make any bones about that,” said the governor. “I hate having done that and we’ll take responsibility for doing it. We’ll be very sympathetic to any criticism I get about it, but it’s gotten to the point where we have depleted our resources to reduce the deficit and have to go now into some places where we did not want to go.” He noted that staff conducting health code and environmental protection inspections will also be reduced.
“I apologize to everyone that we have had to make that decision,” said the governor, who leaves office Jan. 1 after completing the term of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. The former lieutenant governor, a Democrat, did not seek election to a full term.
This week the last two kosher inspectors retained by state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets received layoff letters as part of an effort to cut the state payroll by $250 million. “The list of those being targeted for abolition includes your non-competitive position of Kosher Food Inspector,” read a copy obtained by The Jewish Week. The director of the unit, Luzer Weiss, remains on the job. The kosher unit once had 11 inspectors but was downsized in 2004, after a successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the state’s century-old kosher law prohibited Albany from enforcing Orthodox kashrus standards. Under later guidelines the inspectors ensured only that establishments marketing themselves as kosher display their certification standards and adhere to those standards.
In the interview for The Jewish Week’s MetroPolitics video blog, Paterson said his successor, Andrew Cuomo, was likely to face even more drastic choices.
“[He] is about to be put in as difficult a position as any governor in the state has ever faced as he tries to lead us out of this recession,” said Paterson. “Hopefully people will realize that he is trying to keep the state from becoming insolvent and get behind him and be supportive.”
State Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said in a statement following the publication of Paterson’s remarks here that the governor’s elimination of the inspectors amounted to the end of the kosher enforcement unit. “I have been vocal in my opposition to any reductions in the kosher inspection division and was up front in relaying this opposition to the Governor,” Carl Kruger said. “But to leave an administrative director without any staff amounts to the de facto elimination of the entire division … That he’s doing so despite the growing need and demand for kosher food is particularly disturbing.”