On the ballot, Mineola Trustee Larry Werther is running for re-election against New Line Party incumbent George Durham and community activist Dennis Walsh in a three-way race for two seats.
But on the stump and at village board meetings, most of Werther’s comments have been aimed at Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss.
“I’m running against the mentality,” Werther said of the “back room politics” that he has said Strauss and other trustees have engaged in since becoming mayor.
On his Web site, www.mineolamyhome.com, Werther recently posted videos slamming the Strauss administration for ignoring two of his suggestions.
Strauss, who is running unopposed for mayor, along with Durham and Walsh have declined to comment on Werther’s criticism.
“I don’t want to attack him. I want to stay positive. I want to stay above that,” Strauss said.
Instead, the New Line campaign has stressed what it terms as its open approach to issues.
“We’ve giving the community as much information as we can as quickly as can. We’re just trying to keep people informed,” Strauss said.
Friction between Werther and Strauss first surfaced after Strauss chose village Trustee Paul Pereira over Werther as deputy mayor two years ago – after the board voted for Strauss to replace Mayor Jack Martins after he was elected to the state Senate. Werther, who had served as deputy mayor under Martins, served as acting mayor before the board’s vote.
Relations were further strained last summer when Werther charged Strauss with seeking to set up improper private meetings between village trustees and representatives of Polimeni International, which was seeking to change the use for the Churchill, a proposed apartment complex for seniors, from condominiums to rentals.
Strauss said he was trying to create opportunities for the trustees to address concerns to Polimeni representatives directly.
In December, Werther was dropped by Strauss and other members as a candidate for the New Line party, replacing him with Walsh. Werther then announced his intention to run on the newly formed Mineola My Home Party line.
Both campaigns are employing the usual practice of walking door-to-door through the village in door-to-door and talking to residents about the issues.
A current flyer the New Line Party candidates are distributing says that they have kept village taxes low while maintaining services and improving the village’s Moody’s bond rating to Aa3, which they said helped the village save $1.3 million when the village refinanced bonds last year.
Strauss and his running mates said they are getting a consistently positive response from voters, drawing more than 1,100 signatures on their nominating petitions.
In his door-to-door campaign, Werther said residents have told him they are angered by what he calls “the back room thing” when the New Line Party took the action of “dumping” him. He’s also using the Internet to air criticisms against the New Line.
In one video on his Web site, www.mineolamyhome.com, Werther said the board failed to approve his suggestion that local retail businesses be surveyed to report the location of flammable substances they sell.
In a second video, Werther criticizes Strauss and his fellow trustees for not moving on his idea to change the zoning of the Jackson Steel property, a former environmentally hazardous New York Superfund site, to residential from commercial zoning.
Werther argues if a commercial developer bought tax liens on the property, the village board would be hard pressed to prevent commercial development in what is largely a residential area east of Herricks Road near 1st Street.
On the issue of cataloging flammable substances to protect Mineola firefighters, Strauss, a longtime Mineola firefighter, said the information is already accessible on computer screens in the village fire trucks.
“Why reinvent the wheel? It’s already in place. So he’s out of touch with what goes on,” Strauss said.
On the issue of the Superfund site, Strauss said residential development there would increase traffic in the area, while commercial development would only limit traffic to certain hours. Strauss said he also doubts that residential development is a viable option in the area.
“Who would want a raise a family on a former Superfund site?” Strauss said.
Strauss said he doesn’t want to return to the days a decade ago when confrontational politics ruled in Mineola.
“‘We’re working hard for Mineola’ is the theme, from the fiscal responsibility end of it and reaching out to the community,” Strauss said.
In a recent ad in the Williston Times, Werther played a similar theme with the line, “Don’t lose Mineola’s strongest voice for fair and open government and progress for our residents.” The ad includes his party motto, “Fidelis Ad Populum” (“Faithfull to the People”).
Werther has not criticized Durham or Walsh directly.
After being dropped from the New Party Line, Werther said he asked Durham to run on a ticket Werther would lead as a mayoral candidate. Werther said he made the offer on an “impulse.”
Strauss said New Line Party candidates were left with little choice to drop Werther after reports surfaced that Werther was seeking to mount a campaign against Strauss.
“He ditched me. I got wind of him looking to run against me,” Strauss said.
Durham said he was surprised when Werther decided against running for mayor after initially saying he was considering it.
“I originally thought he was going to run for mayor because he had issues against Scott,” Durham said.
He said he thinks Werther is running on his name recognition and said it does appear he’s running against the Strauss administration – not himself or Walsh.
“This is the board that Scott is looking for. This election would validate that Scott has gotten what he’s looking for,” Durham said.
Walsh said he was going to run for trustee as an independent before he was asked to run on the New Line ticket.
“For me, I just want to bring a positive tone on the board. And I see a negative tone on the board,” said Walsh.
Walsh wants to help further development of the village downtown district.
“We need a strong team to make that happen,” he said.
If he loses, Walsh said he’ll keep attending village board meetings as he has done for the past decade, never shy about raising his voice on village issues.
Spending figures were unavailable for the New Line Party.
Werther estimates he’s spent approximately $2,000 on his campaign.
The election will take place March 19 at Village Hall.