I’m willing to bet the upcoming Village of Great Neck election is the most diverse slate ever on Long Island. That is a good reason but not the main reason the slate of James Wu for Mayor and Harold Citron and Julia Shields for trustee should defeat incumbents Mayor Pedram Bral (going for his third term) and Trustees Steven Hope and Anne Mendelson.
But they won’t get a fair hearing. I think it is immediately disqualifying and suspicious when candidates do not accept an invitation to debate.
Instead, Bral’s backers are waging an insidious campaign to slander Wu. I would prefer to get a definitive answer about how several properties were designated “Properties of Interest” in the mayor’s proposal to rezone Middle Neck Road Corridor, and separately, why he said the existing incentive zoning wasn’t bringing applications when he also said that his board had rejected applications under the existing incentive zoning.
I also question how the most recent application for an auto body painting facility on East Shore Road even made it on his Board of Trustees agenda, based on “similar to permitted use,” when prior boards had specifically banned such use (current auto body shops are grandfathered) with an aim toward redeveloping East Shore Road and using its waterfront as an asset.
The use would also seem to contradict even Bral’s own vision to revitalize the corridor, especially with the alleged violations that the village seemed uninterested in seeing resolved by the applicant.
Now, all challengers charge incumbents with being out of touch, nonresponsive (and worse) and promise to bring unity and consensus.
But there is reason to believe that Wu, Citron and Shields will in fact bring a different approach based on their career and life experience. Wu, who has a law degree (that would seem a welcome change), is in commercial real estate brokerage; Citron is an analyst for the retail industry, and Shields has spent her life protecting tenants rights (not developing affordable housing, so no need to worry).
Wu, a resident of the village for the past 10 years, recognizes that overdevelopment is not the answer to the village need for revitalization: “We will work to bring in experiential retail, diversify commerce, and restore the vitality of our once vibrant downtown,” he writes. “We will listen to the needs of the community, not dictate them; work with our neighboring villages and the Town, especially as it considers the massive expansion at Macy’s. We will cooperate with our colleagues, not battle them. We will have an open government, not secret agendas. We will respect our residents, men and women alike. Foremost, we will protect the suburban character of our village and our quality of life. Measure me for my actions.”
In all of this, Wu is the opposite of Mayor Bral, who, despite serving as mayor since 2015, demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of village government, municipal law, open government procedure, or any curiosity about the opportunities for downtown revitalization and redevelopment, examples of which can be seen across Long Island.
Yes, we understand he is an important doctor, who drives early morning down East Shore Road to his practice in Brooklyn. He has told us many times over. That doesn’t excuse the fact he brings absolutely nothing to the imperative for the village, which looks derelict and decrepit, to revitalize.
Yes, over and over and over, we hear about the one victory, Marie Blachére French bakery, but that is hardly a master plan.
It is telling that the village is never represented at the Complete Streets workshops or the Smart Growth conferences that just about every other village on Long Island sees fit to attend.
Bral would see the proper role for village government to play, which isn’t rewarding this developer or that developer with a fourth or fifth story so that over 20 years time, they might lower residential property taxes (that won’t happen because every single development will be structured in order to get a tax abatement), but in the meantime overtax the village’s infrastructure while contributing nothing to quality of life.
All three challengers have a resume of community engagement: which also are revealing about a governing philosophy: Wu, a Great Neck resident for 10 years, served in the Marines, helped first responders after 9/11, founded a Girl Scout troop, served on the School District’s Financial Advisory Board in 2017 and designed the website for American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
Citron, a Great Neck resident for 20 years, has been a board member and president of his coop board; and engaged in committees at Temple Israel, and active in his children’s PAL teams.
His career as a Retail industry analyst could be very beneficial for the village, which like so many communities, is seeing its Main Street being hollowed out. “If we are going to have plan for the village and look not toward 1950 but 2050 and beyond, you need people with answers, who can come up with ideas to benefit all the community, understand the limitations and restrictions and what we are looking for as a whole.”
Julia Shields, a Great Neck resident since 1965, has spent decades fighting for tenants rights, helping tenants throughout the county form tenants associations and coalitions to protect themselves from predatory landlords.
Village residents have given Bral, Hope and Mendelson sufficient time to get up to speed, to come up with a real plan for revitalization in concert with residents. It’s time to give a new team a shot.
The Village of Great Neck is the only contested election among three village elections taking place on Tuesday, June 18, noon to 9 pm. Elections also are being held in Lake Success and Kings Point.