Great Neck Park District Commissioner Frank Cilluffo is seeking re-election for his third term.
His opponent, Erica Beggs, has over a decade of experience working in the park district’s ice skating program and intends to use her experience and familiarity to deny Cilluffo of another three years as commissioner.
Though neither candidate was born and raised in Great Neck, they have each used their respective backgrounds to fuel their work in the community.
Before becoming commissioner, Cilluffo spent 20 years as a patrolman for the NYPD. There, he provided public safety for residents by responding to emergencies, protecting people and property, and promoting good community relations. He is involved with the Rotary Club, the Lighthouse Society, a youth hockey coach, and a member of the Memorial Day parade committee.
He also helped keep a hold on taxes for the past five years in office while increasing the park district’s cost recovery by 3 percent, bringing it up to the national level, he said.
“The priority of my job is to protect and serve the people in our community,” Cilluffo said. “My experience has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the needs of the community in order to make decisions that best serve our residents.”
Beggs spent her childhood up north in Lake Placid becoming an avid skater. Her experience on ice translated into becoming the director of the park district’s skate school from 2008-2012. Under her direction, it was awarded for having one of the largest enrollments in the country.
“I trained at Lake Placid as a figure skater,” she said. “I’m sure some people would bring this up, but my background with figure skating will not mean I will solely focus on that aspect of the parks if elected.”
Beyond recreational activities, Beggs has been the assistant director of College Guidance at North Shore Hebrew Academy for the past four years. She said she has utilized that experience to not only help the youth in the community excel in secondary education, but also to hear what they have to say about their environment.
“I feel like I am able to bring a fresh perspective into the parks district,” Beggs said. “My background working with children and being a vocal member in the community I believe gives me a unique perspective on things.”
Like Beggs, Cilluffo has raised his family in the Great Neck Park District. Beggs is a mother of a growing family and married to Cuttermill Park Supervisor Scott MacDonald. Cilluffo is married to a longtime Great Neck resident, Lisa Reisfield, and has a 16-year-old daughter. Both candidates spoke on the importance of the parks integral for families in the community.
“We need to build a park district so that our children want to raise their children here,” Beggs said. “I believe I am the person who will best allow that to happen.”
“People can come here for a variety of reasons,” Cilluffo said. “But families end up staying here because of the opportunities that our park district provides them with. It goes beyond outdoor recreation and keeping the parks clean.”
On the subject of cleanliness within the park district, Beggs was vocal on the subject, calling for more programs to be implemented. Some potential ideas that she mentioned were incorporating the use of solar panels and filtered water systems in the parks.
“I see that there’s not much recycling in the parks,” she said. “Environmentally, we need to focus on the beauty of our parks and focus on ways on how to continue to protect them.”
While Cilluffo did not mention any other specific “green” initiatives that could be implemented in the district, he did touch on the planting of 100 trees in the parks to celebrate the district’s 100th anniversary.
“It’s important that we keep up with the times in every possible way,” Cilluffo said. “Implementing programs that allow us to reflect on where we have come from, to where we can go from here is vital for the community.”
In terms of future programming, both candidates shared their respective ideas on what can be done to attract a broader audience to the parks with an approved budget of $19.65 million budget for the upcoming year.
Programs and events that have been implemented over the past five years under Cilluffo’s watch include holiday tree lightings, pickleball for children, community gardens maintained by volunteer students and others.
Beggs and Cilluffo both mentioned that input from residents in the district is integral for continued success in the future.
“We have gone through a year-long master plan process which will be ready to implement in 2020,” Cilluffo said. “I will provide the resources and support necessary to see the vision of our residents through.”
“These parks are enjoyed by people of all ages, but the activities tend to be targeted for very specific age groups,” Beggs said. “I think including programs like a variety of fitness classes for adults at varying times would prove extremely beneficial, and there would be a great turnout.”
Both Cilluffo and Beggs spoke on their passion for the park district’s residents and their respective ideas for improvements in the area as to why they are the best choice for commissioner.
“From recreation programs to conservation of our environment. Our new vision of connecting, creating and celebrating is about bringing out community together in everything that we do,” Cilluffo said. “I believe no one will work harder or smarter for the park district residents than I will. I want to dedicate all my time to make our parks even greater.”
“We need a safe space for our kids to go after school, even if they’re not a hockey player, or a figure skater or a tennis player,” Beggs said. “If I was elected, I would have no problem working and communicating with the other commissioners, and I would make sure everyone who uses these parks knows exactly what we’re doing with the money for them.”
The election for parks commissioner will take place with other special district elections on Dec. 10 from 1 to 9 p.m.
The district is divided into four sectors for polling purposes.
The 1st District encompasses the Village of Kings Point, Saddle Rock Estates and areas of the Village of Great Neck that are east of Middle Neck Road and north of Hicks Lane and west of Middle Neck Road. The polling place for District 1 is the Great Neck House at 14 Arrendale Ave.
The 2nd District encompasses the area of the Village of Great Neck that is east of Middle Neck Road and unincorporated areas of the Town of North Hempstead that are south of the Village of Great Neck and north of the Village of Kensington. The polling place for District 2 is also the Great Neck House.
The 3rd District encompasses the villages of Great Neck Plaza, Thomaston, and Kensington. The polling place is the Great Neck Senior Citizens Center at 80 Grace Ave.
The 4th District encompasses the Village of Russell Gardens and other unincorporated areas within the town. These areas are the Great Neck Terrace Apartments, Lakeville, Upland, Lake Success Hills and Manor sections of Great Neck, and all other areas bounded by Great Neck Road on the north and west, Northern Boulevard on the south, and Middle Neck Road on the east. The polling place for District 4 is the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire District’s Company No. 4 Firehouse on 97 Jayson Ave.
Residents who are 18 years of age or older and have resided in the Great Neck Park District for at least 30 days prior to the election and are registered with the Nassau County Board of Elections are eligible to vote.