Leonard Katz has a message for residents of Great Neck Plaza ahead of mayoral elections in March. “If you like the way things have run in this village for the past 20 years, then don’t vote for me,” he said during a sitdown interview with Blank Slate Media.
Katz, a Great Neck resident since 1971, is running to succeed Jean Celender. Celender, who has been mayor since 2000, did not file a petition for re-election last week.
Running against Katz is Village Deputy Mayor Ted Rosen, whom Celender first appointed to the position two decades ago. Celender and Rosen have been on the board for more than 30 years, something Katz said is a reason for a change at the helm.
“You can only try the same thing for so long before it’s necessary to change things up,” Katz said. “The same issues that were in the village 10 years ago are still here today. Whatever the administration has been doing, it seems the results are not positive.”
Katz is running on the Revive Great Neck Party line along with trustee candidates Siu Long Au and Robert Farajollah. The main goals of the party are to revitalize the village, remove useless regulation, provide more information to residents and set term limits for officials.
When it comes to revitalization, Katz said, it starts with the number of empty storefronts currently scattered along Middle Neck Road. Katz and a volunteer for his campaign, Nancy Colella, spoke on the need for economic integration and addressed the struggles businesses face when presented with opportunities to expand in the Plaza.
“There’s not enough businesses coming into Great Neck Plaza due to hindrances of permitting,” Colella said. “All [a potential business’] capital is going into a lease payment while waiting on permits to be approved, and when a decision is made, they have no more capital.”
One of the ways Katz said he will seek to improve the Plaza’s business district is to work with officials from other villages on zoning and permit issues. He touted the work of organizations such as the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce and village officials association and said he looks forward to working more with them if elected.
“I’m open to trying new things,” Katz said. “I want to ask residents to come in and present positive suggestions of what they would like to see in town. Then I would bring builders and property owners together and see what they have to say. There is a lot of personal services we can offer that cannot be replicated online.”
Katz said that there is no one magic solution to revitalize the Plaza and the more people that wish to contribute their input and suggestions, the better.
On the subject of mixed-use housing and trying to attract more young people to the village, Katz said he is not opposed to hearing suggestions, but noted that proposals such as those tend to be on a “case by case” basis.
One issue in downtown revitalization is the lack of parking for potential consumers. According to Katz, a study conducted by the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce said the Plaza has two garages and three parking lots. Out 1,500 spaces, around 300 are available for general use.
Katz said he wants to explore possibilities for expanding parking spaces around the village and discuss ways to accomplish that with other local officials, residents and traffic study personnel.
On the subject of traffic studies, a study conducted by the Nassau County Department of Public Works and L.K. McLean Associates revealed the intersection of South Station Plaza and Great Neck Road has seen 123 crashes in four years, exceeding the statewide rate of 2.42 crashes per million entering vehicles.
Katz said he plans to bring in law enforcement, town and county officials, and explore possibilities to see what can be done to mitigate traffic congestion and accidents throughout the Plaza, and especially Middle Neck Road.
After two decades of Jean Celender heading the village’s Board of Trustees, Katz said he also wishes to implement term limits. Without providing any specifics, he said that consistent turnover and allowing others to run the village could spark a revitalization.
“There are always with term limits the chance that there is a person who is doing a terrific job,” he said. “But that usually happens one in every hundred people.”
Celender has been Great Neck’s lone full-time village mayor since 2013, making an annual salary of $65,000, according to seethroughny.net. Katz said the issues raised in the village will require his full attention as well, and said he would remain full-time for at least the first few years if elected.
Katz, who has served as Great Neck’s Rotary Club president and board director for the Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited at the chance to revive the place he has called home for almost two decades.
“I’ve lived here long enough to see successful businesses and how amazing the Plaza can be,” Katz said. “I’m running because I want to participate in the efforts to revitalize this area and work with the community to do so.”
Village elections will be held on Wednesday, March 18.