Great Neck Plaza mayoral candidates Ted Rosen and Leonard Katz discussed pressing issues facing the village, including the state of downtown businesses, parking, and the safety and well-being of residents, during Blank Slate Media’s virtual event on Thursday night.
Rosen, a practicing lawyer, was first appointed to the Board of Trustees in 1985 and currently serves as the village’s deputy mayor. Rosen is running on the United Residents Party line with Trustee Pamela Marksheid and Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Michael Deluccia.
Katz, a Great Neck resident since 1971, is running for mayor on a write-in campaign along with residents Marnie Ives and Robert Farajollah for trustee positions under the Revive Great Neck Plaza Party banner.
Longtime Plaza Mayor Jean Celender is not seeking re-election.
The election will be held on Tuesday.
The topic of empty storefronts throughout the Plaza’s downtown area has been discussed throughout the village in recent years, an issue that has only been magnified due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a March interview, Rosen said he did not see the empty storefronts as an “extraordinary” problem, especially compared with other downtown areas throughout the state, but rather an area for improvement going forward. He said the village government has been aiding downtown businesses throughout the pandemic.
“A lot of retail businesses, a lot of food establishments, a lot of restaurants are very much struggling and some of them are just not coming back,” Rosen said. “Our village personnel, our building inspector have worked very closely with businesses to explain to them the regulations, to help them make their businesses attractive and inviting.”
Rosen said the Great Neck Business Improvement District board has been meeting on a weekly basis to come up with new initiatives to promote downtown businesses and will continue to do so. Rosen encouraged others to take advantage of federal, state and county programs that highlight and promote downtown businesses as well.
Other initiatives Rosen said he will look to implement are having a Small Business Administration representative in Village Hall on certain days and hiring someone to teach business owners how to promote themselves and their companies on social media.
“I think the village can step in and help those who are not [promoting themselves],” Rosen said.
Katz said he believes Rosen presented the ideas because of the threat the Revive Great Neck Plaza Party presents to the United Residents’ campaign.
“It’s wonderful what the administration is doing now under threat of being deposed I suppose,” Katz said. “All these years they have to own the fact that all of those stores are empty due to their policies. Their record in this area is nonexistent, they are a failure at what they’ve done, they’ve lost a lot of businesses, this town is not the way it was 10 to 15 years ago, not even close.”
Katz, who serves on the executive committee of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, said having Ives, who operates Krön Chocolatier, gives his party an immediate pulse of the downtown business owners throughout the Plaza.
“[Ives] knows that in the 20 years she has been here, no one from the administration has ever walked into that store to offer her any support in any way whatsoever,” Katz said.
Katz said residents have contacted him in the past and expressed difficulties with trying to voice their issues or concerns with village officials.
“I want to hear what residents have to say and be responsive to them,” Katz said. “There’s no effort made by the administration to help the people that live here. I don’t find it acceptable to tell people that’s someone else’s problem, go deal with them.”
On the topic of parking, Rosen maintained his stance on not permitting valet parking due to prioritizing the safety of village residents.
“We want to support businesses, but our primary obligation as public servants is to protect the health and safety of all the public,” Rosen said.
Rosen mentioned that the village previously offered double parking and experiences with other valet services which presented problems such as pedestrians crossing while cars are swinging out of spots and valets even making U-turns in the middle of crowded roads.
Katz said the Great Neck area has the highest amount of pedestrian fatalities per capita throughout New York and placing law enforcement officials at certain areas where valet parking could potentially be reconsidered.
“If [valet parking] works someplace else, it should work here,” Katz said. “If there are U-turns happening and it’s against the law, you put someone there that gives tickets out. For $225 to 250 a ticket, U-turns would stop very quickly.”
Rosen said he found it “incredible” that Katz said he was unaware of how valet parking was operated by the village in past years and was displeased by Katz claiming the current administration has not prioritized pedestrian safety.
“The accusation that we have not focused on pedestrian safety is an out-and-out falsehood,” Rosen said.
Rosen noted the village has conducted traffic impact studies in areas throughout the village, most of which were covered by grants.
Sticking to the topic of public health and safety, Katz said he has spoken to “several people” to be a volunteer health commissioner for the village who have experience working throughout the Great Neck area and would work with the nursing and senior citizen facilities to ensure people’s health is being monitored, especially coronavirus testing.
The Revive Great Neck Plaza Party is running on a write-in basis after its election petitions were rejected by the Nassau County Board of Elections.
The board said the petitions had the wrong election date and the date was changed after the petition was signed.
Katz acknowledged the errors, but blamed the incorrect election date on village Clerk-Treasurer Patricia O’Byrne, who he said gave him the wrong date “in early January.”
O’Byrne denied she had provided Katz with the wrong date. She said she initially corrected Katz on the date of the election.
Responding to Katz’s claim, village Attorney Richard Gabriele said Katz was fully to blame for filing election petitions with the wrong date of the election, leading to the disqualification.
Gabriele presented petitions from the Revive Great Neck Plaza Party signed on Jan. 4. The petitions show an “8” written over the originally printed “9” on the election date, which reflected the previous election date of March 18.
“I didn’t know that changing a date from one date to another invalidated the petition, so I did change the date, no question about it,” Katz said. “It’s true that anyone entering government comes without experience in government … However, we have other experiences in other life experiences that translate very readily into managing the government.”
Rosen said Katz’s lack of knowledge of the Board of Election rules should indicate to residents that experience in a governing board is vital.
“The whole experience of Mr. Katz and his colleagues not getting on the ballot is very informative because maybe before he ran or decided to run, he didn’t know the election rules,” Rosen said. “But if he’s going to run, he has to learn what to do.”
Rosen said Katz had 205 petition signatures and the county ended up ruling all of them invalid.
Katz closed by calling the Plaza a “tarnished diamond” thanks to the current administration, stressing the need for change.
“I think with some polishing, Great Neck can shine again and become what I call the flagship village of the North Shore Gold Coast,” Katz said. “I believe we have a wealth of talent and experience in this town that is untapped.”
Rosen maintained that the Plaza would benefit from electing the party with experienced candidates, especially in a time of uncertainty.
“The write-in candidates opposing us have no experience and they have a demonstrated record of inability,” Rosen said. “Think about this. You’re driving home at night in a car with two other people and it’s storming. Who’s going to drive the car? One of the people who has years of driving experience and a record of safe driving? Or are you going to turn over the driving function to a person who was unable to pass his road test with no experience in driving the car?”
Village elections will take place at Village Hall in Gussack Plaza on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.