The slate challenging Great Neck Village Mayor Pedram Bral and Trustees Annie Mendelson and Steven Hope was originally filed as James Wu for mayor and William Groel and Eric Beerman for trustees.
But that changed at the last minute. And it prompted at least one person to question the ethics in a letter to the Great Neck News, suggesting the campaign engaged in a “bait and switch.”
“This makes you question the methods and motives of this mayoral candidate,” David Kahen wrote in a letter to the editor. “I for one am appalled and I feel that this candidate has duped the signatories of his petition.”
Wu, who is challenging Bral, announced last Wednesday that Julia Shields, a housing specialist and longtime community activist, and Harold Citron, a private investor active in coaching and Temple Israel, would be challenging Mendelson and Hope.
In an interview on Tuesday, Wu defended the move, saying the substitution of candidates was necessary, legal and well thought out.
Wu said the campaign’s petitioning began nine days before the May 14 deadline to file a petition. Both the original candidates ultimately filed petitions of declination because they realized they would not have time to serve because of other personal commitments, Wu said.
Groel, an active parent in the school district, was going to be president of E.M. Baker Elementary School’s PTO, he said, while Beerman’s business commitments were growing.
“It’s not unethical. It’s fully established in law and this is what’s done,” Wu said. “If a person cannot serve, what would we have them do? That would be the issue. When people are signing a petition, they’re nominating people for office.”
The deadline to submit a petition – which, in Great Neck, required a minimum of 100 signatures – was Tuesday, May 14, under state election law. Nominated candidates had until May 17 to decline and May 20 was the last day to substitute a candidate.
A vacancy committee exists in the event someone might not be able to serve, Wu also said. Its job, Wu went on to say, is to nominate substitutions who would reflect “how [the original candidates] might have otherwise acted in office.”
Steve Markowitz, one of the members of the vacancy committee, confirmed that the two original candidates ran into family and job issues. This sparked a search for alternative candidates and talks with several potential candidates.
“There was really nothing more than that and they were starting to have second thoughts really, if it was going to work for them,” Markowitz said. “We began a search for alternate candidates really quickly and came up with Citron and Shields.”
Ultimately, Markowitz said Citron and Shields were the best and “most appropriate” option in forging a “balanced ticket.”