Great Neck mayoral hopeful James Wu and trustee candidates Julia Shields and Harold Citron introduced themselves to voters at a forum Tuesday night, calling for a more transparent, representative and responsive village government.
The three candidates, who are challenging Mayor Pedram Bral and Trustees Annie Mendelson and Steven Hope, took aim at how the administration has handled matters revolving around “revitalization” of the village and previously proposed changes to the village zoning code.
Wu, a real estate specialist with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, said he wants to see a united community with an “actual transparent government” that “listens to all of us” and considers the needs of residents, developers and businesspeople.
Wu said he wants a careful, more balanced approach to “revitalization” that does not “maximize every square inch” of space within the village. He also said previously enacted zoning changes from 2014 should be given a chance and that he was open to a market survey to ask what residents are looking for.
“We are a peninsula, we have limited road infrastructure into and out of where we are, and we need to find businesses and ways of doing business that are suitable to our area and to our infrastructure,” Wu said.
He also said he would not aim to obstruct the school district, as protecting the schools would also protect local property values.
Citron, a retail analyst who has lived in Great Neck for 20 years, said that he has attended board meetings and asked many questions, like whether the EMT service provided by Vigilant Fire Company would be replaced and what the ultimate goal was for “revitalization” of the downtown.
But Citron was only left with more questions, he said, and so when asked to run, he said “yes.”
“If we’re going to have a plan for a village and we’re going to look not towards 1950 but towards 2050 and beyond, you need to have people who have answers and to come up with ideas that are going to benefit everybody in the community and understand our limitations … and understand what benefits we are looking for as a whole,” Citron said.
Julia Shields, a Great Neck resident for more than 50 years, said she has long been fighting for tenants both inside and out of the Academy Gardens apartment complex when facing landlords who want to push them out. This took the form of organizing tenants associations and informing people of their rights.
“That has been my goal: to make sure that people understand their rights and they understand where they live is very important and they don’t just get evicted,” Shields said. “I’m also concerned about the diversity of this village, I’m concerned about how the mayor treats people who like to speak to him about our apartment complex.”
When the idea of revitalization came up and Academy Gardens was listed as a “property of interest” in a study, Shields said the complex came under threat.
“We need somebody that’s going to be on our side and not try to force people out of Great Neck, of color and of any nationality,” Shields said.
One woman also asked why there should be a push for affordable housing, considering the previous proposal for revitalization was protested and ultimately pushed down by residents.
Paninda Johnson, who grew up with her sister in Great Neck, said that Shields helped her fight back against landlords that took her family to court three times. Affordable housing, Johnson went on to say, secured her a great education and a place in the middle class.
“We are decent people, we are not bringing riff raff and trash, the school system is why we’re here,” Johnson said. “And because of [Shields], and all the work she’s done, she has made it possible for us to get legal help, the financial assistance we need when we needed to have it there.”
Wu also faced questions about previous campaign finance violations during a City Council race in New York City.