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Editorial: A real transformation requires respect, innovation and action

Opinion / Letters March 12, 2022

Transformation. It’s a word that has been used a lot lately in regards to the March 15 Northport Village elections, a race that will add four new faces to a board of just five members. It’s a complete overhaul, really, and certainly has the potential to be transformative.

For months, we have reported quietly and unbiasedly on the happenings at Village board meetings and have announced each new candidate to the public as they have revealed their intentions to run. We have printed every letter to the editor we received regarding Village politics and will continue to do so before Tuesday’s vote.

This weekend’s edition of local print publication The Observer listed endorsements for the Northport Village election that, if followed by Village residents, will be an offense to our community and all that can be achieved in the next four years. What’s being labeled as “transformative” by The Observer is really just more of the same governance… and possibly worse. We feel compelled, as a team of writers committed to nonpartisan reporting in our news section, to rebut some of Mr. Ambro’s endorsements here, in the Northport Journal’s first editorial/political endorsement since we began our digital publication.

Why? Because we too have been paying close attention and do not lack the foresight necessary to envision what kind of leadership is required to address the many modern issues facing our Village today. We also do not cater to a certain group of subscribers or advertisers, making endorsements to better serve the success of a newspaper. This is not a business decision for us, but a decision based on firsthand experience within a community that will be directly impacted by the election results.

The Northport Journal endorses Dave Weber for Mayor and Meghan Dolan for Trustee. Above all others, we feel these two candidates will be the most productive, hardworking, innovative and trustworthy leaders. We’re basing these endorsements not on campaign slogans, lawn signs or promises, but on actions these candidates have already taken within the Village.

There’s only a couple of days left. We’re asking all Village residents to get out and vote. But do your research. Look around – and if you haven’t been around, ask people who have. Who is actively engaged in the community, and effecting real, positive change?

A candidate can talk about the importance of mitigating stormwater runoff and improving our local ecosystem, but who is involved in programs that are taking actionable steps to combat these issues? Who has reached out and been involved in local charitable organizations like the Northport Native Garden Initiative, and is proactively using that relationship to put native gardens in front of Village Hall and draw up plans for rain gardens in our community? Who is organizing events that involve local children to clean our beaches and who seamlessly took over the FLUPSY program to reduce nitrogen in our harbor? Who quickly procured tens of thousands of dollars for revitalization efforts like the one scheduled to begin soon at our downtown basketball court, which will bring kids together in a safe and healthy setting? Who shows up and speaks out against injustice, attends ribbon cuttings for new local businesses, and seeks transparency from his colleagues by calling for a financial audit from a third party company? Dave Weber has done – and continues to do – all of these things.

A candidate can talk about inclusivity and tolerance, but who is active in these efforts and who is spending precious campaign time digging up dirt on their opponents? People can talk about transparency, but when the need to “stir the pot” supersedes a candidate’s ability to listen to voters, how in tune with the people can that candidate really be?

We need a leader, a voice unafraid to stand up and speak out, to follow through on projects, to make and nurture connections with all Village residents.

For those not yet in office, who is connecting with local leaders and groups prior to election day? Meghan Dolan is. Already actively involved in local groups, charities and organizations, she is also seeking relationships with Village officials and leaders she would work with if elected. Meghan has met with PBA President Stephen Kerekes, Engeman Theater owner Kevin O’Neill and several other village business owners. She’s met with founders of the Northport Native Garden Initiative, current village employees and labor union workers, candidates Donna Koch, Dave Weber, James Izzo and Michael Bento. She knocked on over 1,000 doors in the last few weeks, hearing from residents themselves on the issues that matter most to them and their families.

From what we understand, it is one of the few times a candidate has sought out so many opportunities and relationships before securing a vote. Why? Because Ms. Dolan cares and knows that this leadership role is not about her own personal agenda. Because she understands that a seat as trustee will have her actively engaged with these groups and leaders for the long term, and that cementing relationships now can only benefit the Village in the future. Her education, professionalism and experience as an assistant district attorney will be an asset to this Village. Her indefatigable spirit as a parent to three young children makes her real and relatable to families doing it all, too. She is personable, committed and genuine – truly a breath of fresh air for the entire Village.

So pay attention when you’re out and about. How well do these candidates work with others? Is there a history of connection, commitment, engagement and understanding, or one of negativity and pot stirring? When challenged, does a candidate double down and attack, or are they open to listening to all sides of an issue? Was most of this campaign spent outside connecting with voters, or finding (and reporting to the press) flaws in their competition?

Who stuck to their ideals of a “clean campaign" and who got dirty?

The Observer endorsed for mayor this past Friday Donna Koch, who uses her experience as Village clerk as her singular platform. She has never had a leadership role in Village government and has yet to prove her ability to lead or even work well with board members. When Mr. Ambro states that it’s Dave Weber who should serve as trustee for two more years so he can “learn his way” and “continue to develop as a government official,” we wonder why Ms. Koch gets a free pass to the top?

As clerk, Ms. Koch was required to attend sensitivity training for her behavior under former Mayor George Doll, a fact confirmed to the Northport Journal by sources familiar with what occurred within the Village government at that time. Years later, Ms. Koch’s behavior forced her into early retirement, after she raised her voice at Mayor Damon McMullen, her boss, in front of a board member and employee. Mayor McMullen stated in a 2020 interview with The Observer that refusing Ms. Koch’s reappointment as clerk was something he was “thinking about for a long time” and it was in “the best interest of the Village.”

In the October 2, 2020 article, Ms. Koch defended her actions, saying “I will always fight for the Village and honestly, if I have to throw my hat in the ring for mayor in 2022, I will.” At last week’s Meet the Candidates forum, Ms. Koch said she had not decided on her run for mayor until after she “took a break” from working as Village clerk to “collect her thoughts.” She said it wasn’t until she realized she missed Village government and began attending meetings again that she made this decision.

Ms. Koch’s campaign strategy has been telling. Instead of focusing on her accomplishments, policies and goals, she trashed her opponent, Mr. Weber, at every opportunity.

Koch’s forum performance, the only chance residents had to judge her knowledge of the issues, was subpar at best. She did not offer any specific goals as mayor of the Village, aside from being transparent and able to “face challenges head on.” She was able to name some of the many issues facing the Village today, like stormwater runoff and parking, but offered no solutions. When asked about using native plantings to benefit the village, she talked about using an international arborist to choose trees with deep roots that “don’t shed too many petals.” Her answer to this environmental question was in stark contrast to the responses you get on this issue from Mr. Weber, who is a real-life environmentalist and has already shown progress in this area as an elected trustee.

Ms. Koch’s responses were short and ill-prepared, leaving undecided voters with little to work with. Yet, Mr. Ambro made note of Mr. Weber’s flawed responses during the forum and made no mention of Ms. Koch’s performance at all. Perhaps Ms. Koch thinks she can phone this in with an endorsement in The Observer, without making personal connections or proving her worth outside of her inner circle.

In his recent endorsements, Dave Ambro admits to making a mistake when he endorsed Tom Kehoe over Joe Sabia in the last Village election. Kehoe, Ambro states, “has been worse for the village government than anyone before him.”

For this election, The Observer applauded Mr. Sabia’s role as a watchdog, and endorsed him for trustee. But does Sabia’s reputation as a “pot stirrer” warrant a seat on the board? It does not. Joe Sabia has been filling this role for years as a member of the audience at board meetings, and can – and will – continue to do so if not elected. He will continue to lament the Northport Fish Market. He will continue to rely heavily on the Northport Village Police Department to mediate his personal issues with fish market manager Sam Luby, admitting to at least 60 calls and reports to the department regarding this issue. But are residents paying enough attention to his actual character, aside from his humor and willingness to speak up when something affects him personally? Are residents focused on his knowledge of the issues most pressing to a forward-moving, progress-oriented board?

One example: Regarding stormwater mitigation, Sabia said at last Tuesday’s event that “doing rain gardens and putting catch basins” hasn’t worked; that the “best we can possibly do” is put filters in the catch basins to catch the sand and protect the harbor from pollution. Ask any well-researched, well-read, knowledgeable founder of the Northport Native Garden Initiative for their input, and they would say Sabia is way off, that rain gardens have proven to work in other communities, and that there is much more the Village can do to protect its harbor.

Mr. Sabia was also the only candidate to lay out his dream slate, personally endorsing candidates for mayor and trustee via his spot at the table at Tuesday’s forum. The event was an opportunity for candidates to answer questions from Village residents, to prove their knowledge of the issues; it was not a place for anyone to endorse their favorite candidates while blatantly disregarding others. Yet Sabia did, and it was an obvious overreach and breach of the night’s purpose, a night that he demanded be fair for all in last week’s edition of The Observer.

It seems Sabia is intent on forming an alliance that can overtake the only person who will remain on the board no matter the outcome of this election, Dave Weber. Tuesday’s results will dictate if Weber returns as a trustee or the mayor. Is it possible that Mr. Ambro, after consecutive weeks reporting negatively about Mr. Weber and feeding into every campaign complaint set forth by Ms. Koch and Mr. Sabia, also wants to render Weber powerless?

And does the Village really need a group of faces – some retired, some going into this with a pre-existing alliance? The board should be a representation of all Village residents, including those with young children and new homeowners. They too play an important role in our community, patronize (and own) our small businesses, engage in local organizations and have children in our schools. Their aspirations for this Village matter and will continue to be ignored if The Observer’s endorsements hold enough weight.

While we respect Mr. Ambro’s right to his opinions and his endorsements, we felt it necessary to offer a counter to what seems like biased reporting, followed by endorsements that don’t take into account what the Village needs at this moment. We will end with this: Mr. Ambro, who rightfully could find no issue with Meghan Dolan as a candidate, and said there’s “no downside” to her winning the position, also stated he was certain, from her outreach and articulation, that her time would come.

We say her time is NOW.

We say we want an actual transformation, with a board made of respectful, innovative, communicative individuals who have already proven their value to Northporters.

So please, get to Village Hall this Tuesday, anytime from 6am-9pm, and VOTE. This election, this year, indeed carries the weight of transforming an entire Village.

Updated on March 14, 2022, 1:45pm