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Q&A draws large crowd eager to hear from candidates for Village mayor and trustee one week before election

Village by: Chrissy Ruggeri and Joanne Kountourakis, March 10, 2022

The candidates for Northport Village mayor and trustee participated in a Meet the Candidates event Tuesday, March 8 at the Northport American Legion, where they introduced themselves, and answered questions submitted by audience members over the course of approximately two hours.

It was standing room only at Tuesday evening’s “Meet the Candidates Night,” the one opportunity this election season for residents to hear live and in-person from the people running for Village mayor and trustee. Hosted by the Northport Chamber of Commerce, the forum included an opening statement from each candidate, three rounds of randomly selected questions submitted by audience members and asked by event moderator Joe Schramm, and closing statements.

Present at the forum were the two candidates for mayor, Donna Koch and Dave Weber, Jr.; the five candidates running for trustee – Meghan Dolan, James Izzo, Joe Sabia, Michael Bento and Ernest Pucillo; and Northport Village Justice Mary Louise Biunno, who is running unopposed.

Ms. Dolan, Mr. Izzo and Mr. Sabia are running for two open positions for a four-year term; Mr. Bento and Mr. Pucillo are running for one seat for a two-year term.

Below are the opening comments from each candidate, in the order they were spoken, the answer to one audience question asked during the event, and a takeaway from closing comments. Some comments were edited for length. The Chamber did not stream or record the event; however, videos of the Q&A portion of the evening can be found on the Northport Journal Facebook page.

It should be noted that randomly selected questions were directed to candidates via a name draw; only one candidate answered each question; there were no rebuttals or debates allowed on any particular issue.

The standing room only crowd filled the American Legion in Northport Village at Meet the Candidates Night.

Donna Koch
Most of you know me as a former Village clerk. After working full-time for over 25 years in Northport Village government, along with raising a family, I decided to take a break to collect my thoughts. I soon decided that I missed Village government and I started again to attend Village board meetings regularly. With a different perspective, I can see what the residents saw.

We’re here tonight because we all have one thing in common: the love for our Village and the need to preserve it for future generations. As a grandmother to a fifth-generation Northport Villager, I know the value of the decisions we make today will have a lasting impact.

The challenge we face is how we balance our success with the quality of our life. We know major problems such as stormwater runoff, infrastructure, vehicle and pedestrian congestion, parking, a clean harbor and a host of other challenges face the new administration.

As a retiree, I have the time, energy, background and knowledge to hit the ground running, and face these challenges head-on. As mayor, I will work with the new board of trustees, openly negotiate solutions to these and other tasks we face. I look forward to working with the different organizations, non-for-profits, Chamber, and we’ll join organizations such as the Suffolk County Village Officials Association to learn what successes other Villages have achieved.

Question from the audience: What will be your policies around communicating with the public, regarding timelines of posting agendas, meeting notices and minutes.

Answer: As the past Village clerk, I am very aware of timing when it comes to agendas and minutes. As mayor, I will insist that the agenda be ready and finalized on Friday afternoon. The minutes of each meeting are available after the board of trustees has approved them. It will continue that way. We will be open and honest with the residents, you can come into any board meeting, they are the first and third Tuesday of the month. They start at 6pm at this point, we might change the time. And come to the board meetings. Right now, we have about five to six residents who regularly attend Village board meetings. I’m going to present to you a board that is open, honest and inclusive government.

Closing remarks: This is the first time in eight years that the position of mayor is being contested. During this campaign process, my opponent and I have spared for the position of mayor. As mayor, I will work alongside Mr. Weber and the entire newly elected board to bring you, the residents of this Village, a board that will work together on your behalf, be informative, transparent, one that you can be proud of.

Dave Weber Jr.
Growing up a third generation Northporter, in our community – I’ve raised my three sons here in this great Village and that has given me the belief that there’s no greater community than Northport. I’m a 26-year member and ex-captain of the Northport Volunteer Fire Department, a 26-year downtown business owner, and a supporter of many community organizations. I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Marine Industries and the New York Marine Training Association, and I’m active in all three. I was a founding member of the Cow Harbor Warriors, which is a community-based veteran organization that brought OAF OIF veterans to Northport for a weekend of relaxation and recreation. I have a unique perspective on what this Village needs with those qualifications. What this Village needs is long-term growth and sustainability.

Joining the Board of Trustees in 2020, I have given our residents the voice that has been missing over the past administrations. Getting professional guidance and new eyes on our finances when wrongdoings occurred, fiscal responsibility, building relationships with federal, state and local officials, obtaining grant monies in order to approve recreational facilities for our youth, environmental initiatives, continuing stormwater mitigation along Main Street with state funding to continue to improve our water quality, aquaculture programs to clean and strengthen the condition of our harbors for future generations. I want to continue to make this positive impact on the lives of Village residents. Let’s make our Village affordable for families so that they can stay here, let’s make the Village enticing enough for new families to want to come into our community, and raise their children here just as I have, and my parents did, and my grandparents did.

How will we do that? By being engaged with the community. I’ll be out in the community every day that you’re out in the community. Actually listening to your needs, building public-private partnerships to keep costs down, that’s what I’m doing now and it’s what I’m going to do when I become mayor. At the same time, we are going to foster community spirit. All my life has been dedicated to community service because that is how I was raised right here by my parents in Northport Village. Please remember one thing: A better Village Hall is a better community for all of us.

Question from the audience: If you are elected, what do you see as the most important issue for the Village?

Answer: The divisiveness that’s going on in the country is just tearing us apart. Nobody wants to turn on the TV and see what’s going on these days. One of the amazing things about our community is the community feel. The families that get together for a purpose and get stuff done. I definitely want to see us come together. I think that’s the biggest issue – that we need to come together, no more dividing. We have people that are badmouthing trustees and mayors, it’s not the way we should be operating, we should be operating as a team up here.

The board is going to sit up here and they’re going to have to get stuff done, and we need to be working together. Out of the people sitting up here, there’s only a couple of them that have approached me and started to talk about what I’ve been doing in the Village. And I find that troubling because I’m going to be [on the board] here for another two years no matter what, so I’m either a trustee or a mayor… I’m going to be here having to work with everybody. So the way to work is you get together and work as a team. I think that’s going to be one of the big issues. We have all the other issues that are going on: stormwater mitigation, cleaning of the harbor, infrastructure, these are all things that are currently in the works. You might not think they are, but this is stuff that’s happening in the background… Those things are important also, and we’re going to do that too.

Closing remarks: Your support is the reason I’ve been able to be in this position as trustee, and I appreciate that and I carry my duties right here, close to my heart. I want to thank you for giving me that opportunity. I want you to think about the power of words, actions, deadlines – they bring focus, but also convey urgency and meaning. And because of that, I’ve worked hard since being elected as trustee. I’ve stayed true to my platform of inclusivity, transparency and fiscal responsibility…Throughout my life, I’ve seen how collaboration, involvement, recognition and empowerment can shape communities, contributing to who we are and who we want to become.

Meghan Dolan
I’m so excited to be here tonight, to continue doing what’s been the best part of this process for me so far – meeting and talking to all of you. For those of you I don’t know, I’m Meghan Dolan. My husband Greg and I have been in Northport for almost ten years. He is a teacher and a high school football coach at Chaminade High School. We are raising three young children: Filomena is six, John is four and Luca is one. We are active parishioners at St. Philips. I am a preschool soccer coach, I am a class mom involved in the PTA, and a founding member of the local non-profit Not In Our Town. I’m also an avid yogi. In addition to being engaged in the community, I have been a litigator on Long Island for 13 years. I was first appointed an assistant district attorney in Nassau County, where I prosecuted misdemeanor felonies in conjunction with the Nassau County Police Department. Then I was trial counsel for a Fortune 100 insurance carrier, and most recently I was in private practice representing Long Island municipalities.

I am engaged with and dedicated to this community. I have been genuinely motivated by this community and the relationships I have developed here in the past few years of getting involved, with everybody from board members and Village staff, to local law enforcement leaders and elected officials. Those relationships are so important to me, and the support that I’ve had throughout this process from those people is so meaningful, on both a personal and professional level.

There is an opportunity in this election and a true desire from residents, as I’m learning, for new voices and new faces on this board. I am that person. I am someone who has shown that I’m engaged with this community. I have the professional experience to hit the ground running, and I am a zealous advocate for everything I put my mind to. I’m someone who has the best interest of this community at heart and is not seeking any personal gain from doing this. And that’s what people in this Village are entitled to in their leadership.

Question from the audience: In light of the situation with Trustee Kehoe and his fraud in the Village of Northport, regarding his home construction, do you support changing the Village law to allow for impeachment of a trustee?

Answer: I do think there needs to be ramifications, you all deserve that in your elected officials. It really has to do also with our code, the selective enforcement and people who might have sought this position at some point for their own personal gain. Now is the time for you guys to think about those types of things and who you are picking here. There absolutely should be accountability in your officials. You should be able to get in contact with your trustees if you want to, you should be able to have your emails answered, you should be able to know who they are and see them around town. This board needs selfless people who are dedicated and engaged in this community, who are not here for personal gain, and for people to be held accountable. So absolutely, if there’s an option for an amendment to hold people accountable, I would be in favor of that.

Closing remarks: Being a Northport resident for almost ten years, my time here is really just beginning. My husband and I have committed to raising our family here, my parents have moved to Northport Village, I want to work to create a place where our children and grandchildren can thrive for years to come. That is what drives me to serve this community. There is a lot to be accomplished and I started to tell you before about my professional experience representing Long Island municipalities just like this, in state and federal court on everything from a slip and fall to employment issues, to constitutional claims for the eastern district. I have that experience and I have the dedication, selflessness and transparency that residents deserve.

James Izzo
It’s been a long time since I’ve interviewed for a job. I’ve been self-employed for 45 years. I love it and it’s taught me a lot. During that process, I’ve been involved with a lot of boards, I’ve done a lot of things, some I’m very proud of and some I’m not so proud of. I was a founding member of the Arthur Avenue BID. I’ve been involved with a lot of charities, but what brings me here is the desire to make Northport better, just like everybody else at this table, and that’s why you guys are here. And I think I can do a good job.

I initially wanted to run out of frustration. I was the president of the Chamber during Covid and we had a very abysmal response from our existing group of trustees and our mayor, and it really put a lot of our businesses in jeopardy. I’ve been in my own business all my life and I know what it is to dedicate every waking moment and every dollar to your own business, and the way we were treated was quite unfair. As I dove a little deeper and started going to Village meetings, I saw that it wasn’t just the business owners who were frustrated, it was the residents, everyone was frustrated at every level because of a lack of response. My goal and my ability is to respond, to listen. The name of my party is ACT: Accessible, Caring and Transparent. It’s not just an acronym, it’s what we need to be, and I can work with anyone up here and do that, but I need you guys to get involved too.

It’s easy to fix the problems we have. The real tough spot is to identify the future problems and avoid them before they come to fruition. So we can alleviate a lot of grief just by knowing what’s going on.

Question from the audience: What local organization can the Village team up with to improve the village?

Answer: Take your pick. We’ve got more organizations than people here. I’m involved with several, but depending on what your priorities are, I would come to us and if it doesn’t exist, we’ll make one. This is a community, this is a village, we’re all neighbors. If there is a need out there and we don’t have the wherewithal to address it today, well let’s get it in place for tomorrow. It’s real simple. That [question] was like “What’s your favorite color,” right? But thank you… I know as the Chamber, we split up into teams, and we had different teams addressing different issues, whether it be membership or holiday lighting, whatever. And only the Chamber members were the team leaders, but we had people in the community supporting us and working with us to get everything done. So yeah, if you want to get something done, the only thing I can tell you is if you have an idea, that’s terrific, but if you talk to me about it, be prepared to work on it. I’ll work on it with you, but again, people bring me ideas every day. I don’t need that. I need ideas that can be brought to fruition for the benefit of our community.

Closing remarks: About 12 years ago, my wife and I were looking for a place to live. I knew I was going to be retiring and we really looked from Long Island City up to the North Fork, in Greenport. We kept gravitating back to Northport for a number of reasons. And we felt like this was the place that we wanted to settle down because we had a great experience coming here. It’s all about the Northport experience. Now everyone who’s here is a little disgruntled with what went on in the past, and that’s fine, it’s in the past. Moving forward, we want to maintain that Northport experience. We want our children to experience what we know it can be. And if elected, or if these people I’m here with get their way, it’s going to move forward. It’s going to move forward with your help. But the Northport experience is what we’re after. It’s what no one else has, it’s unique.

Joseph Sabia
I’ve been here many times before. I’ve been a Village resident since 1977. I own a business here, Sabia’s Car Care, and in that time I was a Northport police officer. I know how this Village runs. My wife was a court clerk before she passed away, and I raised my two daughters here. I was Vice President of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association. For politics, I used to fly to Washington and lobby the president, congressman and senators. I’ve been going to board meetings here for well over ten years. I’m very dedicated. I love this Village, it’s the greatest place in the world. I know what makes this Village work and I know what the people want from the Village trustees. I’ve been sitting on the other side of that table for ten years, and if I’m elected, I’ll give you the best shot I have and you will have decency, respect, courtesy and trust.

I’ve knocked on 800 doors. This is the fifth time up here running for office. I’ve lost before and I’m not ashamed of it because if I didn’t run, nobody ran, and you’d never have an election here, so it’s not the democratic process. So I always stuck my neck out to run. After knocking on 800 doors four to five times, the most important part is public safety. We have a police department here that’s far better than none. Well educated, well trained and well equipped. And what’s going on in the world today, we are number two in America for the safest place, we got to make sure that the police department stays that way. After going to Village board meetings for months, pounding the Village board, we needed a paid paramedic 24/7 in our Village, we didn’t have one, we were sharing one between here and East Northport…. We finally got a paid paramedic 24/7 in our Village. Thank God for that. What else do we need? We want our roads fixed, in front of us our roads are crumbling. The sidewalks on Main Street are horrible, people trip all the time on them…. We live in a Village, why do we want the Village? Because we want control. You call Village Hall, you get nothing. Our taxes, $8.4 million in reserves is ridiculous on a $17 million budget. I’m a fiscal conservative. With that budget, the reserves should be $4 million. This Village board took your money, with this mayor, and they robbed us. We should’ve never had a tax increase this year.

Question from the audience: What is the most important environmental issue facing our Village?

Answer: One of the most important things is the water runoff down Main Street going into our harbors. This Village has talked about doing rain gardens, putting in catch basins, and it hasn’t worked and they haven’t followed through on all the planning. We have to keep our harbor clean, we have to keep the rain water as much as possible from running down Main Street because it comes down Highland Avenue, it comes down Church Street and Ocean Avenue, it’s a very hard problem to fix. If we hire the correct engineers, there should be a fix for it. It will never be 100% fixed…, but we should try to stop it by putting filters in the catch basins and keeping all of our drain basins clean, not full of sand where the water just keeps running down. That’s about the best we can possibly do and that’s one of the main causes of the pollution in our harbor, and with every rainstorm, you find out that you can’t swim at our beaches because of water runoff and the algae problem.

Closing remarks: With my amount of knowledge, all the board meetings I’ve been to, knocking on doors and speaking to everybody, seeing the problems, I will try to keep this as positive as I possibly can because there are a lot of deficiencies in this Village that must be taken care of…The Northport fish market and 51 Mariners Lane should’ve never happened. The people that live on a block with six burnt out houses and two boarded up houses, and I remember distinctly one on Ocean Avenue and one on Douglas Avenue, it’s not fair to our residents. It brings down your property value. If we don’t have a law on the books to do something about these… I think we should have a law on the books so we don’t have to look at these derelict homes anymore.

Michael Bento
My wife Victoria and I own our home here in Northport right by the Ocean Avenue Elementary School, and we are planning our first child. We decided to settle down here because I grew up spending my summers at my grandparent’s house in Asharoken, and that’s really how I got to know and love Northport. Right now, I am self-employed as an independent equities trader. I trade my own private portfolio. I’ve worked for Barclays and Morgan Stanley. I graduated from Queens College with both my Bachelors and Masters, the latter of which is history with a focus on public policy. I volunteer in the community at such events as the Cow Harbor Race and Lewis Oliver Farm seasonal cleanups. And last, but not least, I’m an avid boater and a lifelong fisherman, and these are the reasons why I love this Village.

I’m running to bring my unique experience as a financial professional to the board. As a younger person, just starting a family, I’m concerned with the future and where the Village is headed. We have a lot of fiscal problems ahead of us, chief of which is going to be what LIPA is doing to our school taxes. So I want to use my experience to help soften that blow at the Village level. We currently have $26.9 billion sitting with New York State for the federal infrastructure bill that was passed last year. I want to use my knowledge to fight for our fair share of that and take care of once-in-a-generation issues like our longstanding flooding on Main Street, meaningfully expanding sewers throughout the Village, but also, and more importantly, being proactive with regular infrastructure uses, and we can use that money to resurface roads, put in new sidewalks where needed, that’s going to help us within the next ten years. It’s going to make it so we can keep the infrastructure costs low because we’re using the federal money. I want to get as much of that federal money as possible to keep our taxes low. Additionally, I want to be a champion for our environment. We have a serious runoff problem in the harbor. We’ve done a lot over the years to clean it up, but more work needs to be done and that is another reason why I want to fight for this infrastructure money. It’s going to help us from preventing that water from going into the harbor and contaminating it. As a voter, I can see the green and brown tides we have and it’s not good for the ecosystem.

Question from the audience: All of the improvements that are needed for sidewalks and the streets in the Village, can they become handicap accessible, what about handicap parking, and are you aware of the ADA laws?

Answer: We are, first and foremost, a pedestrian-friendly Village. So I see no reason why if we are putting in new sidewalks, if we’re doing infrastructure improvements to the curves and roads, why we shouldn’t pay particular attention to making sure it’s accessible for everybody, no matter what your ability status. I want to get as much of that federal infrastructure money as possible and if we’re putting in replacements for sidewalks, we should absolutely put some ramps on the corners so that people who are otherly abled are able to use the sidewalks just as the rest of us.

Closing remarks: If you honor me with your vote, I promise to work every day to ensure that your Village stays affordable. Raising a family here is expensive, especially in these uncertain times. In an economy beset by market downturns, high inflation and geopolitical conflict, peace of mind is hard to come by. That is why it’s very important to have someone on the board that’s well versed in the financial world and who can aid in navigating these troubled waters to keep our Village afloat for everyone who lives here.

Ernest Pucillo
I’ve lived in Northport for 30 years. My career has been 37 years in law enforcement as a deputy chief working throughout New York State. My focus was on emergency management planning and discontinuity planning. I led the counterterrorism unit in my department and I think I have a lot to offer to this position. I’m running for this position because I feel that I can bring something from all of my years of experience working and coordinating with other law enforcement and emergency workers throughout New York State.

I’m running for Trustee for the reason that all you people are here tonight. I looked at some of the issues and I realize we need to bring some consistency and clarity to government...

Why do we have a Village trustee in litigation against the Village? I mean, this is our government, why are we fighting ourselves? We need to have a unified board to work together. As I look at the budget, I look at the tax increases that have continued under the 2% cap, without any consideration for the people of Northport. We have a tremendous surplus, let’s give the residents a break. Let’s look at the budget, let’s be less conservative and look at ways we can save money, but reduce taxes. We have a $9 million surplus on a $12 million tax levy, it’s not reasonable. So we have to sit down and talk about the budget. We have to see where the mistakes are being made.

Question from the audience: I see all of the “Stop the Hate” signs around and I believe that this promotes hate. Is there a big hate problem in the Village and who is hated by who?

Answer: We’ve seen incidents of hate activity in the Village. You’ve read, probably, the story of hate and swastikas that we’ve seen, and other groups expressing hate against other ethnic groups. Yes, we always have to be weary of that. I don’t think it’s a big problem in the Village, but I think the problem exists in every community. There are always people who are intolerant of others’ beliefs, there are people who are intolerant of others’ religious beliefs, and we have to work to ensure inclusion for all people in the community. And that’s extremely important. Northport is a great community. Everybody knows each other, but there’s always going to be people from outside the community, or people from within, who move in, and we can deal with that. We have a terrific law enforcement group, we have a great community to deal with that and I think it was exemplified in the incident that occurred by Engeman Theater and how it was directed, and how it was handled by [theater owner] Kevin O’Neil and the Chief of Police, and the members of the board who sent out a letter to indicate the intolerance of prejudice against people in this community and that it’s not acceptable.

Closing remarks: I feel that you’re looking for a change and this is your opportunity to get that change. To get that transparency in government, to get your officials to be more responsive. Sometimes change is worth it when we see problems within our government. When we see issues that are plaguing us, and leaking out into the newspapers.

The Northport Village election takes place this Tuesday, March 15. Village residents only may vote at Village Hall from 6am to 9pm, and must be registered voters.