Written by Carol Frank, firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00
A simmering stew of resentments about a range of issues, from the 7-Eleven approval to parking tickets given out during the Strawberry Festival to a perceived “tone of unfriendliness and arrogance,” brought out over 200 Village of Great Neck voters for a write-in “protest” campaign that took the incumbents by surprise.
At one point, a long line of voters snaked down Arrandale Avenue on the drizzly, chilly voting day.
Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, Deputy Mayor Mitch Beckerman, Trustee Jeff Bass and Trustee Marc Birnbaum running for village judge quickly scrambled to reach out to the 6,000 registered voters in the village to make them aware of the strategy to unseat a majority of the board overnight.
The challengers were Pedram Bral, M.D.; Christine Campbell; Anne Mendelson and Kambiz Akhavan.
A few days later, after the dust settled, Mayor Kreitzman said, “I am still perplexed. The only issue that Dr. Kral mentioned to me when we met afterwards was that we didn’t allow him to take down a tree on his property...Any issues can be brought to the board, addressed and perhaps resolved. We can discuss these things in public.”
As is always the case in write-in campaigns, issues arise in counting the votes, and this case was no exception. The count was not completed until 1:30 a.m. and resulted in a win for the incumbents by a 90-vote margin.
The election was further complicated due to the fact that the sole voting machine jammed. The Board of Elections sent another one over and when it became clear that a write-in campaign was in progress, also provided paper ballots.
At 9 p.m. when the polls closed, police stood at the rear of the line, and did not allow late-comers to join the line.
Evidently, meetings had been held around the village in people’s homes for the last three weeks and according to Elizabeth Allen, who has long expressed contempt for the Better Government party, leaders “emerged.” She added, “This is a true contested election as it equalizes the money and influence that the good old boys in the party have.”
Campaign manager Rebecca Rosenblatt-Gilliar said, “This is a protest vote, a wake up call to the incumbents...We ran a slate of candidates instead of running against just one incumbent because this wasn’t personal. Frankly, I didn’t expect this turnout. This is what happened when we only campaigned for three days.”
Ms. Rosenblatt-Gilliar has been a very vocal opponent on various applications that have come before the Board of Zoning Appeals, such as the Lalezarian proposal to build houses on a land-locked parcel after which she filed an Article 78 contesting the decision and the 7-Eleven facility that was also approved in spite of an outcry from neighbors.
Recent zoning board decisions that have been unpopular were mentioned by a number of voters. By state statue, zoning boards operate without any oversight by the municipal body. The statue states, “Where the zoning board of appeals has final decision-making authority, the legislative body (board of trustees who make laws) may not review the grant or denial of variances, special use permits, or any other decisions.” Zoning board decisions may, however, be reviewed by state courts in Article 78 proceedings.
Some voters perceive that since zoning board members are appointed, in this case for 5 years, by the board of trustees, the members are not truly independent and operate under the influence of the mayor and trustees.
Mayor Kreitzman said, “People just don’t believe that we abide by the statue.”
The matter of tickets passed out during the Strawberry Festival stirred some voters to wrath. This reporter was told that the village had turned down a request for suspended parking rules during the event...for the first time in 60 years.
According to the mayor, the board never received a request and hence, did not turn it down or approve it. Deputy mayor Mitch Beckerman said that during this event and others that occur during High Holy Days, the village has consistently granted permission to allow for eased parking rules. “But we don’t suspend certain parking rules that have safety consequences such as parking in front of a hydrant.” He added that when he got a call that tickets were being issued during the festival, he immediately went over and stopped the code enforcement officer from issuing any more.
The Write In Candidates
Running for mayor was Pedram Bral, M.D. who specializes in minimally invasive and robotic gynecologic surgery at Maimonides Medical Center. Dr. Bral said, “People are fed up with the village...They show no compassion, giving out summons to elderly people who need people to volunteer to help them.” He went on to cite a couple who were fined for installing a generator after Sandy without a permit and an elderly woman whose grass was uncut until the village sent employees to cut it along with a bill from for the service. He added, “I know that I would listen to people’s problems.”
Running for a trustee position, Christine Campbell, a preschool teacher at All Saints and lifelong resident, stated that she was running “to bring the village together.”
Anne Mendelson, a teacher at Great Neck North High School, also ran for trustee, but was not present during the hours of the vote count for comment.
Attorney Kambiz Akhavan ran in the write-in campaign for the position of village justice and stated that he would give his reasons for running after the voting.
It is unknown at this point as to whether the write-in candidates will persevere and get involved in village matters with an eye to running an announced campaign next year when two positions will be up for re-election.