After 16 consecutive years of serving Garden City as a trustee, and most recently as its mayor, Peter Bee is taking a breather.
He presided over his last board meeting March 19 and will make a brief cameo appearance at the April 6 annual organizational meeting, where he will officially hand over the gavel to Mayor-elect Rob Rothschild.
"I hope that there are places in Garden City that are a little brighter from my having been here and if not brighter, at least less damaged than they might otherwise have been," he said.
Deputy Mayor John Mauk admitted he couldn't imagine serving on the board without Bee. "I think he's such an integral part of it. I think he has a diplomacy that is so lacking and has been so useful over the years."
Mauk recalled a time when former Garden City Life editor Eileen Murphy said of Bee: "You know that Peter Bee can take a complex issue and he can explain it better than anybody so that anybody can understand it."
Mauk agreed. "He does that not only to all of you out in the audience but to those of us on the board of trustees as well." He added, "Like what's been said of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt, whether you agree with it or not, he was a man who had an excellent temperament. I think the same can certainly be said of our mayor. He has an uncharacteristic temperament with the way he deals with people. He has clearly demonstrated what it means to be not just a politician but what it means to be a statesman," Deputy Mayor Mauk said.
Trustee Nick Episcopia, who also hails from the eastern section, learned a lot from Bee's reign as a public servant, dating back to the years he spent serving in numerous capacities within the Eastern Property Owners' Association.
"I've learned restraint in the face of irrational behavior and the true meaning of what it means to be a public servant," Trustee Episcopia said. "There's many, many people that have served this village for a very, very long time but I don't know if there's been anyone in recent years who's managed to put in that much service consecutively, giving up his own time for absolutely no compensation."
He praised Bee's ethics in times of conflict and admired his push for the best public good. "I certainly hope he's going to be available to this board of trustees and to all board of trustees in the future for counseling," Trustee Episcopia said.
Building Superintendent Mike Filippon spoke of Bee's humanity. "We tend to be somewhat rigid in the building department, trying not to dole out favors to people or do unnecessary things for them," Filippon admitted. "Peter advised me one time, very philosophically, that there are times when there are true hardships. As a matter of fact, I think it was the very next day that we had an issue before us dealing with that very subject. I've always remembered that and from that day on we've operated in that manner."
Garden City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Althea Robinson knew she did something right 16 years ago when she, as a member of the Eastern Property Owners' Association's 10-Member Nominating Committee, interviewed and selected Bee for trustee.
"You've been one ever since and of course, you've been our mayor," Robinson said. "You've always been there whenever I've had a question. I just wanted to thank you."
Bee, Garden City's 42nd mayor, appeared humbled by the remarks. "I leave this board and the audience, particularly the regulars, with a thought that it is not such a bad idea to maintain a degree of civility, a presumption of good will and to remember that reasonable minds can differ," he said. "Discourse and debate can take place without rancor and personal animosity. I urge the board to get back to that kind of discourse."
Is a run for Congress in Bee's future? Longtime resident Mort Yuder, a meeting regular, hopes so. "With a community of this size," Bee joked, "I'm shooting for the vice president."
Gerard Lundquist, who is stepping down after serving the village for a decade, said, "I did enjoy my time on the board. There were some trying times but overall what I achieved to do was to do what's right for the village; not necessarily one property owners' association or one resident but what was good for the village as a whole and I believe I achieved that. Thank you all for that opportunity," he said.
Filippon admired Lundquist's calm demeanor in volatile situations. "I for one have always appreciated, above all, his brevity of comment. He would sometimes hold back but then he would say something right on point," he said.
Tom Lamberti, who recently told his wife, "I'm a lame duck but it doesn't stop me from quacking," admitted he's been crotchety during his tenure on the board.
Serving as trustee, though, has been the pinnacle of Lamberti's career, which began back in 1957 when he began serving as a lawyer for Garden City. "I've campaigned on transparency and accountability," he said. "I feel I am a servant of the people. Thank you for the support, whether it was a clap on the back, a shake on the hand, a call to comment. I feel truly rewarded by that," Trustee Lamberti said.
He "counseled" the board one last time, urging them to engage the unions in talks before June 1. During these recent budget sessions Lamberti has been a proponent of union concessions, noting that the current contract has a 3.7 percent increase. "Sixty percent or more of our budget is employee wages and benefits," he said.
He left the new board with this advice: "Today is tomorrow. You have the opportunity. You should seize it. Unless you reign in employee costs, you're going to find yourself behind the 8 ball," he said.
Filippon, who knows Lamberti both professionally and personally, said he's always admired his "unflinching dedication" to the traditions of this village. "He instilled that in me and I appreciate it," Filippon said.