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Meet The New Boss

Mayor John Watras

looking inside village for answers

When John Watras was recently elected to become the 45th mayor of Garden City, it was the culmination of 18 years of service, rising through the ranks of the Western Property Owners Association (WPOA). To wind up as the head of the village wasn’t exactly in his plans when he started attending WPOA meetings.  

“I used to go to the meetings for the Western Property Owners. That was the start. And I used to like all the people there and all of a sudden I got elevated,” he explained. “I became president and when my presidency ended I was pretty much done. Then John Murray, who was the trustee, said I was going to be the next trustee, and that’s how it all got started. In the last couple of years, I came to the realization that I would be mayor. All I really want to do is do a good job and that I gave back what I got out of that town, which is an awful lot.”

Along the way, Watras has been a visible presence in the village, seemingly involved with every organization in some way, shape or form. As a trustee, he has held numerous positions including finance chairman and has been a trustee liaison to myriad groups ranging from the Garden City Historical Society, Garden City Public Library, and Board of Cultural and Recreational Affairs to the Zoning Board of Appeals, senior citizens, and the Environmental Advisory Board. He was also the only trustee to have served as fire and police commissioner simultaneously. It is this kind of seasoning that Watras is going to need given the issues he’s going to have to grapple with, starting with ratifying a budget for the new fiscal year, a fact he’s clearly aware of.

“My biggest challenge is making sure that we keep our fiscal layout solid—that we keep the business in line. That’s the most important thing,” he pointed out. “The other thing is that we really service the citizens. Period. End of story. That’s what it’s all about, serving them in every way, shape and form. That we’re able to provide the right facilities or the right product if you will; to make sure that they’re happy. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Given how fractious village board meetings could occasionally become under the last regime, Watras is looking to not only go forth under calmer waters, but tap into the talent pool that lives within the village borders. Particularly when it comes down to what to do with what’s left of the St. Paul’s School for Boys, an issue that’s been entering into its third decade of debate.  

“I’m going to start to put together focus groups. There is a tremendous amount of talent in Garden City and instead of going out and hiring consultant groups, I’m going to start to utilize some of the talent that we have in town,” Watras said before adding, “I believe that we’re going to be able to use that to our advantage and go back and say that not for nothing, we can have a committee to review St. Paul’s and options for St. Paul’s. And on that committee I’ll have people that are opposed and people that are for it and let’s see what kind of ideas that they can come back to the board with. I don’t want anything to be one-sided. I’m looking to get some closure on it that’s acceptable to everybody.”

In addition, the Hofstra University alum has a solid background in finance given the fact that he’s been involved in the securities industry since 1986. Currently a managing director for a brokerage firm that he’s also a partner in, Watras is also a past director of The New York Stock Exchange. Institutional sales, corporate money management, compliance and principal responsibilities are all facets of his industry that he’s been deeply involved with at one time or another. It’s a skill set he feels will enable him to grapple with the money issues Garden City is going to have to deal with between rising taxes and pension costs.

“I’m involved as a broker dealer, doing marketing. Sales and closing businesses [are also part of the equation],” he pointed out. “I believe those are going to be my greatest gifts—bringing people together and getting things done. Closing things and not having dangling participles—I believe that’s exactly where I’m going to add value to Garden City, an absolute oasis that’s 23 miles from Manhattan.”