The debate between incumbent, Ruth Tamarin, and challenger, Joseph Rosenthal, for the position of Great Neck Park District Commissioner was held at the Great Neck House on Nov. 27, but may be viewed in its entirety on Public Access TV, Channel 71, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 4:30. The debate was conducted by the League of Women Voters with member, Betsy Brody from the East Nassau League officiating.
Park District Commissioner Ruth Tamarin
Having won the coin toss, Ms. Tamarin, a retired school teacher and adjunct professor at C.W. Post, gave her opening statement in which she enumerated her qualifications and major accomplishments in the four years she has served on the board. She is most proud of having played a major role in acquiring the waterfront lot of the Cohan property, in saving money by reducing insurance costs, and in beautifying and upgrading all the parks based on a master plan in which improvements are made on a cyclical basis. With the retirement of Park Superintendent Richard Arenella looming, she emphasized the need for experience and continuity on the board as the commissioners hire, orient and guide a new superintendent of parks.
Mr. Rosenthal, an accountant and licensed real estate broker, stated that he and his young family are avid park users, that he is service-oriented and that he will bring a professional business stance to the work of park commissioner. It is his belief that the park district does not cater enough to young families and he favors trying more advertising and promotional events to increase the use of the pool, ice skating, marina and tennis facilities, which he says are suffering from declining memberships.
Candidate Joseph Rosenthal
Questions from the audience ranged over a wide array of specific topics and issues, and were limited to an hour. In some cases, both candidates responded, and at other times questions were targeted to one candidate only.
Concern was expressed about the hockey program. In spite of the fact that the facility is considered "state of the art," there is a shortage of enough players to have a high school team. Mr. Rosenthal believes that to revive hockey the district should "lure" a gifted hockey coach to encourage more participation, and that locker rooms should be installed. Ms. Tamarin stated that hockey is a cyclical sport and that on a national basis, it is on the decline. She said, "We run a recreational rather than a competitive program. Real competitive programs have rinks open year round." She added that the commissioners have seen a recent trend with more younger children enrolling in the hockey program.
Several questions were raised about the park district's programs and services for families with young children. Both candidates agreed that some of the summer concerts could be more geared to children, with Mr. Rosenthal adding that the events should begin an hour earlier to allow for children's bedtimes. Mr. Rosenthal believes that the metal sphere that has stood in Allenwood playground for many years is unsafe, and that Wyngate Park should have had a restroom installed when it was renovated.
Mr. Rosenthal does not buy into the rationale that pool memberships are down based on the changing composition of the community. He thinks that much more effort should be made to bring the numbers up. He also thinks that families would be more likely to join the pool if the kiddie pool rules were relaxed. When pressed for details, he said that water guns should be allowed at the pool along with flotation devices.
Ms. Tamarin explained that Wyngate is considered a neighborhood pocket park and that the cost of bringing in water, sewage lines and electricity, and having an attendant there would have run about $200,000. She noted that all of the playgrounds are scheduled for upgrades every 10 years on a staggered basis. Most recently, the playgrounds at Manor Park and Uplands Park have been improved. A new wading pool for Steppingstone is scheduled to open next summer. New basketball courts have been part of recent improvements to Thomaston Park and Cuttermill Park. She added that the rules at the Parkwood pools are based on safety and health considerations.
There were several questioners who wanted to know about the state of the tennis courts, and one person was highly critical of the quality of tennis lessons being given to children. Ms. Tamarin announced that work on a new roof and improved lighting at the indoor Parkwood courts has been completed. Some work has been done at Memorial Park to improve the drainage there and more improvements are slated for 2003. New courts were installed at Allenwood this year. So, even though the number of permits is down, the number of people enrolling for lessons is up, along with revenues.
In regard to the criticism of the lessons for children, Ms. Tamarin stated that the children are grouped according to age and ability; however, if a parent is unhappy with a particular pro, he or she has the right to choose someone else. Mr. Rosenthal agreed with the questioner that "the teaching enthusiasm may not be there."
Both candidates favor the development of bicycle trails. Ms. Tamarin added that plans for trails winding through various villages must have the cooperation of those villages and that in the past certain villages have not been cooperative, but "it's something we should work on."
Mr. Rosenthal was questioned pointedly about why he has never come to any park board meetings with his recommendations for service improvements. He stated that he started attending park board meetings, observing the proceedings, after he had decided to run. Further, he was asked why he had not attended any working meetings held recently to go over the budget in depth. Mr. Rosenthal never directly answered this question. Instead, he said that 26 full-time employees were not enough to run the park district well and that the employees should have more input into decision-making.
A question was raised about what the candidates would do to improve facilities for bridge players. Mr. Rosenthal said that new tables were needed and that the lighting at Great Neck House should be improved. Ms. Tamarin said, "It's a done deal. We decided to replace the furniture and the lighting is in the process of being fixed."
Mr. Rosenthal closed stating that he is not a politician, and he thanked the commissioners for all the work they have done. He said that there is no reason for such a decline in the park usage and that he has the time and energy to devote to turning things around. He asked for the chance to serve the community.
Ms. Tamarin closed noting that there are exciting new things ahead, such as the roller skating park that will be opened, negotiations that are underway for an additional soccer field, and the opportunity for developing the Peninsula Park. She asked for support in continuing the work she has begun.