The five candidates vying for the Dec. 10 park district election for commissioner presented their visions for the park district and answered questions posed by the full-house audience at the Great Neck House in a debate run by the League of Women Voters on Nov. 21.
The candidates from left to right: Jeffrey Schwartz, Robert Stern, Elizabeth Berinson, Ivar Segalowitz and Joseph Rosenthal.
Each candidate believes he or she brings a unique perspective to the job. For Jeffrey Schwartz, it is his "finger on the pulse of the community" that he feels is necessary in shaping new programs to attract newer members of the community and responding to changing needs and tastes of residents. For Robert Stern, it is his experience as mayor of Thomaston and his doggedness at going after funding sources for beautification and road upgrade projects. For Ivar Segalowitz, it is his longtime participation in enjoying many aspects of the park system, his role on park advisory committees and his technical and managerial abilities. For Liz Berinson, it is her love for the park, having grown up in Great Neck and her experience in fund raising. For Joe Rosenthal, it is his background as an accountant and his belief that he is more familiar with the needs of young families.
The first question from the audience asked each candidate to spell out one short-term and one long-term goal that he or she would rank as a high priority. Ms. Berinson stated that there is a need to assess and evaluate everything that should be done and that attracting new residents is a high priority. Mr. Rosenthal answered that an important short-term goal should be to raise the safety level at each facility and that better commuter parking facilities was his top long-range goal. Mr. Segalowitz felt that on a short-term basis every effort should be made to improve the efficiency of the operation by establishing computer networking, purchasing better equipment such as wider lawn mowers and the cogeneration of electricity to cut huge power bills. On a long-term basis he thinks that zero-based budgeting should be instituted. Mr. Stern would like the park district to work for the establishment of a green belt east of East Shore Road running around Manhasset Bay and would favor additional parking over the tracks at the train station, but cautions that "you can't go further than the economy permits." Mr. Schwartz believes that in the short-term a plan needs to be developed to upgrade and renovate the physical plant rather than operate on an emergency-to-emergency basis. In the long-term, he wants to reach out to young families and Persian families for input in program planning.
In one of the more pointed questions of the evening, Cooky Blaha asked Mr. Stern and Mr. Schwartz why they were running since neither have attended park board meetings until recently. Mr. Schwartz responded that he did not believe board meeting attendance was an "acid test" of one's ability to make a difference. He said that he knows the community and would bring new ideas. Mr. Stern said he wanted to make a contribution, but that he would never have been interested in running against his "good friend, Bill Dobkin," who is now retiring from the board.
Mr. Stern was questioned about whether he saw serving on the park district board while holding the position of mayor of Thomaston as a conflict of interest. He stated that the NYS Attorney General's office has ruled that such dual positions do not constitute a conflict, but that if a conflict arose, he would recuse himself from voting on a particular matter.
Another questioner asked the candidates for creative ideas to increase the usage of the Village Green Park. Mr. Rosenthal suggested that more concerts be given there. Mr. Stern opted for more attractive floral displays and suggested hiring "a first rate gardener." Mr. Schwartz also thought beautification was a good idea, but suggested input from the community before budgeting big items. Mr. Segalowitz believes that bringing in a weekly farmers' market in the warm months, similar to the Union Square market in Manhattan, could revitalize the park. He has investigated the concept and says that such markets are sponsored by the NYS Department of Agriculture and that the farmers are insured, clean the grounds before leaving and can only sell what they "make, bake or catch." Ms. Berinson favors more concerts and would like to see the play area studied to determine if it could be improved.