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Editorial: J. Leonard Samansky, A Life With Purpose

My first brush with J. Leonard Samansky was some 20 years ago. I was the PTA president at Saddle Rock Elementary School and we had big problems with safety issues around drop-offs and pick-ups in front of the school. What did I know about dealing with Nassau County police and traffic issues outside the school property? It seemed feasible to start with the mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock. I didn’t realize that we would gain such a powerful ally in addressing the issues.

It was just the kind of problem that Leonard relished. It took analyzing the situation, envisioning a solution and banging a few heads together, if that’s what it took, to resolve things. While at first, I was a little tentative about calling him up with various wrinkles that emerged while trying to make the situation safe, he made it clear that no problem was too small or too difficult for him to tackle. “Call me anytime,” he said. By this time, his son, Adam, had already moved up to middle school, but his protective attitude toward all the children of Saddle Rock School was always in full force.

By the time I came to the Record, he was working in the county administration and if we needed any help in wading through the bureaucratic maze to get straight answers about any aspect of county government, Leonard was the go-to guy. He had a way of explaining how the system worked and who could get things done that was always right on target. How often, when puzzled about some county contretemps, we would say to each other, “Let’s call Leonard.”

He was passionate about his role at the Water Authority of Great Neck North, believing that we are stewards of a precious, life-giving resource that is worth defending against any assaults whether from a daily newspaper that hounded the Authority with charges that were false, or from faulty communication among members of the board, or pressures to lessen the water standards, which exceed the state requirements, in the guise of saving money.

He was a champion of local government at it best, at its most nimble, at its most efficient. Leonard displayed a Don’t Tread on Me banner at Village Officials Association meetings which he had had made until it became too closely identified with the Tea Party. And at heart, Leonard was too independent to be too tied to any established party, which did not endear him in some circles.

When the talks to consolidate the two Great Neck sewer systems got mired down in a tangle of legalisms and what-ifs, Leonard’s skills for negotiating came into full play. The press was allowed to attend many of the special advisory committee meetings, but when the talks got down to the nitty-gritty, we were not allowed to attend. However, everyone coming out of those meetings were in agreement about one thing: Leonard moved the process, hammering out agreements step by step in a fashion that dazzled all.

He dearly loved his village, its history, its beauty and its people. But he also loved the whole Peninsula and so often was involved in issues beyond the parameters of Saddle Rock. He had little patience for incompetence, subterfuge or narrow-minded interests...and he did not worry about popularity when it came to sticking to his principles.

The most recent issue, close to his heart, is the contract for ambulance service with the various villages that is still unresolved in two of the villages. Leonard was very outspoken in his belief that the Vigilant’s ambulance service is “magnificent” and should not be allowed to unravel or be weakened under any circumstances. His support of the volunteer fire companies that serve Great Neck was unwavering and he was not timid about disagreeing publicly with some of his fellow mayors on the topic of public safety and how it should be financed.

During our last conversation, we discussed 9-11 and our remembrances of it almost 10 years after. To mark the anniversary, Leonard, with the help of Public Access Television, developed and produced a DVD about those terrible days when our community gathered at what became the 9-11 Bridge to grieve for all that was lost irrevocably on that day. He said, “I am determined to be there on the bridge on September 11 this year to give people copies of the DVD...I am determined.” He had always been so honest, so forthright with me...that I suspended my knowledge of how seriously ill he was and trusted that he would win this fight, as he had won so many others.

And in a way, he was right.

For me...and for many, many others, he will be there.       

- Carol Frank