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Former Town Supervisor May Newburger Dies At 92

A mentor to so many, a legend in her own time

To all who knew her, and many who did not, May Newburger was truly a “legend in her own time.” She died last Thursday, Aug. 30, at her home in the Village of Great Neck. A former New York State assemblywoman, former North Hempstead town councilwoman, immediate past North Hempstead town supervisor, and a strong guiding hand and mentor to a whole host of prominent elected officials, May Newburger will be missed. She will be sorely missed by those who often took her very firm, always tough out-stretched hand and by a public who may never realize all she has done for one and all.

For U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, “There is no substitute for May Newburger.”

Immediate successor to the town supervisor position, Supervisor Jon Kaiman called his mentor “a great lady … a person of depth, integrity, strength, and to me so much more.”

May Newburger was the first female North Hempstead town supervisor and served five terms in office. Prior to that, she also served two years as a town councilwoman and eight years in the New York State Assembly (1979 to 1986). During her years as town supervisor, Ms. Newburger built a strong and impressive reputation around environmental issues; her dedication was far-reaching. Along those lines, she created the town’s Environmental Legacy Fund, a tool to preserve open space and create additional parkland in all parts of the town.

As town supervisor, she transformed a cumulative budget deficit of $7.0 million into a $7.7 million surplus and moved the town from the lowest to historically highest bond rating ever. This was achieved through her long-term strategic planning which included the Debt Management and Capital Plans, which was to reduce the town debt by approximately $107 million in 10 years.

Under her watch, the Town of North Hempstead was named “Town of the Year 1999” by the Long Island Development Corporation and received the “Quality of Life Award” from the Long Island Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She spearheaded the reclamation and rehabilitation of the infamous Morewood Property, leading to the creation of Harbor Links, one of the country’s most environmentally friendly championship level golf courses which has earned the Environmental Stewardship Award and the very prestigious Audubon Signature Designation, one of a few such municipal courses in the world.

On the environmental front, Ms. Newburger had a long list of outstanding achievements. One of these was the establishment of the $15 million Environmental Legacy Fund, used for open space acquisition, restoration and protection of environmentally sensitive areas and for improvement and enhancement of coastal areas and waterways.

Additionally, during her tenure, she embarked on a most intensive federal lobbying effort to secure funding from the EPA to designate New Cassel as a Brownfields Pilot Community.

Also in line with her dedication to environmental concerns, under her watch the successful capping of two landfills was completed.

May Newburger has personally been active in dozens of local and national organizations over the years and has received innumerable awards and honors. In 1981, she served as a New York State delegate to the National White House Conference on Families and she chaired the American Jewish Congress’ National Commission on Women’s Equality from 1987 to 1989. She has been a member of the State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, the Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence and the State Commission on Child Care. The Town of North Hempstead’s Women’s Honor Roll was named in honor of May Newburger.

At this point in time U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling for the federal government to approve the designation of a portion of Hempstead Harbor as “May Newburger Cove.” And Senator Schumer wants this process expedited. He is pressing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to approve this renaming for a portion of the harbor in Port Washington. Speaking of May Newburger as a “trailblazing Long Island public servant,” the senator said that “May Newburger’s contributions to North Hempstead and all of Long Island can forever be immortalized in Hempstead Harbor.”

Within the hours following May Newburger’s death, friends reached out to one another and tributes poured in to the Great Neck Record. U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman echoed the feeling of many, that “May was like a mother to a very large troop … and when she was first in the state Assembly she lectured everybody, let them know exactly what she thought.” Again, summing up so many reactions, the congressman was proud to say that his friend “pulled no punches … she had a rough edge, but only good intentions.”

Longtime friend, and fellow Great Neck resident, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli immediately followed Ms. Newburger in the 16th New York State Assembly seat. “She was an iconic political leader, a trailblazer …it was a privilege to succeed her,” the comptroller told the Record, in the hours following Ms. Newburger’s death. “She always stood for the highest standards, she was a woman of integrity, a moral person,” Comptroller Di Napoli said. And he added that, for the Democratic Party, Ms. Newburger “helped many people get elected, she was a mentor to so many younger men and women … she planted many seeds out there that are still there for the community.”

And following Comptroller DiNapoli in the state Assembly is the current 16th District Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (also a neighbor in the Old Village), spoke of her “inspirational” friend: “May’s political courage inspired me —- when I take a tough vote she is never far. May always did the right thing for the right reason. She was brilliant and articulate, yet remarkably modest, always sharing her success with those around her. I love her and will miss her friendship and wise counsel.”

Fellow state legislator New York State Senator Jack Martins offered his kind words of condolence: “I join numerous other Long Islanders in mourning the loss of May Newburger. May was an icon in government here in Nassau County and certainly within the Town of North Hempstead. She was also a trailblazer for women everywhere. Her dedication on several important issues such as the environment and women’s rights left an indelible mark on many of our communities. She will be missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to her son Peter and her countless friends.”

Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth, a Great Neck resident serving the local community, told the Record: “May Newburger served our community with great honor, character and distinction. She led the fight for women’s rights and understood the importance of affordable quality child care before most people were even aware of the great need for it. She was a fierce environmentalist and fought to protect our aquifers and drinking water. Generations to come will reap the benefits of her selfless devotion to our community. Our May leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of many. She will be missed.”

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, a Great Neck resident, elected to the position following May Newburger’s long tenure, is a most notable, true protégé. Supervisor Kaiman, having visited his friend just days ago, told the Record, “May will always be a part of who I am.” He noted how they were “from different generations” yet “May was my mentor on so many different levels … so much a part of my life.” Speaking of May Newburger’s work through the years, the supervisor spoke of her “great legacy” and the “pride and pleasure” she felt in all of the people she “helped move along … she opened the door to others.” As for his own years in public life, Supervisor Kaiman said “It was an honor to know May and to work with her,” as he had also worked as a town commissioner during Ms. Newburger’s years as town supervisor.

North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Lee Seeman told of her close relationship with May Newburger, friends “back to 1955, the Adlai Stevenson campaign.” Ms. Seeman said that her dear friend was “my mentor … she was out there with all the important issues before she was ever elected to office.” During an emotional conversation, Ms. Seeman told the Record how Ms. Newburger was so involved with “issues of the day” such as the Vietnam War and civil rights. “She was a friend, a neighbor, and we had many disagreements, but May was often so right.” For Lee Seeman, she says that she might not have run for her current town council seat were it not for May Newburger: “Go out and run, she told me … and she taught me the meaning of being a friend.”

May Newburger’s own mayor, Ralph Kreitzman, mayor of the Village of Great Neck, reminisced about his friendship, telling the Record: “May was one of my best supporters and one of my best critics. Her advice, often unsolicited and rarely diplomatically offered, was from her head and heart and rarely was wrong. Protestations were often but the results also often were the same - the advice was sound and should be followed. I am proud she was a resident of my village but more proud of the fact she was my friend. May will be missed by all who knew her and the many who did not but whose lives were affected by all she did for us.” Mayor Kreitzman also represents the Nassau County Village Officials Association, where he serves as president, and the Great Neck Village Officials Association, where he is vice president.

Again, from Great Neck, May Newburger’s close friend Deena Lesser spoke of the long years of her personal and professional relationships with Ms. Newburger. She spoke of her friend as “a whirlwind … with remarkable energy and education … she was brilliant, she had great comic timing … she had an endless list of remarkable achievements.” With a great deal of pride, Deena Lesser said that May Newburger “had a heart as big as her intellect.” Ms. Lesser, currently a commissioner of the Great Neck Water Pollution District and an assistant to the town supervisor (focusing on Project Independence), also was elected town clerk and served under May Newburger, eventually becoming executive assistant to the supervisor.

On a very personal level, close friends Mitchell and Helene Beckerman offered heartfelt remembrances. Mr. Beckerman, deputy mayor of the Village of Great Neck, stated: “May Newburger was the main reason that I got involved in village government. Her love for public service and life was infectious. She always challenged me to be better at everything that I did and always kept me grounded. Her advice and friendship will be greatly missed.”

Helene Raps-Beckerman, former finance commissioner for the town, worked with Ms. Newburger for 15 years: “May Newburger was my boss, my mentor and my friend. She was the most unique and forward thinking person I have ever known. She was the master of government, a master of serving the people, and, most of all, a master human being. After my years in the private sector she taught me the rewards and joys of public service despite its frustrations. The life lessons I learned from May will always be with me.”

Speaking for the Newburger family, Arthur Gianelli offered the following statement: “May died as she lived, with intelligence, grace, humor, class and love. She was living history, a personal connection to the nation’s great struggles for social justice. She was our matriarch, a source of wisdom and comfort in challenging times. But most of all, she was May, a cherished mentor and friend whom I am blessed to have known. I will miss her always.”

May Newburger’s son, Peter Newburger, said: “For everyone else, May was larger than life. For me, she was mom, my closest friend. I’ll forever miss her.”

May Newburger is survived by her son Peter. She was predeceased by her husband John Newburger, who at one time served on the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education.

A memorial service to celebrate May’s life is being planned for late September.