The assemblage was small (roughly 50-60 persons), but tempers were high, at the Candidates' Night for Manorhaven Mayor and two trustees. The event was sponsored by the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters and chaired by Edna Vincenti, who had many occasions to use her well-worn gavel. The election will be held on June 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Manorhaven Village Hall.
The first part of the meeting was devoted to the candidates for trustee. In their opening statements, challengers Michael V. Mercante and Frank Ottaviani emphasized their close connection to the community. Both are virtually lifelong residents of Manorhaven, and graduated from our local schools. Ottaviani said, "I am not happy about what has transpired here. I want to make a contribution to the community -- to make this a better place to live." Mercante added, "I love this village a lot. I also care for the people who live here. I talk to the people, and I have been hearing and seeing things that I don't like. I want to give Manorhaven back to the people."
Incumbent trustee and Deputy Mayor Jennifer-Wilson Pines spoke mainly about her civic activities, primarily regarding waterfront issues. Incumbent trustee James A. Tomlinson said that he wanted to be re-elected to "finish the things we didn't finish doing." He said that the current administration has "maintained a budget that is very conservative. Taxes have not gone up." In a swipe at Mercante and Ottaviani's remarks, he said, "To my opponents: There is more to the village than what you see standing on a street corner." Mercante responded, "How long is it going to take? The sewer has had problems since at least 1994. You talk about a lot of things, but I see no production. It is time for a change."
The question-and-answer period was lively and occasionally hostile. Mercante and Ottaviani referred more than once to "cronyism, favoritism and racketeering." Both the incumbents and some of the audience challenged them as to how they could run for office when they do not regularly attend village meetings. Ottaviani responded, "I have been attending meetings for the last 15 years. But lately people couldn't ask questions, people were put down, especially if they were members of Concerned Citizens [of Manorhaven]. This was one of the points where things got heated. Mercante added, "You don't have to go to meetings to know what is going on here."
Another questioner asked Tomlinson to elaborate on the "unfinished business" that he had referred to in his opening statement. Tomlinson replied, "There is no question that the sewer system needs attention." He added, "A sewer study was started in the year 2000 and was finished up a year ago. We are still studying it." Pines responded that they have received an environmental fund grant to re-design the plans for the preserve. She said, "We should start work on the preserve this year."
One issue that both sides agreed on was the need to dredge to keep the waterfront viable. Mercante said, "We have to keep the marinas in business." Ottaviani said that he would have the marinas pay for their own dredging. Pines pointed out that she has been involved in discussions about this, adding, "The problem is not the dredging, it is what you do with the stuff you take out." Tomlinson added that the problem of dredging goes way beyond the scope of Manorhaven.
There was a lot of discussion about the sale of the Ashwood property next to village hall and the relocation of the police booth (article Port News May 13, 2004), with acrimony on both sides. Rather than moving it next to the Town Park, as previously planned, Mayor Capozzi said the booth will be moved to Graywood and Manorhaven Boulevard. There were numerous objections to the sale of the property; the incumbents justified the sale by saying they needed the money to garage the vehicles and make repairs and renovations to village hall. Ottaviani said, "If you keep on selling property, then where will we be?" Grenfell said that, if elected, he would favor reversing the sale and, if the property must be sold, to have an auction and sell to the highest bidder. Both challengers said that they believed the property was undervalued. Later, during the mayoral discussion, he added, "I can't see putting up two two-family houses there. I don't think that is in the best interests of the village." Capozzi responded by saying, "I don't know what the builder is thinking of putting up there, but the land is currently zoned commercial." In a recent village newsletter, and in a public meeting, however, it was reported that the builder is, intending to build two two-family homes on that site for which he would need a zoning variance and site approval).
In response to another question, both incumbents and challengers said that they would devote whatever time is necessary to manage the village effectively. Again, it became acrimonious, with Pines saying, "I don't think that my opponents have any idea what is involved in running this village." Ottaviani shot back, "The only person I ever see in village hall is the mayor. I guess he doesn't have another job."
The second part of the meeting was devoted to the candidates for mayor. Mayor Nicholas Capozzi accused the challengers of being too inexperienced to take office. "If they want to apprentice, they should do it on their own dime." He said that he disagreed with a proposal to eliminate alternate-side-of-the-street parking (which up until that point had not been mentioned), because "the streets will not get cleaned; they will not get plowed." He also defended the sale of the Ashwood property.
Earl Grenfell expressed a number of dissatisfactions with the current administration. He invited the listeners to look behind village hall to see the garbage, shopping carts, and spilled oil. "There is no reason they have to dump oil onto village property," he said. He again talked about "favoritism and cronyism," adding, "People in this room have been threatened. But I am not going away." He verified that he was in favor of eliminating alternate-side-of-the-street parking, but added that during snow emergencies alternate side parking would be in effect. He also proposed to appoint a board consisting of five residents and five business people to serve as an oversight commission to ensure that the village government is doing its job.
Grenfell also pointed out that all the parking signs in the village are illegal because they are not seven feet from the crown of the road; therefore, he said, parking tickets issued may not be legal. In response to a question, he said that he had notified the Town of North Hempstead, but they said it was a village matter. There was further discussion about traffic and enforcement. Capozzi said that the village has been in discussions with the Port Washington police, with the possibility of asking them to take over the enforcement from the Nassau County Police Department. In the context of this discussion, Grenfell said that he would abolish the custom of giving tickets for every minor violation, like numbers on garbage pails or grass slightly too high, and would concentrate on "real crime." Then it again became acrimonious, with accusations and counter-accusations. Capozzi said, "There is no crime in this village." Grenfell noted that at one time he was a part-time code enforcer in Manorhaven. He said that he resigned because he could not stomach what he saw. Capozzi said Grenfell was fired because he had claimed to be a police officer in Suffolk County, but he was a "peace officer," not a "police officer." Grenfell said that he had been a police officer in Ocean Beach on Fire Island.
Grenfell said that there is an ongoing federal investigation of the village, as well as an open case file at the Nassau County Police and the District Attorney's office. Capozzi responded, "Grenfell initiated those charges. The DA has cleared us of all charges. We had 91 made-up charges. We were cleared of all of them. He added, "This is a kinder and gentler administration. I am on the phone with the DA." The Port News was not able to obtain confirmation or denial of these statements from the District Attorney's office before press time.
Numerous land use issues were raised. Grenfell claimed that many homes have been built higher than the 26-foot code requirement. "You have to build within the code," he said. "Each decision has to be made for the benefit of the community. You can't have cronyism." Grenfell also expressed concern about the new Enterprise Zone, which some see as threatening the businesses on Manhasset Isle. "A lot of business is being run out of Manhasset Isle. They give a lot of taxes to the village, and they provide jobs. Where are they going to go?" Capozzi responded that the Enterprise Zone has not yet been voted on, but conceded that on Yennicock a warehouse has come down. He added, "In 1976 someone fooled around with the zoning code." (It was not clear what he was referring to.) One resident asked how the village would provide the infrastructure for all the new residential units on Manhasset Isle. Capozzi responded that, regarding the Thypin Steel property, the sewer and water departments have "signed off."
Grenfell said that he would have the residents involved in the decision-making in the village. Capozzi ridiculed this, saying, "If you think that I am going to go to 6,000 people every time that I make a decision, you are mistaken." A couple of audience members also scoffed at the idea, one citizen hotly asking multiple times, "Are you going to have a referendum on every decision?"
A teacher at the Manorhaven School said, "This gathering does not reflect the children I teach." She asked what the candidates are doing or would do to reach out to the multiple cultures living in Manorhaven. Capozzi said that the village has a Commissioner for Hispanic affairs, and that the code enforcers and other staff speak a variety of languages. He said that if anyone needs an interpreter, the village would provide one. He added, "The Hispanics have come out in large numbers to support us." Grenfell promised that if elected, they would implement a Hispanic relations office comprising people from the community who would provide liaison to the community. "We want to reach out to all the cultures and get them involved in the community," he said.
In his closing statement, Grenfell returned to zoning code issues. He is in favor of requiring that only certified, registered builders be allowed to build in the village. He mentioned five instances that he knew where foundations failed. "Why did they get a C of O when these were not inspected?" he asked. He also said that, in his opinion, "The Architectural Review Board should guide people, not restrict them. As long as something is not an eyesore, people should be allowed to build according to their preference."
Capozzi ended by saying, "Everything 'the gentleman' (referring to Grenfell) has said are incredible lies. The gentleman does not know what he is talking about." He added, "The village is run better than it was eight years ago. All I heard then was 'doom and gloom.' If this village was run so poorly, the houses wouldn't sell."