After a career in village government that spans nearly four decades, including 28 years as mayor, Ernest Strada is retiring and will preside over his last board meeting April 2.
It was 28 years ago that Ernest Strada took the oath of office and was sworn in to his first term as mayor. Doing the honors was the late Judge Frank Santagata.
Photo by Al Posillico
A lifelong resident and self-proclaimed public servant, Strada has spent more than two-thirds of his life serving Westbury and his involvement with the village spans almost half of its 75-year history.
In 1970, Strada was appointed to the village's zoning board of appeals and, four years later, a vacancy on the board of trustees provided him the opportunity to run for public office. Strada served as trustee for seven years and, in 1981, ran as the Action Party's candidate for mayor and was elected to what would be his first of seven consecutive terms as mayor.
Serving the community for nearly three decades as mayor, said current village trustee and mayor-elect Peter Cavallaro, is a tremendous accomplishment in-and-of itself. "For someone who came from a relatively humble background, he accomplished something that no one else will ever again accomplish: he was elected seven times as Westbury's mayor," said Cavallaro.
With mayoral terms throughout the state ranging in length from two- to four-years, and the average term of office less than three years, Peter Bryne, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) said Strada's tenure speaks volumes.
"To be re-elected seven times is a testament to all Mayor Strada has done for the Village of Westbury," said Bryne, adding that he had a chance to work closely with Strada in 2007-2008 when the Westbury mayor served as NYCOM president. "Mayor Strada is a strong advocate and we were lucky to have him as our president. He shared his passion with our membership and organization," Bryne said. "Mayor Strada's longtime involvement with NYCOM has allowed our entire statewide membership to benefit from his strong advocacy for local government."
While being elected seven times is a large feat in and of itself, so are the issues the mayor faced during the past 28 years, including downtown revitalization projects and garbage disposal options to traffic concerns and challenging economic times.
Over the past three decades, said Cavallaro, the mayor went to battle with some powerful forces, including the New York State Department of Transportation and former Governor Mario Cuomo, all for the betterment of the village. "Mayor Strada stood toe-to-toe with these forces and won and, in the process, protected our village from being harmed," said Cavallaro.
Lifelong resident and current village justice Thomas Liotti added, "Maple and Post Avenues were improved. The Northern State Parkway expansion went extremely well after the village intervened on the side of homeowners and the environment. Always battling against difficult odds, Mayor Strada has kept our taxes low and services intact, including garbage disposal."
Liotti told The Westbury Times he has been fortunate to not only have a personal relationship with the mayor but also a professional one that has spanned 18 years. Elected village justice for the first time in 1991, Liotti said the mayor has been a "mentor" and a "rock" to him both personally and professionally.
"I have been around government and politics for most of life [and], in all those years, I have never met anyone comparable to Ernest Strada. He has brought vision, leadership, skill, energy and an honest dedication to his extraordinary work. We are far better today as a village than we were when he started his service," said Liotti. "What he has accomplished as mayor and president of NYCOM is simply amazing. He has given us a legacy of competence, which may be impossible to replicate. Gratefully, the Strada name will be a part of us forever ..."
Mineola Mayor Jack Martin agreed, saying, "Ernie Strada has been the elder statesman of the village officials in Nassau County. He is the standard to which everyone else strives to reach." Martin added, "His presence and his advice are going to be sorely missed."
While he found himself engrossed in a political career spanning over 40 years, Strada told The Westbury Times that he never considered himself a politician but rather a public servant and said he prides himself on being a "respectful and honest man of his word" who genuinely enjoys helping others.
And members of the community revere him that way as well.
"Although busy with the responsibilities of leading the village, you could always count on [him] to come to school and visit with the children," said Paul Clagnaz, principal of St. Brigid/Our Lady of Hope School. "We consider him one of our most distinguished alumni, and wish him many years of good health and happiness as he retires from public life." On a personal note, Clagnaz added, "I would like to add my thanks to Mayor Strada for his years of faithful service to this community."
Father Ralph Sommer, pastor of St. Brigid's, added, "Mayor Strada grew up in the shadow of St. Brigid's Church and as a young boy he was an altar server here. Since then, he and his family have been a treasured part of our parish for many years. We wish him the best and we pray that God will continue to bless him for the good things he's done for our village."
Deputy Mayor Joan Boes added, "Mayor Ernest Strada has given full, generous, knowledgeable and loyal service to the Village of Westbury. He knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Westbury could not have had a better and more effective mayor, advocate and leader for the past 28 years. We wish him good health, lots of fun and God's blessings in his retirement."
Lifelong resident Ann Sweat, who has worked closely with Strada through her role with both the Central Westbury Civic Association and village Zoning Board, commends the mayor for always maintaining an open door policy. "We could go directly to him and he always responded in kind," said Sweat. "I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that Westbury became a more beautiful community under Strada. He gave his all and we benefited greatly."
Former village clerk Tom Savino, who had an opportunity to work with Strada for nearly a decade before leaving the village in late 2008 to pursue other options, describes his association with Strada as "more than the average mayor-clerk relationship" found in local governments. "We grew like father-son, brother-brother and friend-friend," Savino said, adding, "My years in Westbury Village proved honesty and conviction is not only the right way to act with your family and friends; it is also the way to effectively govern a community."
In Savino's opinion, Strada will forever be Westbury's "true patriarch."
"[Strada] doesn't govern by following what 'experts' write in a 'best-practices' manual. He discusses, directs and decides based on his honesty and conviction: always in the best interest of his beloved village. It is a wonderful and admirable etiquette," said Savino. "All residents and businesses of the village should be grateful that he was willing to serve, and serve them so well. I will treasure my experience, his guidance and his friendship forever."
Cavallaro, who will take over the helm as mayor effective April 6, added that working with Strada was a privilege and a learning experience. "Even though we did not agree on everything, I have had the privilege of watching him work, from up close, and have been amazed by his skill and passion and dedication. I have learned from him that as elected officials, we need to be responsive to the residents, and that their concerns, fears, hopes and values is what needs to govern our actions," said Cavallaro. "Although fortunate to succeed Mayor Strada, there is really no way for me to ever expect to fill his shoes. I will need to find my own shoes but I will try to serve by the lessons that I learned from him."
The Westbury Times extends best wishes and thanks to Ernest Strada and echoes the village hall office staff who said, "It's been a tremendous pleasure and honor working for you. Congratulations and happy retirement. We will truly miss you!"
A Retirement Dinner honoring outgoing Westbury Village Mayor Ernest Strada will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 16 at the Westbury Manor. Tickets are $90 per person, payable by check to the Strada Retirement Committee, and can be purchased by calling village hall at 334-1700, ext. 111.