Its not everyone that gets to see themselves portrayed by a Hollywood actor.
“I try to be a low-key guy,” Scott Strauss says, as he sits in the one of the corner booths at the in Mineola.
Before 9-11, Strauss was a regular NYPD cop who stayed at home during the day, and whose neighbors believed was actually looking for work since he left the house in jeans. Now, the man portrayed by Stephen Dorff in Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” is poised to be the next Mayor of Mineola, succeeding and Lawrence Werther Sr. as the person who will sit in the center chair during meetings each Wednesday.
“I don’t need to be the Mayor,” Strauss emphasizes. “I don’t have the resolve to be the guy, I’m happy helping out. Trustee’s got one vote just like the mayor does, there’s no difference; it’s harder for the mayor.”
Strauss already has that vote, after being following Martins’ victory in the local state senate race and deputy mayor Werther assuming the position of acting Mayor. With no other residents filing to run in the mayoral contest, Strauss is assured the victory.
“I think competition’s a good thing, as long as it’s not against me,” he laughs. “If it turned out that somebody was running against me, I would’ve run anyway; I’m not going to shy away from a fight or a challenge. If the community thinks I can do the job, I’m in.”
Werther has stated that he did not seek the Mayor’s seat due to commitments with his business, but left open the possibility that he would perhaps run at a future date.
“I’m in it for the first term for 2 years and if the residents want me for another two, I’m in it then too, and I can still manage it - workload and personal commitments - I’m in for it,” Strauss said.
If there is one thread that flows through Strauss’ character, it is service to others. “I was always interested in helping people,” he said, recalling how he helped Bob Hinck, who lived on his block, run for village trustee he and Hinck’s children helped campaign. “We were running around, handing out flyers and having the time of our lives and I thought that was pretty cool,” Strauss said.
Strauss’ parents first moved to Mineola in 1964. His father was a financial expert with Western Electric, now Lucent, a division of AT&T, and his mother helped start the ambulance corps.
“My older brother and I and my younger sister, (she) couldn’t join the ambulance corps but she helped out, she wasn’t old enough,” Strauss said. “When it started to roll out, my father’s like ‘everybody’s going to meetings and stuff’ then he joined the ambulance corps just to hang out with us.”
Along with his father and brothers, Strauss was involved in scouting, something he passed onto his kids, also in junior firefighters.
“I was on every school field trip, I was at every special person day, in the summer every day we were playing, every kid in the neighborhood was at my house, we were playing soccer and baseball in the street, Kool-Aid lunch, it was fabulous,” he said, noting it was done out of necessity, since his wife worked during the day.
When Martins campaigned against Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy in 2008, Strauss who was retiring as chief of the and starting his current job at as the time, was first approached about becoming a part of the village board.
“I was getting a little bored,” he said, thinking that “I would love to be a fire chief again, but there are so many other qualified people that are coming up. I did it, I don’t want to knock someone else out. At the time I was toying with the idea, but not seriously. I always thought ‘who would want that job?’ It’s a thankless job being trustee; every time the phone rings, its a problem. Nobody calls you up to say ‘hey, nice job, how’s things going?’.”
Martins ended up losing the race to McCarthy, and the subject didn’t come up again until last year’s state senate race.
“(Martins) ran again and he asked me once and then a couple other people started to ask me,” Strauss said. Following some flexibility with his work schedule, Strauss was more receptive the second time around.
“I could be selfish by saying I don’t think I was helping people enough by being in the fire department... but I had another desire and this is scratching that itch.”
Following the elections’ that played itself out through December, there was even talk about appointing Strauss Mayor immediately “because they weren’t sure what was going to happen,” he said.
When he begins his new term, Strauss said that he not looking to make an incredible shift in the village. “I’m not coming in guns blazing looking to change the world,” he said. “We’re looking to continue those plans that have already been set. This village is going in a great direction and we don’t want to derail that.”
When asked about concerns residents have, especially parking and empty storefronts around Mineola, Strauss offered a unique way of looking at the issues.
“If you pull up to a restaurant and there was a street and it was empty, what’s that say about the quality of food, the environment?” he said. “You have a busy place with a lot of traffic, that means its good, people are coming in here.”
Though he is unsure on specific ways to get storefronts filled, Strauss said he would like to work with landlords to “look to see how we can force a landlord to rent a building, I don’t know if we can. If a building is vacant for six months or a year or something maybe there can be some ordinance put in. I would just like to address, talk to the owner (about) what can we do for you to get clients or renters or your building space occupied.”
Possibly the most pressing thing on the village’s agenda is the budget, which Strauss says the board is “working diligently to try to keep it under control as much as possible without loss of any services.”
With the amount of state funding the village might receive an unknown, Strauss speculated that the board thinks “we can get it down to like a three (percent), which is kind of reasonable. We all live here, we’re not some outside people that come in to sit up there on a Wednesday night.”
Strauss also wants to take a look at the village’s parks and see how they might be expanded, rehabilitated and possible ways to upgrade them.
“I just want to help here, this place I love.”