Mineola Village Trustee Lawrence Werther announced that he is mounting his own independent bid to retain his seat on the village board following an announcement that the New Line Party – of which Werther is a founding member – selected resident Dennis Walsh to its ticket.
“I never take anything personal, but it’s kinda tough not to,” Werther said speaking to reporters at Piccola Bussola following the December 12 meeting of the Mineola Village Board. Werther issued a press release in which he states that the move to drop him from the ticket came the previous weekend at an alleged “secret” meeting of party heads and that he was informed that he was no longer on the ticket for the March 2013 election as a New Line member by fellow party member George Durham.
“There had to have been some direction because he’s the titular head of the New Line Party, being the top elected official,” Werther said of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss. “It’s always easier to try to get rid of somebody rather than negotiate with them. And quite frankly, I think I’ve proved my value to the village. Being at odds with somebody in a policy or a decision-making capacity on the board, doesn’t mean you dump somebody.”
Strauss denied that the meeting was “secret,” saying in a telephone conversation on Monday that there were “roughly” 20 people at the meeting of New Line Party officials with more invited but who could not attend.
“It’s the only possible thing I can imagine: that I didn’t vote with them as a block. I don’t know who did it but my understanding from friends of mine who were there that they came to the meeting and these were core members of the New Line Party and they were told by Paul Pereira, by Scott Strauss and by Wally Hobbs that this is the slate of candidates for next year,” Werther said. “I like Dennis (Walsh) but I’ve got to assume that he’s going to vote the way they see fit and I really feel bad about that.”
Walsh said that he wanted to “wish Mr. Werther good luck. These jobs were not meant for people to keep forever. I intend to run for the position of trustee. I’m happy that the New Line Party asked me to join their team and I hope that we can put off the politics until the end of the holiday season.”
The 2013 village election will take place on March 19. There will be two trustee seats up for election – those currently occupied by Werther and Durham – as well as the mayor’s seat.
The filing date for candidates is in January. Werther stated that he does not know if he would run for his own trustee seat or try for mayorship, fielding his own party with “at least” one other trustee candidate to occupy his open seat.
“When I was told this, I started reaching out to people,” he said. “I have never met with a larger outpouring of love from the people I’ve spoken to. The support that I’ve gotten, surprise that this was going to be done. I had hoped in my heart that I had touched people’s lives; I never knew to what extent until I started making calls on this.”
Werther had held the top spot on the board after then-mayor Jack Martins resigned following his election to the New York State Senate in 2010.
However, Werther stated that his former employer at the time “was not very supportive of me running for mayor; had no problem with me being a member of the board.” His current employer is “more supportive of people running for local public office.”
“I welcome the challenge,” mayor Strauss said. “I think that the New Line Party is the best for the residents.”
Strauss stated that Walsh is “well versed in the issues that concern the Village of Mineola,” and that “I think he’d be a great addition to the village board as trustee. I think that the residents should make a choice.”
Werther helped to found the New Line Party with Martins and states as the reason for the current fallout with other board members that there existed contrary opinions about several issues, specifically over the Winston development project and differences with Strauss on the board.
“We went a good way in resolving a lot of different issues,” Werther said of his relationship with Martins. “Unfortunately when the current administration tried to unwind a good deal of them – things in the Winston and what have you – they obviously didn’t like the fact that I gave them grief, showed a difference of opinion in public and called them on it.”
The Winston project changed formats several different times between it initial conception as a condominium complex with senior housing to its final incarnation as a combination of rental housing complex along with senior housing units. During hearings on the project, Werther voiced his objections over applications to the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency seeking 20 years of PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes) on the property.
“I don’t like discussing substantive opinions in the back room, I like bringing them out in public,” Werther said. “I had an honest difference of opinion with these guys and they just didn’t like the fact that I brought it out in public. They would have rather have me not say that, obviously; they have would rather have me just maybe silently gone into it.”
Werther acknowledged that many of those fiscal policies enacted under Martins’ administration are still in place, evidenced by the fact that the village paid off two bond anticipation notes earlier in the evening as well as balanced budgets and a policy of pay-as-you-go.
“That proved to be the foundation of where we are today,” he said. “I was at least expecting the ability to talk to Polemini, to talk to Mill Creek Partners and there was very little to find out about Mill Creek Partners other than that they were a spinoff of Trammell Crow. The only reason that I agreed to hear it and agreed to go forward... number one, we’re putting it in a commercial area so it does not impact any of the single family houses, it doesn’t affect any of the characteristics of the neighborhoods that I live in or any of you guys would live in when you’re here, but the second and probably overriding reason was that it was the single most important thing that we could do as a village board to stabilize school taxes. That’s all gone; they put that in phased in over 20 years and basically that assures me, that I might not be alive, I mean I just turned 60, I might not be alive when the full impact on the school district is felt. Certainly some of the folks that I call friends that are seniors in this village aren’t going to be around.”
The estimated value of the Winston property is $92 million. While the developer – then Polemini, now Mill Creek – made concessions to make the village whole in terms of taxes, Werther said that a typical tax abatement phase-in is 10 years and that the village “didn’t do anything for the school tax. The school district is fairly voracious in its use of cash and they use it for all good stuff, don’t get me wrong.”
At the final hearing, Werther abstained from voting, citing the IDA disagreement and chided the negotiations surrounding a garage on Third Street, which runs one-way parallel to Old Country Road behind the project site.
“It is a one-way street right now and it has on-street parking,” Werther said, referencing a proposed garage complex. “The purpose of that garage was not to was not to add any special parking other than the parking that would be taken up by making that street ‘no on-street parking’ and a two-way street to facilitate traffic in and out of the Winston. Obviously there are certain people who don’t want public discourse, who don’t want public difference of opinion and so again, rather than discuss issues ahead of time openly, they came down with that and they decided just to do away with me.”
Durham joined Werther in abstaining from voting at the final hearing.
“He can vote any way he wants to vote,” Strauss said of Werther, “I have no problem with that. What he should be doing is talking about issues.”
“Obviously the New Line Party decided they didn’t want me there but I’m not going to stop pushing them,” Werther said. “I’ve had conversations with a lot of village residents about myself. I’m putting together a team where we’re going to talk things out, make a decision. I’m not going away.”