3rd-term mayor Pontieri paving his legacy

A file photo of Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. A file photo of Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. (Jan. 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Paul Pontieri, newly re-elected mayor of Patchogue, still smarts over how nasty things got during last month's divisive political campaigning.

"It got personal, with talk about people rather than issues," he said, sitting in the crowded, narrow conference room adjacent to his office last week. "That never happened before."

The race -- opponents criticized Pontieri for everything from filling his car at the village pump to pushing construction of too many multifamily housing units -- generated the largest local turnout in memory.

Pontieri pulled 60 percent of the vote, the second time in eight years that he'd fought and won against opposition to his vision of what Patchogue could be.

Pontieri ought to be ecstatic about gaining a third term. In most communities across Long Island, backing multifamily housing is an almost surefire guarantee for political annihilation.

But on this day, weeks after victory, Pontieri's unusually subdued. It's as if the ghosts of village mayors past are bearing down on him.

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"There's always something to do and the pressure to make sure, going out the back door, that I've made my hometown better," he said.

The result thus far? The village, which had fallen on hard times decades ago, has more new housing. And more businesses, although Pontieri is well aware that residents want more retail to add to the community's booming downtown restaurant trade.

Patchogue -- like Long Beach, which engineered its own turnaround during the 1980s -- also is beginning to attract Long Island's most endangered species: young people.

At Artspace Patchogue Lofts, a five-story, mostly artist-occupied building that opened last year, residents range in age from mid-20s to mid-70s. Patchogue bested Riverhead in wooing Artspace USA, which builds and operates spaces in several communities across the nation, for the project.

"We call the mayor our patron saint," said Pamela Hodosky Smith, a local artist who moved downtown to the large, airy duplex she shares with her children. "He's got a lot going on, but he's also got an idea of how pieces can fit together."

Pontieri does think about how pieces come together to make a whole.

At one point in the conference room, he gestured to a map, circa the 1950s, before the village began condemning buildings to create downtown parking. He moved to a newer map, where some newer and ongoing projects are marked.

"The decisions of mayors in the past, their decisions on creating parking and sewers, paved the way for what's come after," Pontieri said.

Although he's managed to help bring in private investment and state and county money to pave the way for Artspace, a new YMCA, a soon-to-be-opened refurbished parks-and-recreation building, and multiple town and other housing developments, Pontieri's most ambitious project still lies ahead.

It's the massive proposed development at the village's Four Corners, which will include retail, housing and space for a new village square.

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The project, along with the other changes in Patchogue, will help make -- or break -- Pontieri's legacy.

"I do think about that," Pontieri said. "I look ahead 20 or 30 years and I'm downtown, sitting in the luncheonette, and I overhear some guy saying, 'Who's the idiot responsible for that?' "

It's pressure for a mayor born, raised and someday retired back to the community, Pontieri acknowledges.

"I like to stand up and take chances and take heat when it's necessary," Pontieri said. "It's the only way things get better."

Indeed.

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