Freeport mayor-elect's first task: Uniting his village

Freeport Mayoral race winner Robert Kennedy, left, celebrates Freeport Mayoral race winner Robert Kennedy, left, celebrates with supporters at Montana's Pizza. (March 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Robert Kennedy, Freeport's freshly minted mayor-elect, is optimistic he can unite a divided village -- a task both colleagues and opponents say he must accomplish to succeed as the village's leader.

Kennedy, who scored a decisive victory over incumbent Andrew Hardwick in Tuesday's voting, said he believes he can guide Freeport past the bitter infighting that has marked village government for three years.

Kennedy will have the board votes to do it: His Unity Home Rule party will have all five seats on the board of trustees after the winners are sworn in on April 1.

But a willingness to working with political opponents will be critical, he said.

"I'm hoping there is no resistance and we can all work together in the future for the benefit of the entire village," said Kennedy, a Navy veteran who has owned a Queens-based heating and air-conditioning business for 27 years.

Kennedy's running mates, re-elected trustee Carmen Piñeyro and newcomer Ron Ellerbe, also won, joining William White and Jorge Martinez. Kennedy will make $124,989 annually, the trustees are paid $19,000.

Kennedy and Piñeyro originally won trustee seats in 2009, when they ran on Hardwick's slate.

The trustees feuded with Hardwick during their first budget cycle later that year, and the rift has widened since. Public meetings sometimes stretch until 1 a.m., marked by arguments between the mayor and trustees, and residents who support one side or the other.

White said the board's top priority -- to bring healing and calming to a divided community -- will not be easy.

"There's no doubt the community is divided, and it's going to be our job to bring it back to where it was," he said.

Village Clerk Pamela Walsh Boening is expected to certify the results tomorrow, village officials said. Kennedy received nearly 54 percent of the vote, with absentee ballots -- too few to make a difference in the results -- still being counted yesterday.

Hardwick declined to comment yesterday beyond saying he's "not ready" to address the results of the election.

One of Hardwick's running mates, James Caracciolo, said he hopes Hardwick supporters will work with Kennedy.

"I really do hope the hate will stop and we can move forward," Caracciolo said.

Kennedy's first day as mayor-elect was a difficult one, as he spent it making funeral arrangements for his brother-in-law, 62-year-old Tommy Pignatelli. Pignatelli died of a heart attack on Tuesday night, on his way to celebrate the win with Kennedy.

Kennedy said he has not had time to think about the challenges ahead as mayor because he has been busy with family. He said he intends to get to work this weekend, after the results are certified.

"We have to unite the village and move in a positive direction," said Kennedy, who will be sworn in with the new board on April 1.

Martinez said Kennedy's election was "a great first step in getting Freeport back on track," and that the trustees can now focus on the issues facing the village, such as the need to attract local jobs. He said it is incumbent on Hardwick's supporters to work with Kennedy as mayor.

"I think people are excited about this village going in the right direction, and putting Freeport back on track," Martinez said.

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