Freeport mayor faces ex-ally in race
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The bitter race for mayor of Freeport is the culmination of four years of infighting between former political allies, and likely will reshape the political landscape in New York's second largest village.
Mayor Andrew Hardwick, elected in 2009, faces his former running mate, trustee Robert Kennedy, for the top elected position, which carries a $124,989 annual salary.
The trustees race, in which four candidates are vying for two seats, has Kennedy's Unity Home Rule Party allies Carmen Piñeyro and Ron Ellerbe pitted against Hardwick's Freeport First Party members Annette Dennis and James Caracciolo. Piñeyro, a sitting trustee, also ran on Hardwick's 2009 ticket. The salary for a trustee is $19,000.
Kennedy and Piñeyro began turning away from Hardwick shortly after taking office, when they disagreed angrily over aspects of the village budget. The other two trustees, Jorge Martinez and William White, are also Hardwick foes, which means Hardwick has no reliable votes on the trustee board.
Hardwick could regain control if his slate wins. But his opponents say a Hardwick loss would restore civility to the tone of village government. Board meetings often become raucous and run past midnight.
"I'm embarrassed. It's embarrassing what's going on here," Ellerbe said.
Post-Sandy work toutedHardwick, 55, is a former Army staff sergeant who has worked in county and state government as well as for the village of Freeport, where he was an assistant to the mayor's office for community affairs in the 1990s. He has lived in Freeport for 50 years.
He said he deserves to be re-elected because of his work to revitalize village infrastructure and his swift response to superstorm Sandy, which hit the village hard.
"I want to get this real economic development going on here, so we don't have this tax burden," Hardwick said.
Kennedy, 58, has owned a heating and air-conditioning business, Queens-based Winston Mechanical, for 27 years. He has lived in Freeport for 12 years and is originally from Staten Island.
Kennedy said his goals are to lower taxes and restore order to oft-contentious village meetings, which frequently feature animated arguments between the mayor and trustees and sometimes stretch from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. The sessions, shown later on cable TV, are a poor reflection on the community, Kennedy said.
"We will not have this display, this reflection of this village, if I become mayor," he said. "We will show positive things."
Aiming to boost tax basePiñeyro, 37, is the chief of staff for state Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood). She has lived in Freeport for 28 years since moving from the Dominican Republic. She said the village needs to attract new businesses to its industrial corridor, which she said is 40 percent vacant, to increase the local tax base.
She said she believes Hardwick "lost his vision" and became more interested in petty infighting than village issues.
"Unfortunately, tensions have been very high," Piñeyro said.
Ellerbe, 74, is a retired New York Police Department officer who now sells real estate. He has served on the Freeport school board for 17 years.
Ellerbe has lived in Freeport for 22 years and is originally from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. He said Hardwick's repeated call for a forensic audit of village finances is "a signal of poor leadership," given opposition to the call from the four trustees.
Caracciolo, 56, is a retired former contractor who planted trees for the New York City parks department for 23 years.
He also served as deputy commissioner of Nassau County parks from 2002 to 2011. He worked with Hardwick while serving in that position; Hardwick held a similar post until 2009.
Caracciolo is originally from Hempstead Village and has lived in Freeport for 26 years. He said the village board needs to focus on economic development and quality-of-life issues, rather than engaging in bickering.
"They don't understand what the word 'team' means," Caracciolo said of his opponents.
Dennis, 53, has worked for 21 years at National Grid, where she is a lead analyst in the division of customer markets, metrics, and reporting. She has lived in Freeport for 16 years.
Dennis occasionally speaks at Freeport public meetings, where she has accused the trustees of obstructionism and said Hardwick is fighting for the village's financial interests.
"He's right for the village," she said.
Voting is next Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 14 polling places:
Freeport Recreation Center, 130 East Merrick Rd.
senior housing facility, 100 North Main St.
Atkinson School, 58 West Seaman Ave.
Hose Company No. 5, 47 Leonard Ave.
Exempt Firehouse, 9 North Long Beach Ave.
Peternana Terrace, 45 Wallace St.
Columbus Avenue School, 150 North Columbus Ave.
Hose Company No. 2, 15 Broadway
Bayview Avenue School, 325 West Merrick Rd.
Hose Company No. 1, 22 Southside Ave.
Giblyn School, 450 South Ocean Ave.
Archer Elementary School, 255 Archer St.
Bayview Ave. Hose Company No. 3, 375 South Bayview Ave.
Freeport Memorial Library, 144 West Merrick Rd.