New Manhasset park commissioner has a Hollywood connection

David Paterson talks with Newsday's Scott Eidler about his career in Hollywood as producer of "Bridge to Terabithia," his standing in the Manhasset community as a firefighter and his political career as a newly elected commissioner of the Manhasset Park District. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (Feb. 15, 2013)

David Paterson figured he'd be writing his fourth studio screenplay by now.

He's just finished his second. A new part-time gig is vying for his attention.

Paterson, 46, is Manhasset's new park district commissioner, a job he won recently through a write-in candidacy by knocking off a longtime incumbent These days much of his time is spent shoveling snow from sidewalks and meeting with constituents peeved about parking meters -- for about $10 an hour, he said.


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But six years ago, the actor-writer had gone Hollywood, he recalled, after turning the popular children's book "Bridge to Terabithia" into a hit Disney film.

Even before his writing career took off, "I thought I was going to be the next Brad Pitt," he mused.

After the success of "Bridge," penned by Paterson's mother, Katherine Paterson, and based partly on the death of his childhood best friend, he expected offers to come pouring in. Only one did -- for a sequel.

"I said, 'Well there isn't a sequel to the book,' " he recalled telling studio executives. "Maybe you forgot, the girl dies."

A six-month writer's strike soon after brought work to a standstill. "To be in the pinnacle of your career and have one of the most successful movies of 2007 to just not working for almost two years, it can be a little depressing, to say the least."

At the height of his success, Paterson had dabbled in public service for years, he said, but never considered politics as a career. As his goals changed, however, so did his focus, he said.

"The really sad thing about a lot of performers and writers, they're so entrenched in what they do," he said at his home, where he lives with his wife, an attorney, and their two sons. "They don't have time for this thing called life."

Last fall Paterson -- whose public service stints included cleaning up Ground Zero soon after 9/11; as emergency management coordinator of the Village of Plandome Heights; and as a volunteer firefighter for the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department -- decided to run for the commissioner seat, but missed the filing deadline, he said.

He then attempted a write-in candidacy for the spot, fueled by residents' ire over proposed parking meters in the downtown corridor -- and won.

Diana Cotumaccio, a supporter and a teacher's assistant who lives nearby, said neighbors saw him as a solution to some of the district's woes.

"I've said, 'Dave, we need this fixed,' and he comes with all his tools."

Paterson, who said he is "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," sees parallels between Tinseltown and Town Hall.

"Some politicians pulled me aside and said, 'You have to understand nothing happens overnight,' " he said. "In a lot of ways that's just like Hollywood -- a lot of meetings and nothing happens."

Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead town supervisor, called Paterson "very energetic."

Of the victory, he said, "It's a snapshot; that moment tapped an issue, and a lot of people engaged."

When he's not busy with municipal duties, Paterson, who owns a production company, still dabbles in filmmaking.

His basement is a home theater, with movie theater-style seats and a large projector screen. Standing there, he's surrounded by framed posters of films he wrote and produced.

A documentary he's producing, "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey," about Arnel Pineda, lead singer for the rock band Journey, premiered earlier this month. And that second script is an adaptation of his mom's book "The Great Gilly Hopkins."

"There are so many filmmakers who have [success] . . . and then nothing ever happens again. I had a life to go back to."

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