Rare Lattingtown mayoral race sparks record turnout

Portrait of 91-year-old Mayor Clarence Michalis at his Portrait of 91-year-old Mayor Clarence Michalis at his home in Lattingtown the day after his re-election (June 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Ana Maria Rico

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Lattingtown returned to its routine quiet Wednesday after the excitement of Tuesday's rare contested mayoral election that brought out 10 times the usual number of voters.

The 44-year incumbent, Clarence F. Michalis, 91, the longest-serving mayor in state history, won another two years in the unpaid position with 376 votes. His challenger, 23-year-old pharmaceutical salesman Nicholas Della Fera, got 87 votes.

The election in the affluent North Shore village drew a record 463 voters, about a quarter of the total population of 1,800. Many had never voted in a local election before.

"A lot of people came out and that's great," village clerk-treasurer Kathleen Picoli said. In her 26 years, she said, the highest previous turnout was about 200 in a contested election for village justice about 20 years ago.

Despite the loss, first-time candidate Della Fera was elated. "It was phenomenal," he said of the turnout. His primary campaign theme had been to make a dent in voter apathy. "So win or lose," he said, "it was a victory for me because I got the end-result of a huge voter turnout for both sides."

Michalis agreed "there has been a lot of apathy," but the retired corporate finance executive added, "Don't confuse apathy with satisfaction. If people are satisfied, they say 'What . . . do I want to go out and vote for? I'm happy with what I've got."

He said Della Fera was hurt by the fact that "he never voted in the village, his family had never voted in the village, he's never been to a public meeting."

Resident and attorney Jeffrey Forchelli's comments echoed most of those who talked about the election. "I think it's a good thing for Lattingtown because it gives everyone a chance to really focus on how the village is being run."

Michalis had not faced an opponent in four decades. The campaign this year attracted so many voters to village hall that three employees were needed to direct traffic, and there were lines of a dozen or more waiting to get to the two voting machines after the polls opened at noon.

Della Fera's aggressive campaign led to the unusual sight in the village of campaign signs on lawns, ads by both candidates in the local weekly newspaper and the unprecedented appearance of a billboard truck touting Della Fera making the rounds.

Despite the loss, Della Fera said, "I'll definitely get involved" in village government. Michalis wants that, too -- preferably Della Fera starting with a seat on the local zoning or planning board, as did Michalis and other board members.

He said when Della Fera called him Wednesday morning to congratulate him, "I said, 'Nick, don't give up on public service. We need young people like you. If you want to come around to the village and learn something about it, I'll be happy to show you the ropes.'"

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