Victoria Siegel ended almost a quarter century as mayor of Bayville Monday - a term during which she led efforts to create the village's first significant public beach on Long Island Sound and launched a beautification program that has lined streets with new trees and sidewalks.
Siegel retired after six terms, which were punctuated by a four-year break in the early 1990s.
"She's had that ahead-of-her-time vision on things," said her successor, Doug Watson, a longtime Siegel supporter and village trustee who ran for mayor unopposed. "We've really worked on some great projects."
Siegel moved to Bayville in the 1960s and first ran for a trustee position in 1971. She lost, but won when she ran again in 1978. Four years later, she was elected mayor.
By 1990, she said, she was frustrated by personal criticism and declined to run for a third term. "In an election, people love to hear dirt," she told a Newsday reporter at the time.
She decided to return in 1994, winning then and three more times, her final term by 2-1.
During Siegel's tenure, Bayville acquired 16 acres of shoreline - a former commercial park that is now Soundside Beach - and dredged Mill Neck Creek to allow boats to navigate in and out. She also led the effort to convert a closed gas station into Bayville Commons, a combined park/parking lot at the village center. "We turned a blighted spot into a community place," she said.
She points to trees lining downtown streets as evidence of her accomplishments. "I look at most of the trees that line Bayville Avenue and say, 'I planted them,' " she said during an interview at village hall.
With Siegel's support, a local Chamber of Commerce - which had experienced two previous relaunch attempts - reopened in 2007 and continues to operate today.
"She was able to get members to participate," said Chamber president Joe Florio. "You've got to go with her, because she knows."
Siegel acknowledges that she hasn't been afraid to ruffle feathers. Last year she encountered vocal opposition when she pushed for an ordinance banning bonfires - which passed and took effect before the prime bonfire holiday, July 4.
She said some residents might call her a saint, and others, a devil. "I think I'm somewhere in the middle," she added, smiling.
Going forward, she said: "I promised the incoming mayor that I'm not going to be his mother-in-law. I will not be at meetings. When I was mayor, I had the freedom to govern my own way."
A few moments later, she gave herself some wiggle room: "I will come to a board meeting as a private resident when I see something wrong."