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Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke takes office amid tensions

Timothy Tenke, center, at a Glen Cove city

Timothy Tenke, center, at a Glen Cove city council meeting Dec. 14, 2017, will take office Jan. 1 as Glen Cove's Democratic mayor. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

When Timothy Tenke becomes mayor of Glen Cove Monday, he will face a city council with only one other Democrat and partisan tensions that are already flaring.

Tenke clashed with Republican Councilman Joseph Capobianco over the mayor-elect’s plan to choose a deputy mayor and to replace City Attorney Charles McQuair.

“It’s not a good sign,” Capobianco said. “He seems to say he wants his deputy mayor and he wants to fire the city attorney, so he doesn’t seem interested in listening to what we want.”

Tenke beat Mayor Reginald Spinello by three votes in the Nov. 7 election that wasn’t decided until three weeks later after absentee and affidavit ballots were reviewed.

As an Independence Party member who ran on the Republican line, Spinello was an anomaly in a city that had a succession of Democratic mayors, an all-Democratic council as recently as 2012, and still has nearly 50 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans. And even as Tenke narrowly recaptured the mayor’s seat for Democrats, the top five vote-getters for the six remaining council seats were Republicans. The mayor votes as a member of the council on most issues.

Tenke, who served on the council with Spinello and three Republicans who were re-elected, said he is confident he will work well with the GOP majority.

“They’re very reasonable people,” he said. “Their heart is in the right place, and it’s to do what’s right for Glen Cove.”

As a city councilman, Tenke voted with Spinello and most of his Republican colleagues on all but a few issues. The exceptions included a $97 million bond to pay for parks and other public amenities at the Garvies Point waterfront development, which Tenke unsuccessfully opposed.

Tenke said he expects occasional differences with Republicans, saying he “would listen to their thoughts and opinions, just as I would expect them to listen to and consider what I have to say.”

Capobianco said the council has for years voted on the mayor’s choice for deputy mayor. Tenke said he should have the right to choose the deputy mayor, who “works on a daily basis very closely with the mayor. It’s a person you have to have trust in.”

At Wednesday’s council meeting, the last with Spinello as mayor, Tenke voted against Spinello’s reappointment of two planning board members, for terms through Dec. 27, 2020. All the Republicans voted yes. Planning board member Andrew Kaufman’s term was not scheduled to expire until Jan. 13, and John DiMascio’s was slated to expire Dec. 31.

Tenke said after the meeting that Spinello “should have left that for the next administration.” Spinello said he had the power to put the two reappointments before the council for a vote and Democratic mayors have taken similar actions in the past.

Tenke will have one Democratic colleague on the council: newly elected Marsha Silverman. But he may not be able to count on her on some key issues, including high-density residential development.

Silverman said she opposes big projects such as the Garvies Point waterfront development, which is to include 1,110 condos and apartments in buildings as high as 11 floors, as creating more costs than benefits. Even though Tenke opposed the bond and some of the tax breaks for such projects, he otherwise has supported them.

Cindy Hill, a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed to stop Garvies Point, said she believes public opposition to high-density development is a major reason Spinello lost.

“I do think it was punishment,” she said. “He’s wrecking the town with all this high residential emphasis.”

Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of Uniondale-based RXR Realty, majority partner of the Garvies Point developer, said he thought Spinello instead “got caught up in the Democratic wave that went across Nassau County,” and high-density residential development wasn’t a factor.

Spinello said he plans to remain active in city government, including speaking at City Council meetings, to “make sure everything that my administration has put in place is being preserved and moved forward.” He said he is considering running in 2019 to regain the mayor’s seat.

Tenke said his priorities as mayor will include regularly holding town hall-style meetings outside City Hall to better understand the concerns of each neighborhood, expanding affordable housing, finding an operator for planned ferry service to Manhattan and making the downtown more vibrant.

Republican incumbent council members Nicholas DiLeo and Pamela Panzenbeck, both starting new terms on Monday, said they don’t foresee problems working with Tenke.

“I’ve always seen him as a great guy and a straight shooter,” DiLeo said.

Newly elected Republican council member Michael Zangari said issues facing local government shouldn’t be partisan like the ones that sometimes cause sharp divisions nationally. A willingness for both Republicans and Democrats on the council to compromise is key, he said.

“I would hope Mayor Tenke would want to have a real open door policy and not put party or personal matters ahead of the people and what really needs to be done,” he said.

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