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Mayor, 90, has served nearly half his life

Lattingtown Mayor Clarence Michalis in front of the

Lattingtown Mayor Clarence Michalis in front of the village office sign. (April 9, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Clarence F. Michalis became mayor of Lattingtown the same summer Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and hundreds of thousands flocked to Woodstock.

Forty-three years later, Michalis is still at the head of the table for monthly trustee meetings in the tony village on Nassau County's North Shore.

Although no one keeps precise records, associations of municipal officials believe Michalis, who recently turned 90, is the longest-serving mayor in New York State history.

"People have told me that and think it's great," said the retired corporate executive, who never has received a salary from the village. "But it's never been an issue for me. I just sort of enjoy the job. I know all the people. And I have a very good team in the office."

Michalis says he hasn't lost any of his energy or wits, and adds that the only sign of age he sees is that he can't play tennis anymore.

Michalis, whose current two-year term ends next year, says, "I'll keep doing this until they want me out. I've told the trustees that, 'Any time you think that I'm too old and not doing the job, let me know.' "

He shouldn't expect to hear that anytime soon, says trustee Lucie Bard, who has served with Michalis for a dozen years and also sails with him on his 50-foot yacht.

"He's a terrific mayor because he does far more than he needs to do," she said. "He knows all the local politicians," which she said gets problems solved expeditiously.

He has rarely faced an opponent -- and lures those he defeats into village government by convincing them to serve on the planning or zoning boards.

Michalis' commitment to the village -- founded in 1931 to protect the quality of life on 2,400 Gold Coast acres -- actually extends more than half a century. He was appointed to the planning board in 1960, then tapped to fill an unexpired term as trustee in 1962. In 1969, he was appointed mayor to fill the remainder of his predecessor's term -- and now is working on outlasting his eighth U.S. president.

Lattingtown isn't the only recipient of his zeal for public service. He has served as chairman, officer or board member for a hefty list of Long Island and Manhattan nonprofits, including the Nassau County Museum of Art, where he recently was elected to a second stint as board president.

His model, he said, is his father, also a successful businessman whose service to a sizable list of nonprofits included being board chairman of the Museum of the City of New York. Michalis said he never has forgotten what his father told him: "If you should be so fortunate to reap the material rewards that a successful business career can give you, then you ought to pay it back."

Born and raised in Manhattan, Michalis was a young banker when he moved to Lattingtown around 1950, having served three years as an officer, ultimately becoming the senior lieutenant, on the destroyer USS Hall in World War II. At the time, the population was less than 600. Now there are about 1,900 residents in a village where minimum lot size ranges from 1 to 4 acres. The village's paid staff has gone from a single part-time clerk to six full-time employees.

Michalis was on the village board and then mayor when Lattingtown faced its first major challenge: Robert Moses' proposed but never built Bayville-Rye Bridge. "It would have destroyed the whole social structure of the North Shore" as well as the environment, Michalis said. But before the project was killed in 1973 -- with help from Michalis and other North Shore, town and federal officials -- it did have one positive effect, he said. It prompted the North Shore estate villages in Oyster Bay Town to work together for the first time.

Now, Michalis said, the biggest issue is preserving the quality of life against legal challenges from new residents -- "affluent people who did not have great affluence 25 or 30 years ago" and who "want to build McMansions that don't conform to the zoning code."

To combat that trend, he said, the zoning code was tightened five years ago.

Michalis' mayoral management style is informal -- visitors at board meetings are welcomed and introduced to trustees and employees seated around a conference table. But he is clearly in charge and likes to keep things moving. He insists the board hold its monthly meetings at 6 p.m. in an effort to keep people from rambling. "I meet before dinner so people get hungry and want to get home," he said with a laugh.

Helene Mashal, the only resident to attend the last board meeting -- she had a question about municipal services for her private street -- said afterward that Michalis made her feel welcome and the follow-up letter he promised was sent to her promptly. "The consensus of the residents is that he has been doing an outstanding job," she said.

In his annual letter to residents and at meetings, the mayor likes to stress his mantra of good local government:

"Village government is the most efficient government because almost no one gets paid," he says. "We're all volunteers and we're doing it because we like the community and we're willing to give a lot of time to protect our own backyards.


EARLY YEARS: Born in Manhattan. Graduated from Harvard in 1943 and joined the Navy. Served as the senior lieutenant on destroyer USS Hall in the Atlantic and Pacific and saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

BUSINESS CAREER: After the war, worked at First National Bank of the City of New York, which later became Citicorp. In 1961, left for Bristol-Myers Squibb as treasurer and later chief financial officer. He retired after more than 20 years there.

IN GOVERNMENT: Appointed to Lattingtown planning board in 1960, village board in 1962, and mayor in 1969.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Has been chairman, officer, commissioner or board member at Nassau County Museum of Art, Locust Valley Fire Department, North Shore Land Alliance, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and other nonprofits.

FAMILY: Married 59 years to Cora. They have four daughters, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren."


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