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Arrival of coronavirus delays Great Neck Plaza mayor's retirement

Jean Celender, who has been the mayor of

Jean Celender, who has been the mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza since 2000, has delayed her retirement until early May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The longtime mayor of Great Neck Plaza will retire after serving nearly four decades on the village board, including 20 years as the village’s top official who has brought in $5.4 million of grants to help improve infrastructure, implement eco-friendly policies and revitalize its downtown.

“This has been something I’ve loved and given my all to,” said Jean Celender. “It’s been wonderful. But now it’s time to see what else I can do in my life and spend more time with my family.”

Celender, 64, became the village’s first female mayor in 2000 after serving seven terms as a village trustee. Because local elections scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed until April 28 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Celender said she will continue her role until early May. 

Since 2012, Celender has served as a full-time mayor, which is rare in Nassau County because most mayors have a full-time job outside their official role. She manages a 25-member staff in a village of 7,000 residents and is paid an annual salary of $65,000.

During her tenure, Celender, a geographer and land-use planner by trade, was credited for efforts to beautify the village's downtown, build a smart-growth community and improve public roads by using grant funding.

“She brought in over $5 million in [grant] money for road improvement” and other projects, said longtime trustee Gerry Schneiderman. “She worked very hard. Very hands-on. … It’s been great. I enjoyed working with her for all these years.”

Under Celender, the village has obtained more than 19 grants, mostly for infrastructure projects to expand pedestrian access, beautify streets and repave roads. One grant was used to add an electric car charging station on Gussack Plaza.

“People say: ‘Oh, she does grants.’ And they kind of are dismissive of it. You really shouldn't be because grants are the way to leverage monies,” Celender said. “I don't have to bond for a project. … So the residents are getting the benefit of new projects, and we’re not raising taxes.”

Ralph Kreitzman, executive director of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, said Celender was committed and knew her village well to lead it through demographic changes and the impact of consumers shifting to online shopping in recent decades.

“She’s been able to keep her downtown vibrant through [the changes], and that’s been difficult,” said Kreitzman, former mayor of Great Neck Village just north of Great Neck Plaza. “Getting elected 10 times over 20 years proves that she communicates well and has the support of her residents.”

Looking back, Celender said the job has been a rewarding one because she can see the impact her decisions have had on her community and the personal connections she’s made through interactions with residents and visitors.

“Seeing a change in a corner of the village that wasn’t there before and now it’s improved, you don’t have many jobs that you can visually see the fruits of your labor,” Celender said, her voice catching with emotion. “So that I will miss.”

Great times in Great Neck Plaza

  • 1982-1984: Celender chaired a zoning committee to help craft new zoning laws
  • 1984: Celender was appointed to finish the term of a trustee who had moved out of state
  • 1986: Celender ran for the first time and won a trustee seat
  • 2000: Celender became the village’s first female mayor

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