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Muttontown village election pits experience against new voices

Muttontown Town Hall on May 23.

Muttontown Town Hall on May 23. Credit: Uli Seit

Candidates challenging incumbents in the June 19 village election in Muttontown say the current mayor and trustees have presided over a government with an adversarial relationship with residents, while the incumbents tout their experience.

The incumbent trustees deny the allegation of an adversarial board and point to 12 years with only two small tax increases and $5 million in reserves. They say the challengers don’t have the experience to run the village of about 3,600 residents.

Julie Albernas, 54, a former systems analyst and a trustee for four years, is running for mayor against James Liguori, a neurologist. The mayor and the three open trustee seats are for four-year terms.

Mayor Julianne Beckerman, first elected in 2006, is not seeking re-election. She said her decision is unrelated to her October indictment on five counts of tax fraud over allegedly not paying state taxes from 2010 to 2014 and one count of repeated failure to file income and earnings taxes. She pleaded not guilty.

“I’m a big believer in term limits,” Beckerman said.

Incumbent trustee Carl Juul-Nielsen, 64, is running for a fourth term. He said he, Albernas, fellow trustee Salvatore Benisatto and their running mate, planning board member Santosh Mathai, have extensive knowledge of village issues and operations. The challengers have “never served on one board, on one committee, have never volunteered to do anything in the village and suddenly they want to run the village,” Juul-Nielsen said.

Liguori, 50, said his “real-world experience” running his own practice prepares him for the mayor’s office.

The Muttontown Police Benevolent Association endorsed Liguori and running mates Sudha Prasad, 54, a pediatrician, Chris Economou, 53, an attorney, and Brian Fagen, 43, an attorney.

A PBA letter to residents noted “low morale” in the department because of several issues, including officers having to work a rotating schedule of day, night and overnight shifts.

Liguori said officers “need to be treated with more respect.” The rotating schedule, for example, leads to more sick days and lower productivity, he said.

Albernas, who has been police commissioner for seven years, said the schedule has been in place since the village created its own department in 2011. Changing it would increase costs, she said.

Prasad said the current village government is not transparent enough, that the village website lacks basic information and Village Hall hours of 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays don’t reflect residents’ schedules.

“Why can’t we have a couple of evenings a month?” she said. “Why can’t we have some Saturday mornings?”

Economou said he has received complaints from residents about a building permit process that can take years and is not “resident-friendly.”

“Our residents . . . have been run through the mill for trying to build, repair or fix their homes,” Economou said.

Mathai, 47, an advertising and sales executive, proposed having building department workshops at Village Hall and in the neighborhoods, along with meetings between officials and residents planning renovations.

Juul-Nielsen said his slate is proposing putting downloadable permit forms online and speeding up permitting for smaller projects, such as roof repairs and patios.

Fagen, 43, questioned the timing of the incumbents’ proposed changes.

“We are the ones who brought up quick permitting, doing things online,” he said. “Now that’s suddenly a part of their platform.”

Two-term incumbent Benisatto did not respond to requests for comment.

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