Ernest Strada was not afraid to take on the giants.
In the late 1980s when the state wanted to widen the Northern State Parkway within the confines of the Village of Westbury, then-Mayor Strada dug his heels in and said no, citing an inadequate environmental study. The yearslong fight with the Department of Transportation ended in then-Gov. Mario Cuomo making a trip to Westbury to meet with Strada to sign an agreement that allowed work to resume under revised conditions. In an unprecedented move, the state even footed the village’s legal fees.
Strada, who had a defining impact on his hometown village during his 28 years as mayor, died Thursday of lung cancer. He was 89.
“He had a tremendous amount of confidence and fortitude. He was not daunted by any task or anybody,” Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro said. “He governed by his want and desire to do what was best for the community.”
Strada’s tenure in public service began with a position on the zoning board in 1971, followed by an appointment to the village board of trustees in 1974. He was elected mayor in 1981 and went on to serve seven four-year terms, making him the longest-serving mayor in village history.
Strada didn’t see his position as political, rather it was about community service, Cavallaro said. And his impact went beyond the confines of the village, as Strada was elected to serve as the president of the New York Conference of Mayors. The post allowed him to see what other municipalities in the state were doing and bring those ideas back to Westbury.
Community leaders credit Strada with laying the foundation for the village’s current growth, paving the way for future projects by starting the Westbury Business Improvement District — a major player in the village’s ongoing revitalization efforts — as well as implementing a grant program for facade upgrades, and transforming a dilapidated gas station in the middle of the village into a piazza, which was named in his honor after his retirement.
Village Justice Tom Liotti describes Strada as a smart and incisive visionary who helped push Westbury forward.
“Westbury went through a long period where there was no revitalization and when Ernie became mayor, he started rebuilding. He brought minorities and women into government and that was very significant,” said Liotti. “He was a very progressive mayor in that respect.”
After Strada’s retirement in 2009, he continued to offer guidance to the village, acting as the mayor’s special assistant for governmental affairs. When he wasn’t attending village events, he could be found playing golf with friends, fishing or hunting.
Beyond his work in Westbury, Strada worked as the deputy commissioner of buildings for the Nassau County Department of Public Works, retiring in 1996 and going on to join the LiRo Group as a program director in construction management and then a consultant.
He was also a guiding light for many in government. Former state Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. grew up around the block from Strada and spent his childhood playing with his sons. When he was younger, Strada offered Fuschillo basketball advice. As he got older, it was career guidance.
“As I got elected into the Senate, Ernie was a real strong friend and a great adviser during my entire career,” said Fuschillo. “He touched so many lives, not only as the mayor of Westbury, but as a neighbor and close friend.”
Strada is survived by his wife, Maryann, and four children, Susan Cronin of Hilliard, Ohio, Joseph Strada of Beacon, New York, Michael Strada of Huntington, and Jennifer Iannotti of Westbury, as well as six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His son, Thomas Strada, predeceased him.