Until four years ago, local elections in Muttontown - a sleepy, bucolic village of 3,400 residents - hadn't been contested in decades. Those days are long gone.
Mayor Julianne Beckerman, an underdog in 2006 who beat two other candidates, is running for re-election against Kevin Spillane, who won a trustee seat four years ago on a ticket opposing Beckerman. And six people are running for three village trustee seats.
Beckerman, 41, says she has balanced the village's budget without raising taxes and has tried to make village hall more accessible. "I have worked almost on a daily basis to try to assist the residents of Muttontown," she said. "I have literally moved a desk into village hall and tried to be available to help my neighbors."
Spillane, 52, accuses Beckerman of disregarding her opponents, making relations with residents more "adversarial," and mishandling negotiations for the Woodcrest Club, a local golf course sold at bankruptcy auction last month. "I know what should go on in the village, and I know what shouldn't go on in the village," he said. "This power grab isn't meant to be."
Up for debate?
A June 2 event held by the League of Women Voters offered a glimpse into the campaign's rancor. The event was scheduled as a debate between Beckerman and Spillane. Only Beckerman appeared. Spillane says the league set the date and sent notices to village residents without contacting him first. He says the debate's organizer was another trustee, Mary Marks, a Beckerman supporter.
"[Beckerman] seems to think that I should be able to drop everything and debate her," he said. "Not that I don't want to debate her. But let's do it in the right way." Beckerman, meanwhile, says Spillane "has actually refused to speak when I'm in the room," a charge he denies.
The debate became a Q-and-A between Beckerman and about 50 supporters. Spillane attended another event. As of early last week, no new debate had been scheduled.
That hasn't stopped the tussling over a range of issues: campaign donations, mailings to residents and, perhaps foremost, spending. Beckerman argued the village has not raised taxes during her term and pointed out Spillane, as a village trustee, voted to approve each one of her budgets. "He's voted with me on just about every vote we've had in the last four years, and certainly every budget we have," she said.
Spillane said he's raised questions about how the budget operates, and accused Beckerman of using $1 million of surplus funds to fill budget gaps. He acknowledged voting with Beckerman on a high majority of tallies. "But most votes are procedural," he said. "The votes that count against new laws that she's put in or tried to put in, I've always voted no or abstain for lack of information."
Clash over club
One such vote came in May, on the Woodcrest Club, whose members failed to agree on a contract to keep the club running in bankruptcy. Many residents opposed one potential outcome: a buyer chopping the golf club's 107 acres into 3-acre plots for houses. After protracted debate, Muttontown's board of trustees agreed to contribute $500,000 to a coalition looking to buy and preserve the club. (The coalition was outbid; the property sold for $19 million.)
Beckerman says the money could have been used only if the coalition won the auction and collected enough money to buy the property. But Spillane disagreed, abstained from the vote and said Beckerman "dropped the ball" on the process, not notifying residents or putting together a plan until weeks before the auction.
Beckerman said she had monitored the process closely since the club declared bankruptcy late in 2009, and only made a motion to offer $500,000 with a guarantee it would be returned if the coalition wasn't the high bidder.
She accused Spillane of taking a campaign donation from a company also bidding on the property. "The company did participate in a fundraiser for me, but [a company representative] did not give me any funds until after the auction was over," Spillane said.
Rest of the ticket
Beckerman leads the Concerned Taxpayers ticket with two current trustees, Carl Juul-Nielsen and Pat Miller, and newcomer Salvatore Benisatto. Juul-Nielsen, 56, is the village's deputy mayor and police commissioner. If re-elected, he says he will represent Muttontown in new contract negotiations between the Old Brookville police department and the seven villages the department serves. Muttontown pays about 25 percent of the department's costs but gets only one vote out of seven on major decisions. "We are paying 25 percent of the freight," he said. "We might reorganize the contract to have a little more say."
Miller, 62, said she wants to continue handling questions from residents on issues like tree removal and geese. "I ran in the first place because [the village] was not being run correctly," Miller said. Benisatto, 60, has served on the planning board for four years and called the board of trustees "the next step." "I've always believed in giving back," he said.
Spillane's Muttontown 2010 ticket has three newcomer candidates: Philip Colletta, Christina Wergiles and James Galante. Galante, 48, joined the village planning board four years ago at Beckerman's urging but became an opponent because he felt she didn't listen to residents' concerns or other board members. "She wants to inflict her will on these people on how to live their lives," he said. "I just couldn't take it . . . I would try to relate her decisions based on the town code, and she would try to tutor me."
Colletta, 49, said he wants to restore "tranquillity" to the board of trustees and streamline hearings on requests to cut down trees. "I'm all for conservation . . . but when it impacts the safety of the residents who pay a significant amount to live in the village, I think there's something wrong with that." Wergiles, 42, said she would push to look closely at cuts to the budget and fees. "I think there's too much money being spent in the village," she said.
Voting will take place Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Village Hall, 1 ''Raz'' Tafuro Way.