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Lattingtown mayor faces challenger

Left, Lattingtown Mayor Clarence F. Michalis, who will

Left, Lattingtown Mayor Clarence F. Michalis, who will face his first challenger in four decades, Nicholas DellaFera, right. (June 4, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

After 44 years in office, Lattingtown Mayor Clarence F. Michalis is running again, as expected. But for the first time in four decades, he has an opponent.

Michalis, 91, the longest-serving mayor in state history, is facing someone born 21 years after he became Lattingtown's chief executive.

So voters in the Gold Coast village have a choice:

Experience vs. youthful energy.

Keep Michalis in the unpaid part-time position for another two years, or replace him with 23-year-old Nicholas DellaFera, a pharmaceutical salesman a year out of college.

As with many other affluent villages in northern Nassau County, Lattingtown -- a 2,400-acre enclave that is exclusively residential except for two country clubs -- rarely has contested elections. Besides Michalis' one race for mayor against a candidate whose name he no longer remembers, there only occasionally has been competition for the justice's post or a trustee seat in anyone's memory.

The novelty is noticeable. Each candidate has mailed a letter to residents and bought ads in the local weekly newspaper and DellaFera is placing signs on lawns, raising awareness about the election -- one of his reasons for running.

DellaFera, running solo on the Friends of Lattingtown line with little name recognition, is a long shot. Michalis heads a full slate on the Citizens Association party line that includes trustee candidates Lucie T. Bard and James M. Duryea along with village justice Eugene P. Souther, all incumbents without opposition.

But DellaFera says he is running more against resident apathy than against Michalis, so he and the village win no matter who gets the most votes. He said that on average for the past five years, only 43 people out of the 1,900 residents voted in the elections, a turnout he called "dismal." Voting this year is June 18 from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall.

In his letter to residents, DellaFera wrote, "Now more than ever we need to become an involved community in order to preserve what we hold dear."

"I know I can bring my energy, youthfulness and my leadership and communication skills and the ability to bring transparency to the village," he added in an interview.

In his letter, Michalis said the village government needs people like DellaFera. But, the mayor added, "He is trying to start at the top -- as mayor -- without any experience whatsoever in the governance of the village. . . . Historically, our village public servants, myself included, have started out on one of our village boards, either planning or zoning, then worked up."

DellaFera, Michalis said, doesn't own property or pay property taxes, has never voted in a village election or even attended a village board meeting.

DellaFera said, "I really haven't been involved in village government" because "it was never really publicized."

Michalis said the election is noted on the village website and in local and regional newspapers, and village board meetings are publicized on the website and in his letters to residents. "We have a website and we change it all the time," he said.

DellaFera said the website should be beefed up to include village board meeting minutes and other information.

As for why he should be re-elected, Michalis wrote in his letter, "I have tried to use my experience as vice president and CFO of two separate Fortune 500 companies to keep the village in a sound fiscal position, and maintain its essential character. I want to keep Lattingtown the way it was when you moved here."

While DellaFera offered no specific criticism of the incumbent, he did say that "21 terms is a little much."

DellaFera said if he loses, he would still like to get involved in village government. And Michalis said, "I would like to find a place for him."

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