Mark Berger and Robert “Bob” Welner, are racing to fill one of the seats on the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District’s Board of Commissioners, with both touting how their different career experiences will make them the better candidate for the position.
The two contenders are vying to fill the seat held by Jerry Landsberg, who is retiring from the board after 16 years of service.
Berger has been a resident of Great Neck since 2010. He is a public interest attorney, currently supervising a team of 50 attorneys, support staff and paralegals.
Welner, a Great Neck resident of more than 40 years, is a professional civil engineer and executive vice president of Jobco Incorporated – a realty development and construction services company based in Lake Success.
He said he has been an active member of local temples working with them on construction projects, finances and fund-raising.
Welner said he is not a political person.
“I just like to do the job I have to do,” Welner said.
As a civil engineer, Welner said he has already worked with the district in prior projects. One such included his designs for a sewer connection and disconnection.
In working with the district, Welner said he has found the engineer’s portal to submit designs and applications to fall short. As commissioner, he would want to improve interactions between the district and engineers.
Welner, who lives within walking distance of the district’s waste water treatment plant, said it also serves as a sort of gateway to Great Neck. But while the facility greets incomers, he said it lacks a bit of curb appeal. Welner proposed a project to beautify the plant for individuals who drive by.
Welner said his background is in construction, development and funding, which he said will be an asset to the district.
One project that the district is facing is a facility upgrade, which the district secured through a $46 million bond with the town. Welner said he attended meetings about the bond approval and if he is elected, his experience could aid in the project moving forward.
Berger, who was raised in Jericho, said he was fortunate enough to spend much of his summers being out on the water. Growing up, his dad owned a boat kept in Port Washington where the two of them would spend a lot of time together.
Berger said it was while he was out on the water that his dad taught him about the importance of clean water, which he said was the driving factor of his life-long interest in environmental issues.
But in tandem with his dad’s education on the environment was also an advocacy for public service that Berger said was instilled in him. He said this is what has motivated his legal career.
“That’s really been my MO for my whole professional career,” Berger said. “I’ve always been a public servant.”
While Berger said he has always been supportive of environmental causes, this is the first time he will be able to move it into his professional work. He called this an opportunity for him to “go back to [his] roots” and expand upon the values instilled in him by his dad.
“So keeping the water clean is really something I see as a sacred responsibility,” Berger said. “And now to be in a position where I will actually be directly responsible for keeping the water clean of the very bay that I grew up. I mean what an amazing honor that would be for me.”
Berger said three reasons motivated his bid for Great Neck’s water commissioner: a desire to give back to his community, his passion for environmental protection and his legal and managerial experience.
“I have had an opportunity to serve the community to some extent so far,” said Berger, who has been a soccer coach for his son and served on a school board committee. “But I’ve always felt like I really need to do more. It’s never enough for me.”
Berger said his legal experience will be of assistance to the district when working with contracts, and his managerial experience will “help find solutions on a day-to-day basis.”
One such solution Berger proposed is lowering the taxpayer costs of running the district’s waster water treatment plant, which he said could be achieved through expanding the use of solar energy.
Berger said the plant’s current microturbines produce 50% of the necessary electricity to run the plant. He said this already reduces costs for the taxpayer.
But Berger said he aspires for more, wanting to push the number closer to 100%.
“Whatever I can do to make people’s lives a little bit better and protect our water a little bit more and save them a couple extra bucks, if possible, that’s what I’m going to do,” Berger said. “And I’m going to fight every day to make sure that happens.”
Another aspiration Berger said he has is to expand the educational opportunities of the district’s plant, working with local school districts to host tours of the facility for students to learn about the science that goes into working with the environment.
“I think seeing the amazing science that is happening and the great work that it’s doing for the environment could really light the spark for the next generations of scientists and engineers in town.”
Berger said that the water district is already run well by the Board of Commissioners, and if elected he wants to help continue it running smoothly.
“It doesn’t need to be made better, there’s just more that it could do,” Berger said.
Berger has been campaigning door-to-door to speak with the residents of the district, finding the best part having his 7-year-old daughter joining him.
“We just had so much fun knocking on doors, talking to folks in the community, educating them about what the district does,” Berger said.
He said this gave him the opportunity to also include his family and show his daughter the value of public service and advocating for environmental issues – much similar to the relationship he had growing up with his dad.
Welner said he considers himself a neophyte in the election as the newcomer, which has posed challenges to his campaign. This has been exacerbated by what he sees as the commissioners supporting a candidate that they want.
Berger has been endorsed by the outgoing Commissioner Landsberg, which Welner said he is surprised about. Welner said that this public endorsement limits the ability of residents to make their own decisions on who to elect.
But this is not discouraging Welner, who said he just needs to “play a little catch-up.”
The election will be held from 1-9 p.m. on Dec. 12 at the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District headquarters on 236 East Shore Road. Voters can enter through the Vista Hill Road entrance.