Low turnout in GN village board races

Low turnout in GN village board races

Though Saddle Rock’s competitive trustee campaign drew voters to the polls earlier this month, five out of the six Great Neck villages that held March elections had no contested races and low voter turnouts.

In Kensington, two trustee candidates won their uncontested elections with 15 and 14 votes, with candidates in the four other villages winning between 30 and 83 votes. Only in Saddle Rock did any candidate receive votes from over ten percent of the adult population in the village; uncontested Mayor Dan Levy took 161 votes, while incumbent trustees David Schwartz and Mark Collins received over 140 votes each in their races against challengers Mony Zenou and Ben Sharifiazad.

In the villages with uncontested elections, officials said they support public participation and that the lack of competitive races was due to public support of incumbent village governments.

“I wish more people voted,” said Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin. “I think the issue is that people are satisfied with how people are being run. When there is a problem that requires people’s attention we hear from them, otherwise it’s business as usual.”

“In little villages you tend not have issues along those lines,” Lopatkin continued. “Maybe people are just happy with their villages.”

Candidates in the five villages with uncontested elections won with less than one tenth of the adult populations in their villages voting for them, according to the 2010 census.

In Russell Gardens, former Mayor Steve Kirschner was elected with 72 votes after Mayor Matthew Bloomfield decided not to seek re-election – 9.8 percent of the village’s population over the age of 18. Longtime Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern won with 30 votes, or 1.5 percent. Great Neck Plaza trustees Gerald Schneiderman and Lawrence Katz won with 79 and 83 votes respectively, or about 1.4 percent of the adult population. 

And in Kensington, incumbent Trustee Alina Hendler won with 15 votes, while attorney Darren Kaplan won a trustee seat with 14 votes, replacing departing Deputy Mayor Gail Strongwater. Hendler’s 15 votes made up 1.7 percent of Kensington’s adult population.

Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender would not speculate on why Great Neck saw few contested elections this year, but said the village put notice of its elections in its newsletter and that candidates could also do their own outreach.

“We have residents who winter in Florida or wherever they have another residence,” said Celender. ““We try to let residents know when elections are encourage them to vote.”

“We’d love them to come out and vote, of course,” Celender added.

Former Kings Point Civic Association Marsha Rotman had a different perspective on public engagement in Great Neck. The civic, which led opposition to a 2011 village tax hike, dissolved in November due in part to what Vinson described as a lack of membership and interest among residents.

“There is definitely apathy,” Rotman said.

“A lot of people think that no matter what they do, those people will stay in power,” said Rotman. “I’ve thought about this – that isn’t it a shame, that the work that I did that people obviously responded to, that no one’s interested in doing that.”

Though other villages have had contested races in recent years – Celender won re-election against Great Neck Co-op and Condominium Council president Stu Hochron in 2010 – that is not the case in Thomaston.

The village, which had a population of 2,617 in 2010, has not seen a challenge to an incumbent trustee in at least 12 years, according to Mayor Robert Stern.

Stern said the village makes a point to inform residents when issues are up for discussion before the board, and has participation from residents during those debates. But elections, he said, are not typically controversial.

”We don’t do anything very special for the elections,” said Stern. “We have, I think, one the quietest villages.”

Residents are generally content with how the village government works, according to Stern.

“I would say that our constituents demonstrate that they are satisfied,” Stern said.

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