Rice defeats Duncan to become Port police commissioner

Rice defeats Duncan to become Port police commissioner
Port Washington Police Department Headquarters on Port Washington Blvd. (Photo courtesy of Port Washington Police)

James Duncan has served as a Port Washington police commissioner since he was first elected in 1997. But that run came to an end on Tuesday when his re-election bid was defeated by Tom Rice by 756 to 400 votes.

“I did my 21 years and I hope I made a great contribution to the community,” Duncan said the next morning. “I wish the new commissioner the best.”

Rice, a former New York Police Department officer who was born and raised in Port Washington, said his victory was due to running with a positive message.

“I ran a clean campaign and I had the support of the community behind me,” he said. “I never once went to the dark side.”

Rice has wasted no time getting started on his work with his fellow commissioners. He said that he was invited to attend an executive session on Wednesday morning and plans on meeting with commissioners again before he is officially sworn in on Jan. 1.

The new commissioner’s first priority was to establish a working rapport with the other commissioners and the police chiefs. Following that, he wanted to strengthen ties between the department and the students of local schools, an issue he discussed during the campaign.

“That’s something I’m really looking forward to, working with Detective Anthony Guzzello and Chief [James] Salerno,” Rice said. “Guzzello (the department’s school resource officer) especially has the knowledge and knowhow on how to do this.”

As for expanding the police district to include Manorhaven, Rice repeated that he was open to talking to the village. But he said any such agreement would be a long time coming.

“It isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. “We need to bring in an actuary to determine the risk for budget and pensions and an accountant to see if this will work. I’m willing to talk about this, but it will be a very slow process.”

Rice said that his primary concern would be to upgrade the department’s headquarters and that Manorhaven was a secondary concern at the moment. He also added that he would like to make the budget process more transparent.

Duncan’s tenure is the second longest since the first commissioner election was held in 1921. Only Frank Scobbo, who served as commissioner from 1969 to 1995, held the position longer.

When asked why his run of victories came to an end, Duncan said he was unsure.

It’s really hard to say. People sometimes get a little complacent, apparently [Rice] did a better job than we did getting the voters out.”

As for his plans, Duncan said he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. He said he does not want to run for another office.

“I’m not a politician, I only wanted to work at the district because that’s where my heart is,” he said. “I have no sort of envy or sort of desire to go on to higher places. I liked the district and I liked doing what I could to keep Port residents safe.”

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