Cilluffo re-elected to park district amid controversy

Cilluffo re-elected to park district amid controversy

In a landslide victory, Frank Cilluffo defeated challenger Neil Leiberman by 50 percentage points to win re-election Tuesday as a Great Neck Park District commissioner.
Cilluffo received 750 votes to 250 for Leiberman.
“It has been an honor to serve the residents of the Great Neck Park District and I will continue to work hard for the next three years to bring our community together through our parks and recreational services,” he said after his victory. “I would like to thank my family, friends and residents who supported me throughout my time with the park district and I promise that I will work hard every day for them and our community.”
Efforts to reach Leiberman for comment after the election were unavailing.
The race between the two candidates sparked controversy last week after an anonymous letter published in the Great Neck Record claimed Cilluffo, the incumbent commissioner, used his firearm to threaten district employees.
Cilluffo, who served as a police officer in the New York Police Department for 22 years, strongly criticized the letter, saying it was a “political tactic” aimed at slandering his name before the election.
“It’s a political attack, it’s an attack on my character and it’s all lies,” he said. “There is no truth to it at all. It’s just a political scam.”
The anonymous letter, which was posted online last Wednesday, claims Cilluffo would bring park district employees “into closed door conference rooms several times, armed with a firearm, and threatened to destroy them unless they would ‘be on [his] team.’”
“Many Great Neck Park District employees are experiencing similar intimidation, threats and bullying from Frank Cilluffo, and are too afraid to say anything,” the letter reads. “Employees have even said that Frank recently pulled his gun out in a park parking lot. Employees are even afraid that Commissioner Cilluffo might do something to harm their families and are afraid to have this letter printed in the paper.”
The letter alleges Cilluffo “immediately took over the daily operations of the park district” after he was elected two years ago, and that he “is manipulating everyone and doing underhanded and illegal things.”
Cilluffo said the Great Neck Record was irresponsible for publishing an anonymous letter “without finding any research.”
“I was disturbed to read the false allegations made from an anonymous individual that questioned my character not only as a park district commissioner but as an upstanding resident of the community,” he said. “The allegations made are woefully false and defamatory and clearly [politically] motivated.”
Cilluffo said after the election that he had not believed the allegations would harm his chances of winning re-election.
“Although these false allegations were made for political reasons, I knew I always had the support of the park district residents behind me as we have accomplished so much together as a community,” he said. “I never questioned my support from the residents as they know I am here for them and the community.”
Lisa Reisfield, Cilluffo’s wife, said last week she and her husband were meeting with lawyers  to consider pursuing legal action.
Reisfield said her husband is legally allowed to carry a firearm because of his NYPD service, but after the birth of their daughter, who is now 13, he put it “away in a safe.”
After a Nov. 28 park district meeting, Leiberman said he had submitted a letter to the editor to the Great Neck Record, but that he requested the publication hold off from publishing it.
He said after last Thursday’s park district meeting that the letter he was referring to was one of a dozen endorsement letters he received, not the one published.
Leiberman said the letter making the allegations was submitted on behalf of more than 10 people affiliated with the park district, but that he did not want to disclose the identity of its authors.
He said he obtained a copy of the letter before it was published and was surprised to see the Great Neck Record had printed it.
The allegations made in the letter, Leiberman said, are true and he has court records confirming them. He declined to show the documents to the Great Neck News, saying he did not “want to win that way.”
Efforts to reach the Great Neck Record for comment on the publication’s letter to the editor policy and who submitted the letter were unavailing.
In a letter to the Great Neck News, former Great Neck Record editors Wendy Kreitzman and Carol Frank said “there were very clear guidelines for letters that dealt with elections” when they worked at the newspaper that were violated by the publication of the letter attacking Cilluffo.
“The week before an election, the only letters accepted were those that supported a candidate; those that bashed a candidate were not published because there would be no time for a candidate to defend himself or herself in the newspaper before election day,” they wrote in the letter. “Further, we required substantiation for charges made and only in rare instances allowed a letter to be published unsigned.”
“It makes us very sad to see how the publication no longer covers hard news stories, but has devolved into a publication that relies on press releases and puff pieces in place of informing the community about the issues before it,” they wrote. “This latest descent into irresponsible journalism has gone beyond the pale.”
Park district Superintendent Jason Marra said the allegations in the letter are “absolutely false.”
Since Marra began serving as superintendent in January, the board has “worked tremendously” with him to further the district’s goals, he said.
“I can very confidently say I’m in charge of daily operations at the district,” Marra said. “They hired me to do that.”
Park district Commissioners Daniel Nachmanoff and Robert Lincoln said Thursday there was no truth to the allegations and that no park district employees have reported any wrongdoing.
“We really objected to the fact that they printed an anonymous letter that had major accusations without any teeth whatsoever without the courtesy of at least a call to the park district to see if we would comment on it before they did that,” Nachmanoff said.
After Thursday’s park district meeting concluded, Leiberman entered Great Neck House and confronted Nachmanoff and Lincoln about the election’s two poll workers, residents Jean Pierce and Elizabeth Allen, claiming they endorsed Cilluffo when he last ran in 2014.
No endorsement letters for Cilluffo from Pierce or Allen were found in editions of the Great Neck News from that election period.
Leiberman was making his fourth attempt at serving as a park district commissioner.
He most recently ran in 2014, when Nachmanoff defeated him in a race that also included North Shore Décor owner Jeffrey Meier Stein.
Nachmanoff received 782 votes, while Leiberman finished second with 325 votes and Stein got 171 votes.
In 2013, Leiberman unsuccessfully ran against Cilluffo and Ruth Tamarin, who was the incumbent commissioner at the time.
Tamarin received 564 of the 1,173 votes cast, followed by Cilluffo, who received 433 votes, and Leiberman, who received 165 votes.
Cilluffo won a special election in 2014, defeating three others to serve out the remainder of Tamarin’s three-year term after she stepped down.

By Joe Nikic

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