By 5TJT Staff
On June 18, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. at the Village Hall, the Village of Lawrence will be holding a contested election, a rare occurrence in this tranquil area. Current trustee Michael Fragin is looking to retain his seat. Trustee Joel Mael is not running for reelection.
Michael Fragin, 39, has had two successful terms as trustee. In addition, he is a political consultant and a radio talk-show host. David Seidemann, 53, is a 5TJT columnist, matrimonial lawyer, professor at Touro College, a sitting member of the Beis Din, and an alternate member of the Village of Lawrence Zoning Board. Alex Edelman, 64, owns businesses in the real-estate, health-care, and transportation industries. These three candidates are running for two open seats. 5TJT asked the candidates to introduce themselves and explain their stance on the issues.
5TJT: It is unusual to have a contested election in the Village of Lawrence. What is your position on competitive elections?
Michael Fragin: It is unusual but not unheard of. We have had contested elections in the past. Contested elections are good for democracy and hopefully serve to get people interested in the workings of government.
David Seidemann: The question has an implication that such elections should be eschewed. On the contrary, they should be encouraged. The notion that once elected, a person serves at his discretion instead of at the voters’ discretion is anti-democratic. As a citizen, I would want to know that every two years I can either reaffirm my commitment to the sitting trustee or opt for change. As an elected official, I would want to know at least once every two years, I have the people’s support. I am running on the Unity Party line. It would seem to me that the Good Government line and their supporters would be the champions of contested elections, for the hallmark of good government is choices for the people. I have heard certain whispers that running against an incumbent is improper. If a voter is satisfied with the work of the incumbent, then a contested election is an opportunity to reaffirm one’s commitment. One who is afraid to be challenged perhaps is not up to the challenge. The fact that in the past elections have been uncontested is not something we should be proud of. Uncontested elections are more about voter apathy than overwhelming voter satisfaction. Contested elections are not divisive. They are invigorating. Divisiveness is telling people that they do not have a right to present their vision for the future of the village.
Alex Edelman: I think elections, by the very nature of the word, means competitiveness—otherwise it would be an appointment. I think that competitive elections, as you call it, is very important so that people have the opportunity to choose the best person for the job.
5TJT: Why, do you think, is there a contested election this year?
Michael Fragin: Probably because one of the sitting trustees decided not to run for reelection. However, it is possible that people would want to run regardless of whether there was an open seat.
David Seidemann: Mr. Edelman and I, both running on row A, were recruited to run. We did not wake up one night and in a fit of boredom decide to run. This election is contested because I believe people woke up after Superstorm Sandy and asked themselves, “How could this happen to our village?” I am referring to the response and the extent of the damage as a result of decayed infrastructure. Then they woke up a few months later and asked, “What has been done to ensure we don’t suffer like that again?” They began to search for answers. That search led them to uncover a virtual logjam in village politics, mostly as a result of the board not being able to function as a cohesive unit. That search led to more questions and the inescapable conclusion that the composition of the board needs to be changed. Alex Edelman and I possess the skill set to put the village back on the track of not only good government but responsible, inclusive, and respectful government.
Alex Edelman: Perhaps because people are tired of the little or no performance to accomplish what the needs of the communities are. Most recently with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
5TJT: What are the top three priorities that you will address if you are (re) elected?
Michael Fragin: (1) Emergency planning and emergency services. Learn what does work and what doesn’t work from the past two hurricanes. We cannot only blame other agencies. The village itself fell short. (2) Increased use of technology to make dealing with government easier, such as paying tickets, paying for parking meters, and applying for permits online. Using social media and a better village website to disseminate information. (3) Stabilize village finances, truth in budgeting, and eliminating structural deficits. I have pushed to cut taxes every year that I have been on the board. The village is holding way too much of your money for far too long. The village has also been spending more money than it takes in for several years. We have spent down cash reserves at an alarming rate. This cash cushion is masking losses at the country club. We need to return to the basics of spending what we have and make real choices about the future finances of the village.
David Seidemann: (1) The decayed infrastructure both of village property and of those vendors such as LIPA that service our community is a top priority. (2) Drainage and traffic on Broadway, Central Avenue, Rockaway Turnpike, and 878, and the installation of stop signs and/or traffic lights at dangerous intersections. (3) Police and Hatzalah members have informed me of the inability to locate homes in cases of emergency. This is due in part to out-of-sequence numbering and in part because of addresses that are not visible. Lives are at stake. Term limits is also an issue of great concern to me. Most employees have to prove themselves every day or risk losing their jobs. Elected officials should be no different. But the number-one priority and probably the easiest of all the tasks is to restore a level of decorum and respect to village government.
Alex Edelman: I certainly would want to hear from the residents what their needs are and prioritize accordingly. Several preferences which need immediate attention are the infrastructure of our sanitation system, draining, and flood areas; residential security and street lighting; additional security from Nassau County Police Department; and traffic and congestion on major arteries such as 878 and Rockaway Turnpike, which lead directly into Lawrence. LIPA is a big concern as we have to work out a much better relationship with them, as I understand there are a lot of issues with the wiring and a lot of patch jobs that have been done which is not a long-term solution. The village country club is an asset that we must maintain at a higher standard and higher quality of service to attract new members so it will be self-sufficient. The library has been under discussion for many years; that’s where it stopped. I would see what can be done and what has to be done to make it as comfortable as possible for the people that use the library on a regular basis.
5TJT: What improvements do you hope to bring to the quality of life in the village once elected?
Michael Fragin: Our building code is outdated. 97% of construction application requires a variance. That means time and money and a cumbersome process. We need to look strategically at how we want building to continue in Lawrence, specifically to address growing flooding and drainage issues. Our outdated regulations cost village residents time and money.
David Seidemann: An expanded or new library with activities for our aging population and teenagers. More visible street signs and addresses. Brighter light bulbs for our street lamps. In addition to making our streets and addresses more visible, brighter lighting is a crime deterrent.
Alex Edelman: Once some of the major concerns that I have addressed before are somewhat corrected, then quality-of-life issues, of which there are several, would be the next concern, such as tree planting, road repairs, sidewalk curbs that are cracked in many places, cleaning of the storm sewer system, etc.
5TJT: What are the differences or similarities between you and the other two candidates?
Michael Fragin: I think that we are all committed to the community. I have a record on which I can be judged. I have been there for the residents. Every day a resident turns to me for assistance on a particular issue and I do whatever I can to get it done, whether it is a village issue or something outside the purview of village government. I am and always will be a strong advocate for the needs of my friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, while I proposed one or more debates, the other candidates declined. Someone new to government will be elected and they will have to learn quickly the inner workings of village governance.
David Seidemann: Alex Edelman is a well-known, highly respected, and successful businessman. One of the qualities that needs to be injected into the process is good old-fashioned business sense, which Alex surely possesses. His success is not by accident. Another facet that needs to be introduced into the process is problem-solving and a spirit of inclusion, civility, and consensus. That, I believe, is my strength. My reputation amongst judges and peers is that of a skilled negotiator who identifies a problem and solves it by bringing people together. I guarantee a new spirit of cooperation the minute we are elected. I think that the major difference between the Row A candidates—Mr. Edelman and myself—and anyone else who might be running, might not be so much a clash of what needs to be done but more a question of how it needs to be accomplished.
Alex Edelman: All the candidates and the sitting trustees are people from different backgrounds and experience. I believe that my background in the business world would be very beneficial as a voice in the management of the village affairs.
5TJT: Why do you think you are best suited for this position?
Michael Fragin: I have a decade of experience in government. I have an extensive roster of connections that have already brought significant benefits to the village. I understand the intricacies and rules related to village law and government. I am the only candidate on the ballot with any hands-on experience in village government. I have a decade of experience serving the village and have been a dedicated resident even since before I became trustee. I am the only candidate that regularly attended board meetings before running for office. Neither of the other candidates has attended a village trustee meeting or served on any village boards, and to my knowledge they have no familiarity with village government. Historically it was a given that no one would run for office without having served in some capacity.
David Seidemann: I feel that the reason I am best suited can be summed up in a beautiful letter of support written by the highly respected couple from our community, Dr. Ralph and Judy Silverman. Therein they state that “while David Seidemann might be known as an accomplished writer and speaker, he possesses another quality, namely of being a good listener.” You can’t solve most problems by talking. Problems are solved by listening. So many people have told me that it’s time we try a new approach in Village Hall, an approach that begins with listening. An approach where arms are used to embrace instead of being used to elbow people out of the way.
Alex Edelman: I don’t want to brag, but I think in my 42 years of business experience in over half a dozen different companies, I have accumulated lots of knowledge and excellent managerial capabilities, which I think would be very helpful to the current administration of the village. v