I recently said that the current mayor of the Village of Great Neck is “untrustworthy and undemocratic.” This letter explains those two words as they refer to the mayor’s dealings with our public schools, our volunteer ambulance service and his duties as mayor, including a conflict of interest.
1. Instead of signing the contract with the Vigilant Fire Department for our ambulance service located in our community for 80 years, Mayor Bral went to Northwell Health in secret. He tells us he wanted the addition of a paramedic on a midnight-to-7 a.m. shift. Had this been his goal, all he had to do was pick up the phone and invite the chief to a public meeting at village hall to tell him what he had in mind. Or, he could have written the chief a letter. Had the mayor done either of these things, he would have learned that the Vigilants were already contemplating this addition.
Had we residents known, our first concern would have been: Why would we want our ambulances coming from further away and with increased response time?
So, it was strange that the mayor went to Northwell Health. Why? It was stranger still that he did so and kept it secret for months. Why didn’t he tell us?
Two years ago, in August 2015, two months after Bral was elected, the North Shore-LIJ Health System and Maimonides Hospital announced a “strategic partnership,” which included a financial component. A month later North Shore-LIJ renamed itself Northwell Health.
Dr. Bral works for Maimonides Hospital. So why, with his title of mayor, did he meet with Northwell representatives? Northwell’s motives are obvious: It provides ambulance service elsewhere and acquiring Great Neck as a client would be a feather in its cap—and profitable.
So Mayor Bral had two secrets: He hid his meeting with Northwell; he also hid his connection to Northwell, which is a conflict of interest that, if revealed, would certainly cast his motives into doubt.
2. In village government, Bral has taken control of decisions about zoning permits for religious institutions, bypassing notification of the residents who live nearby and eliminating public discussions of the minimum standards set forth in the village code. This is a topic fraught with issues too numerous to itemize here. Reduced to a sound bite, Mayor Bral has removed visibility and denied public participation: no one knows, and then he approves it.
3. When Bral was elected, we could not have known he would renege on every one of his campaign promises the minute he took office. We could not have known he would privately negotiate with developers, offer to sell village hall or speak about selling our DPW property. We could not have known he would have no regard for the Open Meetings Law of New York State.
When we voted for Bral, we elected him to head the Board of Trustees, which is a law-making body. We could not have known he had a careless attitude about our system of laws. When the mayor had the village attorney craft a new law and I made the observation it was poorly written, Bral answered, “All laws are poorly written.”
Our legal system is the bedrock of American democracy. His comment revealed he has little regard for the gravity that attends making law.
Having promised to safeguard village hall, he offered it for sale. Having promised to role back re-zoning, instead he confirmed it. Though bragging about our “new Main Street,” the business area of the village looks worse than ever.
4. This year, there were two votes on public school spending—one in February on the bond and one in May on both the budget and the bond. The Great Neck community has always voted both yes and no, without contentiousness or rancor. Each voter’s reason was his or her own. This year’s vote was different.
The mayor of the Village of Great Neck used his elected position to rally a private school vote against spending for public school children. In this community, his actions are unforgivable.
Nasty, ignorant private school sentiment was whipped to a frenzy on Facebook. The mayor wrote on Facebook, and then removed his less-guarded words as soon as they had provoked a response.
Mustering votes in another local municipal domain shows muscle flexing beyond the scope of the mayor’s authority and an abuse of his office.
Bral has already let us know he would deprive us of what may very well be the finest ambulance coverage we could hope to have. He has back-pedaled in public on the ambulances and the schools, now we know nothing is safe.
The mayor has led those who think paying for private school for their children should exempt them from paying for public schools, so what’s next? What other services will they cherry pick? Perhaps they will not want to pay for the upkeep of a park they do not frequent? A marina boat ramp they do not use? Library books? What about next year’s school budget?
Our public institutions are synonymous with Great Neck’s prosperity, and now we’ve been warned. Our way of life and what we value have come under siege.
These are some of the reasons I am standing for election as mayor in the Village of Great Neck, with Adam Harel for trustee, on June 20.
—Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar