Though Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral has many loyal supporters, much controversy has surrounded his revitalization plan. Now, many residents are attacking his opponent, James Wu, who will be running on the Village for All party, along with trustee candidates Julia Shields and Harold Citron in the village election on Tuesday, June 18.
Representing community members from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, the new slate of candidates hopes to bring their varied backgrounds and fresh ideas to the village.
Wu, a commercial real estate agent, Hofstra Law School grad and former U.S. Marine, said his main reason for running is his two girls, who attend North Middle and E.M. Baker schools.
“As a single dad, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them—and that includes running for mayor,” said Wu, who has lived in Great Neck for nearly 10 years. “Like many of the families living here, we moved to the community for its schools. I couldn’t imagine that we would ever have a mayor who was actively against the bond to pay for basic structural repairs and STEM programs for our schools. To have that same mayor turn around and propose an expensive rezoning plan that only benefits his developer friends is outrageous. I’m running because our families, our schools and our community deserve better from the people who represent us.”
His running mates are longtime residents and community leaders. Citron is a finance executive and a member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Israel of Great Neck and president of its Men’s Club.
“I want to restore sound financial management to the Village of Great Neck and rebuild the staff and morale at the barely functioning Village Hall,” said Citron. “We need to commit to a truly open, transparent and responsive village government.”
Shields, a community activist who has fought for human rights and progressive housing policies, is president of the Academy Gardens Tenants Association and chair of the Board of Trustees of St. Paul’s AME Zion Church.
“My concern is that we have a mayor and board of trustees who respond to the needs and concerns of all residents, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion or national origin,” said Shields. “We should view our diversity as an asset and end the divisive politics and attitudes of the current administration.”
After several readers submitted letters with allegations against Wu, the Great Neck Record questioned the candidate about them. The readers’ concerns and Wu’s candid responses follow.
Reader David Kahen wrote: “After James Wu submitted his letter of acceptance, he then submitted two substitutes for the trustee positions. Why did both of the original trustee candidates drop out after less than one day? Why, after less than one day, were these other candidates ready with letters of acceptance?”
According to Wu, his team pulled the entire campaign together in nine days, and one candidate wasn’t able to serve for family reasons and the other due to business commitments. Many candidates had expressed interest in running for trustee, and he believes Shields and Citron bring expertise to form a well-rounded team.
In fact, during Bral’s 2015 election for mayor, trustee candidate Christine Campbell was listed on the original petition, but was similarly replaced with Ray Plakstis, Jr., as a trustee candidate.
Lynne Bursky wrote: “Unbeknownst to most residents of the Village of Great Neck, James Wu was found guilty of engaging in illegal conduct during his failed New York City Council bid when he last ran in the Democratic Party primary. As reported in the Daily News (12/12/13) and the Institute for Free Speech (12/19/13), Wu was fined $18,000 for 10 different violations of New York City campaign finance law. Contrary to what Wu would have us believe, Luke Wachtob of the IFS reported that these 10 violations were not minor errors, mistakes or the result of confusing regulations.”
C. J. Abraham also wrote, “Wu was fined for violating all of the following relating to a number of statutory codes: 1. Failing to report a bank account; 2. Filing two disclosure statements late; 3. Failing to file daily preelection disclosure statements; 4. Failing to provide merchant account statements; 5. Accepting three over-the-limit contributions; 6. Accepting a large contribution from a corporation; 7. Failing to properly document two transactions; 8. Failing to provide a petty cash journal; 9. Maintaining a petty cash fund greater than $500; and 10. Intentionally furnishing false documentation and information.”
Wu explained that the campaign financial forms are very detailed to prevent corruption. He said he fully recorded all of the contributions, unlike the current mayor, who he alleges hasn’t even completed the forms. But, since he’s not an accountant, he said he didn’t enter them in the proper column and made mistakes. One was the result of payment to a consultant who was let go, a loan from his brother wasn’t recorded properly and two contributions totaling $100 on PayPal resulted in $250 in fines.
“The nature of a campaign is very fast paced, and there’s a lot of money that goes through the campaign,” noted Wu, who first got involved in politics as a high school student at Stuvesant. “The campaign requirements for financials are very stringent. Errors are common. I made certain accounting errors, and I owned up to that. This time, I hired an accountant. The current mayor has had at least two elections and he’s made no filings.”
Bursky also wrote, “Another example of Wu’s disregard for the citizens he purports to represent is that while he describes himself as a proponent of transparency, he fails to divulge that he is a real estate developer. Considering the concerns of some residents about overdevelopment, this is an egregious omission.”
While Wu does work in commercial real estate in the city, he said, “I don’t have any interest in real estate development out here. I will see what the community wants and work with our developers to make our community better, working toward a better quality of life for the community.”
Daniel Rahmani complained, “I attend the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade every year to show my support to our armed forces, and respect and thanks to our country’s veterans. I was stunned to see people campaigning for James Wu. Memorial Day is a solemn occasion. Wu’s campaign used it opportunistically, to turn attention to himself and away from those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom.”
Wu said as a USMC honorably discharged vet and member of the American Legion, he was invited to march.
“As a member of the American Legion, I have marched in several Memorial Day parades,” said Wu. “This is the first time the present mayor ever marched in a Memorial Day parade, I suspect, because he knew he had an opponent. I received a very warm reception. If people asked me for my card, I gave it to them.”
Wu said he’s not a politician, but got involved because he cares and is trying to unite people to work toward community harmony for the greater good of Great Neck.
“We’re all in this together, which is why we need a village for all where we all work together to solve our problems, just like we teach our children,” said Wu. “We should practice what we preach and stand up for the next generation.”