The cold race for Port Jefferson village mayor just turned hot as a new contender has stepped up to bat, one whose face has appeared large in politics, even on the national stage.
John Jay LaValle, the now retired chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee and village resident said he will be running for mayor of Port Jefferson.
“We need a fresh set of eyes to see how we can assist, revitalize and rejuvenate the Village of Port Jefferson,” LaValle said in an exclusive interview with TBR News Media.
LaValle announced he is running alongside known villagers Tom Meehan, the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, and Tracy Stapleton, a local attorney and secretary on the Port Jefferson Free Library board of trustees.
The veteran of politics and local government said he is running mainly to bring back business to the village, which he said was vacating Port Jeff at an alarming rate. He pointed to the multiple empty storefronts both uptown and downtown, and to specific businesses that recently closed their doors, such as Kimi Japanese Restaurant at the end of 2018. He also cites a lack of foot traffic and the seasonal nature of many of the local businesses, which create uneven amounts of patronage throughout the year. On the other hand, he pointed to villages such as Patchogue, which after years of revitalization work has become a booming hub of small businesses, restaurants and bars.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson.”
— John Jay Lavalle
“The morale in the village needs a bit of a boost,” he said. “You need to encourage the property owners. You can create in government a lot of incentives, expedite applications, rewrite the code to relax certain tax provisions that might be constrictive and restrictive, that’s a simple thing.”
Though he knows Port Jeff as a whole would largely reject the idea of creating a large bar scene, LaValle said he would look to attract young professionals to live and work inside the village, along with expediting the process for businesses to take root in the village and change the village code if necessary.
“If I move my office into the village, I have my employees, myself and my clients who are going to go to lunch every day,” he said. “My clients who are going to see me are going to stop off at different stores. Maybe it creates foot traffic.”
LaValle first held elected office when he was a Town of Brookhaven councilman in 1996. In 2000, he was elected as town supervisor as the youngest man elected to the position. After leaving as town head in 2005, he later became the chairman of the county Republican committee and was a delegate for President Donald Trump (R) in New York’s 1st District during the 2016 Republican National Convention and acted as media surrogate for him on the campaign trail. After the election in November 2018, where LaValle aided U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) into another term, the now ex-chairman said he wanted to get the Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive, the county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), settled before he left his countywide position.
LaValle said it was a good question why he would move from a position of sometimes national focus to one in small local government, but he explained it came down to him having a need to take charge when he sees an issue.
LaValle stepped down from the head of the Republican committee March 18, and he said he wants to avoid partisan politics at the head this hyperlocal elected position. He said people he knew personally have asked him to run for the position before, but he did not consider it seriously until after the congressional election in 2018, knowing he was likely on his way out.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson,” he said.
Election day is June 18. Five-time mayor Margot Garant told TBR News Media she plans to seek re-election. Trustee Larry LaPointe has already announced he will not seek re-election, though petitions seeking re-election still have to be filed by all candidates. Trustee Stan Loucks’ seat is also up for election. Come June 18, whichever two candidates get the highest number of votes will receive the trustee seats.
Two community members announce their runs alongside LaValle
Running alongside John Jay LaValle are Tracy Stapleton and Tom Meehan for the trustee positions, both who have deep ties to area functions. Stapleton is on the library board of trustees, has worked on the prom committee and is a member of the village zoning board as well.
The trustee candidate said she is especially interested in making the process easier to bring businesses into the village.
“There’s a lot of empty storefronts, and I would like to see if I can make it easier to bring more people in, get the stores rented,” Stapleton said. “The process seems to be hard to get people in there, they’re finding it hard to get people in.”
“We like our quaint little village.”
— Tracy Stapleton
She also said she would look at parking enforcement, specifically saying current attention to parking is an issue which she has seen with the Port Jeff free library, which she said loses visitors to Comsewogue.
She added she has spoken with LaValle and believes she can work with him, having agreed that more needs to be done to bring businesses into the community. She would also like to look at more beautification projects within the village, whether its creating additional flower beds or putting fresh coats of paint on old structures.
“We like our quaint little village,” she said. “We like that you can walk around. I like everything the village does, especially in the summer. We just need to make it easier.”
Meehan said he and his family are embedded in the village, having graduated from Port Jefferson High School and having his mother, and two of his sons as homeowners within it. Along with being the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, he is also an elected commissioner of the Port Jefferson Fire District.
He said he has considered running for village office for several years, and after having conversations with LaValle, said he thought now would be the best time to run
“I don’t do anything without making plans,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of aspects in the community. I’ve always had in the back of my mind someday I’d run for office.”
Along with Stapleton and LaValle, he is also concerned about the loss of business in downtown. He added he is also concerned with certain commercial developments, specifically the tax breaks given to the Shipyard apartment complex along West Broadway.
He promised to add his voice to problems such as downtown flooding and erosion along east beach and the Port Jefferson Country Club. He also has his reservations about the proposed apartment and retail space at the Cappy’s Carpets location
“We can’t put all the burden on the backs of the residents,” he said. “It seems not much thought is put into a lot of what we’re doing. I’m not pleased with some of the endeavors we’ve taken in the past several years.”
The elementary school principal added he would do what he could to reign in some of the village constables, who he said have been too proactive in placing tickets on residents’ cars.
“That’s how they subsidize the constables,” he said.
While he said he is largely on the same page as Stapleton and LaValle when it comes to business in Port Jeff, he said he wants to remain autonomous in his decisions.
“I’m very independent,” he said. “I can work with whoever, but I make my own decisions.”
While he plans to finish out the remaining years of his term as fire commissioner, he is still considering what he would do as elementary school principal should he win as village trustee.
“I said I’d be here five years — I’ve been here eight, after I’ve already retired” he said. “If I’m elected, I’ll have to look at my role here.”