With two open seats, meet the fresh faces running for Huntington Town...

With two open seats, meet the fresh faces running for Huntington Town Board

By Leah Chiappino

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Huntington Town Board will have two open seats November, with Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) and Councilman Eugene Cook (R) not running for reelection.

Huntington Republican Committee has nominated two candidates: attorney Theresa Mari and town personnel head, Brooke Lupinacci. The Democrats have put forward Don McKay, deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and Jen Hebert, program director of Kerber’s Farm School in Huntington and former local school board president.

TBR News Media reached out to the candidates to discuss their background, community involvement and what motivated them to run. We hope to have the opportunity to speak to McKay and Lupinacci in the coming weeks.

Republican Theresa Mari in one or two candidates running for Huntington Town Board seats. Photo from candidate

Theresa Mari

Mari has been an attorney for nearly 40 years, focusing much of her practice on family and matrimonial law. Originally from Port Jefferson Station, she has lived in Centerport for 30 years.

“We just have such a great town,” she said. “We’re just very lucky.”

While she grew up wanting to be a pediatrician, it was her internship at the office of state Attorney General Robert Abrams (D), while in college at SUNY Binghamton, that motivated her go to law school. The internship involved undercover work and investigations in the fraud department.

“I just I loved the whole thing,” she said.

After her time at the AG’s office, she secured internships in several law firms, learning more about the trade. While an English major, she took several philosophy and political science classes.

During her first year of law school at Hofstra University, she worked for Covidea, a computer banking company, in product development, and by her second year, was unofficially the general counsel, which became official once she graduated. She stayed on staff until the product was disbanded and helped close out the corporation.

Along with a few co-workers, she then founded a tire remanufacturing company, serving as their counsel and working them through to becoming public.

Once the business was sold, she went into private practice as Theresa A. Mari based in Hauppauge, quickly developing her love for family law while taking on real estate matters.

“I just found the family law stuff was really coming my way, and I liked it,” she said.

Mari quickly got on the fiduciary list to represent 18B plaintiffs and defendants, who cannot afford representation, so the court appoints a lawyer for them in family court. She also accepted appointments to represent children who receive court appointed attorneys at no cost to the family, which she still does to this day. In addition, Mari received a number of high-profile, privately paid court appointments to represent children in divorce cases, including the children of model Christie Brinkley and rapper 50 Cent.

“I have the respect of the judges,” she said. “And they knew I wasn’t going to be pushed around — I wasn’t going to be starstruck by it.”

Working cases involving such tremendous wealth and fame was challenging, she said, with high profile parents “set in their ways and decisions.”

Mari has also served as director of the Suffolk County Bar Association Charitable Foundation, which focuses on raising money for items like teddy bears in family court and clothes for foster children. The foundation also provided meals for first responders and gift cards for food pantries during the pandemic.

In addition, Mari worked with the Kiwanis International club, Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Every Child’s Dream, among other organizations. 

“I spent most of my professional life advocating for and representing children in these kinds of dire circumstances and chairing all of these charitable foundations and so forth,” she said. “To me it’s the next logical step to try to serve my town and the community that I live in.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) proposal to change zoning laws, as well as overdevelopment, are some concerns she would like to address if elected.

“I’d like to keep Huntington, Huntington, not Queens,” Mari said.

Democrat Jen Hebert is one of two of the candidates running for two open Huntington Town Board seats. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Jen Hebert

Hebert was born and raised in East Williston, before relocating to Boston to attend Tufts University, where she received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in education.

After graduation, she taught kindergarten at a public school in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. Hebert and her husband eventually decided to move back to Long Island to be closer to family.

“We were looking for a town that was similar to New England, and we decided Huntington was exactly the right place for us,” she said. 

Having raised three sons in the Huntington school district, Hebert got involved in the district as a parent volunteer. Then, given her educational background, she decided to run for school board, serving for nine years.

“I’ve seen education from a 360-degree point of view,’ she said.

She counts the opening of the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, during her time on the board, as one of its chief accomplishments during her tenure. The school accepts students via a lottery system, and focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. It was founded after the district closed the building in 2010 due to crime in the surrounding area.

She also worked to implement new AP classes, increase STEM throughout the district, and founded the Robotics team.

“We worked really hard to bring equity to education and opportunities for all of our diverse student body,” Hebert said.

Eventually, Hebert became vice president, and then president of the board, describing her leadership as assessable and unifying. When she was elected to the board, and the community was grappling with the Abrams school closure, it was a difficult time for the district, she said.

“When I got on the school board there was a lot of animosity and a lot of division, and I think that I worked really hard and was very successful in kind of uniting people,” she said, adding, “I’m a big, great consensus builder and a great team player.”

It was Hebert’s belief in term limits that caused her to step down from the board in 2020,she said.

“I felt that nine years was enough on the board, and it was time for somebody with fresh eyes to take a turn, somebody else with different ideas and different opinions,” she said.

Hebert then decided to run for Town Board in 2021, as she still had a drive and desire to represent her community.

“I work really hard,” she said. “When I dedicate myself to something I dedicate myself 100%. Also, I think that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Outside of the board, Hebert was administrator of St. John’s Nursery School in Huntington, until she became program director of Kerber’s Farm School about a year ago. 

Kerber’s programming includes classes for children and adults of all ages, Hebert said, with topics such as organic gardening, farm-to-table cooking and sustainability. She has also brought in field trips with local districts for special-needs students, and created an internship program, an opportunity for Scouts to earn badges and a weekly life skills program.

If elected, she hopes to work on the revitalization of Huntington Station and advocate for the creation of a recreation center, as part of the $10 million revitalization grant the town was awarded from the state in January.

“I don’t want to be pinned down to something that I can’t then follow through on,” she said.

However, if she is able to be involved, she said developing a recreation center would be “a project near and dear to my heart.”

She is also environmentally conscious, she said, raising backyard chickens and planting native plants in her yard. If elected, it would be a priority to preserve open space and protect waterways.

“That’s going to be a huge priority for me in finding ways to do that,” she said. “Even if they’re just small, incremental ways, even if it means banning fertilizers — those things are going to be very important to me.”

Ultimately, she said, she wants to represent all residents, and be an accessible resource for her constituents.

“I would represent all of Huntington, all of the parts of Huntington, all of the people of Huntington,” she said. “I don’t care what side of the aisle you sit on, I don’t even care who you voted for. If I get the chance, I can hopefully be an accessible and a productive resource for our community.”