On the last Sunday in October, Daniel Petruccio sat in the bleachers at the Bayside Athletic Field watching the Chaminade varsity football team take on the Holy Cross Knights to close out the 2012 regular season.
He hadn’t firmly made up his mind then not to seek reelection, but was heavily leaning towards it he said, bundled up against the increasing frigid weather that day, a precursor to Hurricane Sandy barreling up the coast at the time.
Three days after Christmas, sitting in the south side bleachers at the Chaminade Activities & Athletic Center watching the night game of the opening round of the Haggerty tournament between the Flyers and Manhasset basketball squads, he confided that he would be making the announcement official at the first meeting of the village board in 2013, which occurred Wednesday night at the village hall.
“Sometime over the summer I decided I fulfilled all my obligations and I did everything I really wanted to do as mayor,” Petruccio said in an interview on Dec. 28. “I just felt it was the right time.”
Petruccio first took office in 2001, serving three four-year terms as mayor of the village. If he had run for an additional term, he would have become the longest-serving mayor in New Hyde Park’s history.
“I can’t say that I have any regrets,” Petruccio said. “I am going to miss the guys on the board, I’m probably going to sit around a couple of Tuesday nights and wonder what they’re up to but the last time I made a decision like this was when I decided to leave my business and go back into teaching and that was a pretty scary decision, a lot more scary than this one. I knew it was the right decision because I felt at ease about the decision. I’ve felt the same way since I’ve said the words out loud that I wasn’t going to run.”
If a member of the current village board were to run for mayor and win, the decision as to whom would take over the remaining term of the vacant trustee seat would be decided by the new mayor, though it is not known who in the community the board may be considering.
“We have a lot of people in the community who may not be thinking about doing something. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s time. I can stay at this for another four years and maybe another four years after that. I just feel like my enthusiasm for the job is the same when it first started, I didn’t want to give less than 100 percent, I have a lot of very important things that I do at my full-time job which occupies an enormous amount of my day and I want to dedicate more time to that.”
Petruccio had managed a discount variety retail store in Brooklyn for 16 years before deciding to move to New Hyde Park, eventually becoming a teacher of theology at Chaminade High School as well as director of guidance for the private Catholic school.
He first decided to become involved in village government when his wife convinced him to go to a meeting after it was announced that taxes in the village were set to rise by 37 percent.
“I was perplexed,” Petruccio said. “I didn’t understand how you could do that or justify doing it.”
There was even a movement at the time to dissolve the village, with the man who would eventually become mayor adding his signature to those of over 3,000 other residents.
“At first I thought that was the way to go,” he said, “but after realizing that the village is the most effective level of government I decided that it wasn’t really necessary to dissolve the village as much as it was to change the leadership of the village and that’s what we set out to do.”
At the time, Warren Tackenberg was mayor of New Hyde Park and had been on the board for 25 years, but Petruccio felt that the way the increase was handled is what ultimately led to that board’s ousting.
“Warren did a fine job, looking at it now, I understand what his situation was; he was looking at an enormous amount of roadwork which had not been done; for what reason, I don’t know. And they decided that the best way to jumpstart the project was to have a large tax increase all at once and then being able to start doing the roadwork. But the shock that it sent through the community was just too much and people were just very upset by it.”
The current board has instead paid for road improvement projects in various sections over the last decade, repairing and replacing the worst roads first as determined by an engineer and floating a bond to pay for them. The most recent road improvement project was completed at a cost of $1.3 million and garnered a bond interest rate of 1.84 percent.
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“First and foremost we’ve restored the financial confidence in the community,” Petruccio said. “If you start the financial confidence in the community, people have received tax increases over the years but they’ve been within a reasonable percentage and a tremendous amount of roadwork has been done and other beautification projects. I look around the village and honestly I would say we probably accomplished more than I ever thought we would when I started doing this 12 years ago.”
But Petruccio did not point to the roadwork or to the financial stability the administration experienced with himself as mayor as any sort of a legacy he wished for posterity.
“I think Dan Petruccio, when you look at his role in the history of the village, I think what I did was I showed people that working as a team with five men, very professional and dedicated to their community can accomplish a tremendous amount of good for the community if they work together. I don’t think any one of us is responsible more than the other. People really mistake the role of mayor; it’s a title. When we’re in that board room, there are five votes, my vote counts for one just like everyone else,” “ he said. “I got a very valuable piece of information when I first started from John Spellman, our village attorney, he said ‘catch yourself whenever you’re about to say ‘my village,’ never refer to it as ‘my village’ because it really isn’t your village’ and I always remember that as I’ve gone through the process. I think the job requires humility more than anything else. You can learn from your residents, you can learn from your fellow board members, you can sometimes learn from the guy that’s yelling at you at a public meeting and you can’t be so closed mined as to think that you know everything about how to solve the problems in the village.”
As for what he might pursue once the village election is over in March, Petruccio was also mum.
“I just want a part of my life back, pretty much every Tuesday night for the last 12 years,” he said. “I feel like there’s some opportunities out there for me, I’m not sure what they are but I feel like this’ll free me up to try to pursue some of those other opportunities. I can tell you they’re not in politics, that’s for sure.”