Sixth graders want to be mayor of Greenport for a day

10/10/2011 8:00 AM |

JAY WEBSTER PHOTO | Greenport mayor David Nyce talks to sixth graders at Greenport School.

Greenport sixth graders are vying for the chance to be village mayor-for-a-day this November.

But not without first knowing what the job entails. Forty-two sixth graders from two classes spent Oct. 5 with Mayor David Nyce at Floyd Memorial Library where they asked him about his work — and why he pursued elective office.

“I got elected to be mayor four years ago, basically by losing a bet,” he joked. Actually, as a transplant from New York City, where he had been active with his local community board, he took an interest in Greenport’s government when he and his wife moved to the village in 2000. Regularly attending Village Board meetings, he spoke out on a number of subjects with which he disagreed with then-mayor Dave Kapell. That led to Mr. Nyce’s friends suggesting he seek public office, the mayor said. He ran after Mr. Kapell opted not to seek re-election.

For the students, that story and the information the mayor shared with them about how local government works will form the basis for essays they will be asked to write over the next few weeks. The best essay writer from each of the two sixth-grade classes will be selected by their teachers — Allison Riddell and Sue Haas — to become mayors-for-the-day.

They’ll get to meet members of the Village Board and see first hand what the mayor contends with to keep government operating.

The idea developed from a conversation Ms. Haas had with the library’s children’s librarian, Joe Cortale, about budget cuts that have curtailed field trips this year.

Bring them to the library, Mr. Cortale suggested, developing the idea of the competition with the teachers. They can’t afford expensive bus trips, but a short walk from campus to the library still qualifies as a field trip.

After Mr. Nyce outlined the structure of the one-mile-square village and the history of its incorporation in 1838, he talked about the election process, appointees who serve in the various departments and the roles of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Preservation Commission.

But mostly, he talked about the importance of public interaction with the boards and how residents can make their interests known to elected officials.

“It’s one of the blessings and curses of having a small village like this,” Mr. Nyce said about public interaction.

Formally, it can happen at Village Board regular meetings and public hearings, but informally, he finds out a lot about what’s on the minds of his constituents just walking around the village, he said.

“What if nobody runs?” one student wanted to know. While that hasn’t happened, he presumed that the sitting mayor would continue until another special election could be held. That would likely continue to be the course of action until someone stepped up to seek the job.

“Do you like being mayor?” another student wanted to know.

“It’s like any other job — there are good days and bad days,” Mr. Nyce said. But to have the privilege of having an effect on the place you live is wonderful, he said. “The good days far outweigh the bad days,” he said.

And, no, he doesn’t think the mayor should be paid more than the $18,000 annual stipend he receives, calling it part of public service.

One of the most profound questions came from a student who wanted to know if Mr. Nyce ever encounters a problem he doesn’t know how to tackle.

“Every day there are situations that come up that I don’t have the ultimate answer to,” the mayor said. But in discussions with the four trustees, various appointed officials and the public, they’re able to explore possible approaches until they find a solution, he said.

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