2010 Public Servant of the Year: Leslie Kanes Weisman

Leslie Kanes Weisman

Leslie Kanes Weisman became chair of the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals last year, about the same time that the board lost to retirement its walking book of institutional knowledge, ZBA clerk Linda Kowalski.

Ms. Weisman has been unwavering in her effort to bring the ZBA’s office back up to speed.

“She took all the backlog and made it into a smooth, functioning office,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “She has managed to get the most out of an excellent staff. That’s a benefit to all applicants and taxpayers.”

Ms. Weisman, a former associate dean and founding faculty member of the New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Architecture, moved to her vacation home in Southold full-time after an early retirement about a decade ago. A longtime women’s rights and community activist, she immediately got involved in Southold civic affairs.

In 2002, the town appointed her chair of the Southold Hamlet Stakeholders Committee and an affordable housing commissioner. It named her to the Zoning Board in 2005, during Josh Horton’s term as supervisor. Though she has ties to the Democratic Party and was campaign manager when Democrat Jeri Woodhouse ran for the Town Board in 2009, Ms. Weisman has developed a reputation for her commitment to getting things done without letting politics get in the way.

“I couldn’t think of a more worthy candidate,” said Mr. Russell, a Republican. “She has the ability to work with everyone. She’s a very fair-minded, non-partisan person.”

Mr. Russell said that Ms. Weisman puts in far more time and effort to the ZBA post “than what we’re paying her for,” a stipend of $12,000 a year.

He added that Ms. Weisman has the right temperament to chair the quasi-judicial panel, which is required to base its decisions on the law, not politics or private interests, as it balances the needs of applicants against the interests of the community.
“She’s very measured, very thoughtful and very fair. You can’t ask for more in a public servant,” he said.

Ms. Weisman was instrumental this year in persuading the Suffolk County Legislature to rename Dam Pond Preserve in Orient for former Southold Town Board member Ruth Oliva, who died last year.

“She and Troy Gustavson” of Times Review Newspapers “worked diligently to pursue that. She wrote many letters to the county. She just takes the lead and does things,” said Southold land preservation coordinator Melissa Spiro. “She’s one of the most hardworking and diligent people I know. She’s been so dedicated at the zoning board. She knows the code. She knows all the properties.”

Jeri Woodhouse has worked with Ms. Weisman on a number of social causes over the past decade. She said that she would not have run for Town Board if Ms. Weisman had not signed on to run her campaign.

“She’s incredibly dedicated, hardworking and thorough. She’s really smart in everything she does,” she said. “She’s an admirable public servant and she approaches her job completely without political bias.”

Ms. Woodhouse said that one of Ms. Weisman’s top priorities is to ensure that Southold remains a special place.
“She could do anything she wanted, but she wants to be here,” Ms. Woodhouse said.

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