Outgoing mayor George Hubbard Jr. reflects on a lifetime of service to Greenport

Growing up in the home his grandfather built in the 1920s on Manor Place — where his parents raised him and where he and his wife still live today — the last thing on teenage George Hubbard Jr.’s mind was following his father’s path to the village mayor’s office.

“I swore when he was [mayor] that I’d never get involved myself,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Just the time it took and the dedication and all that. I thought, ‘That’s not for me.’ But things change.”

Half a century later, on Monday April 3, his final day in office, Mayor Hubbard sat down with a reporter in Mitchell Park and reminisced with clear fondness on his 16 years of service on the Village Board — the last eight years as mayor — as well as 45 years of service (so far) with the Greenport Fire Department.

“I just appreciate the support I’ve had from the whole community — in my personal life, in the village’s life and with the fire department,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of friends, some great people, some new people, and I’ve enjoyed working with them and for them all these years and I really appreciate the support that they’ve had in me and trust in what I thought was in the best interests of the village.”

Mayor Hubbard’s accomplishments during his eight years include paving more than three-quarters of the village’s roads, including about $2 million in curb repairs and construction; keeping tax increases to a minimum, and improving and upgrading the village sewer system, increasing its efficiency to the point where it is using only 60% of its total capacity — allowing the village to potentially profit from sewer hookups to locations outside the village. 

“Over the past eight years, in total, taxes only went up 6%,” he said. “Like other places with the 2% tax cap, over the eight years we could have gone up 16% and it only went up 6%.”

Mayor Hubbard officiating at his daughter’s 2021 wedding at the carousel in Mitchell Park. (Courtesy photo)

One aspect of his administration that he clearly takes pride in is a longtime focus on the village’s children. Mr. Hubbard grows animated when talking about being invited to speak at the sixth grade D.A.R.E. graduations. With eight grandchildren of his own and a ninth due in May, school plays and sporting events have long been a part of his seasonal routines.

“When my other grandkids were playing Little League and school plays and stuff, I’d always say, ‘Don’t make it on Thursdays. I have meetings on Thursdays.’ [There was] a lot of that stuff I couldn’t go to, or the birthday parties I would miss.” Now, he said, “my time will be free to do whatever.” He said he looks forward to “being able to babysit more.”

Mr. Hubbard said that “making things better for the kids around here” was always a top priority.

“The mini railroad that’s going in [Moores Woods], we’re working with the Rotary Club on that. We donated the land and [the village] is going to be operating it,” he said.

“Moores Lane is becoming a real place for the kids. The committee that’s working on the skate park is trying to rebuild and upgrade the park so that it’s a real hub. Instead of just hanging out in the restaurants and bars downtown, there are things for kids. They can play ball, roller skate, go on the mini train — whatever they want to do.”

Asked what makes Greenport special, Mr. Hubbard pointed to both the waterfront and to village residents.

“The water is what really brings people here. You can see the water from almost any street … and that’s what people really enjoy. You can walk around. You don’t need a car to get around the village. Everything you need you can just walk and get.”

He said that after all these years, Greenport’s spirit of community has never wavered.

“Greenport is so unique because everyone looks out for everyone else,” he said. “You’re watching each other’s backs. If somebody needs a hand who is struggling, you give them a hand … If somebody’s paper doesn’t get picked up for a couple days, you knock on the door, [and say] ‘Is everything okay?’ People do that all over the village.”

Mr. Hubbard’s predecessors and colleagues said he is vital to the future of the village.

“He’s old, dyed-in-the-wool Greenport, and that’s very valuable in my view,” said former mayor David Kapell.

“I think one of the main qualities George brought, and hopefully will continue to bring as a private citizen, is an understanding of how we got to where we are, and the history of what it was like to be here 30 or 40 years ago when it was a much different place,” he said.

“A lot of folks who are in the village now aren’t aware of the history the way a guy like George is,” Mr. Kapell said. “People talk about protecting things and preserving things, but it’s important to understand exactly what you’re preserving and protecting.”

Prior to being elected mayor, Mr. Hubbard served as deputy mayor to David Nyce.

“If you don’t understand the history of the place, you can’t possibly figure out what’s going on now and how to move into the future,” Mr. Nyce said. “George had all of that history right there at his fingertips, and that was invaluable to me,” he said. “It was absolutely critical.”

Mr. Hubbard said that like any administration, his tenure had highs and lows.

One the worst moments for the village in his memory was 2012’s superstorm Sandy.

“It was pretty scary,” Mr. Hubbard recalled. “When it turned and headed inland south of us, that really saved us [because] we were really cut off.

“The causeway was flooded, both bridges were flooded, Mill Creek and the Sound were cut off, and where I live, right across from the hospital, the water was almost up to my front door,” he said. “I’ve never seen the tide as high as it was during Sandy.”

He said that if the storm hadn’t moved inland and the village was forced to face a second high tide, Greenport may have been leveled.

Mr. Hubbard also recalled his fondest memories of being mayor, particularly officiating village weddings.

“One thing that was really special was when my daughter got married and we did the ceremony right here in the carousel,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder. “In the village I’m allowed to perform weddings [so] that was really neat.”

In addition to his daily morning drive to 7-Eleven for chocolate milk and newspapers, one of Mr. Hubbard’s favorite mayoral rituals has been driving around the village on the weekend with his wife.

“Just driving everywhere,” he said, “you know what’s going on, you know where a pothole is, you know what road needs fixing, and you get to see the progress of things going on — who has bought what property and how they are renovating the place.

“It’s something I enjoy,” he said. “Being a member of the tree committee, we’re always looking for spots where we can put new trees, and what needs to be taken down. Or I’ll get emails during the week, ‘can you check out this person’s house over here?’ or somebody’s put a mattress out on the street.

“We just drive around looking at everything, enjoying everything. It’s not always negative.”

He added that the end of his tenure as mayor has been bittersweet.

“My wife was in tears this morning when I left the house,” Mr. Hubbard said, citing his last day in office and the “disappointing way … the whole election cycle went down this time.”

He noted that in the nearly 16 years he’s served on the Village Board, “we’ve had little controversy or problems or anything.”

He said that “being accused of stuff” by neighbors and constituents over the past few weeks of campaigning was sometimes rough.

“People that I’ve known all my life telling me I shouldn’t be [in office] anymore, that if I get re-elected I should resign? That whole election cycle turned everyone sour.”

Mr. Hubbard was unequivocal in his own defense.

“I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve run four times … and done all the paperwork every time, and some people didn’t put in their paperwork. No laws were broken,” he said.

Referring to incoming members of the Village Board’s vows to launch an investigation into the balloting controversy, he said again that “they’re going to find that no laws were broken.”

Mr. Nyce said he tended to agree.

“He’s a solid guy,” the former mayor said. “I trust George and I would be honored for him to be my neighbor. He’s a stand-up guy, and we all do the best we can within our means to improve the place we live. I think George absolutely did that.

“This election cycle pointed out what people felt that he wasn’t doing,” he continued. “That’s unfortunate, but that tends to be how the system works.”

Mr. Nyce said he was first elected mayor during a wave of change similar to what the village is experiencing now.

“You don’t have nine people running in an election if people are happy.”

Asked about his plans going forward, Mr. Hubbard laughed out loud and responded, “Well, my plan was four more years as mayor,” followed by retirement and a vacation.

For now, he said he’s focused on that time away.

“I haven’t had a vacation in the eight years I’ve been mayor,” he said with a grin. “I’m here all the time!”