After three months in office, Greenport’s new mayor is settling in

On his 100th day in office, Greenport’s new mayor, Kevin Stuessi, a first-time politician, sat down with The Suffolk Times to look back at three very busy months and talk about the road that led him to the single square mile seaside village he now calls home.

With a seemingly united Village Board behind him, Mr. Stuessi didn’t hesitate when asked to name his top three priorities: updating village codes for the Waterfront Commercial district, increasing enforcement against short-term rentals and making Village Hall more efficient, effective and welcoming.

Mr. Stuessi said that “without a doubt” village code updates for the waterfront are his top priority. He said the village has already stepped up traditional code enforcement on short-term rentals, but a contract with a software company that automates the whole process should be in place by the end of the summer. His third top priority is “making accessibility to Village Hall and local government easier and more efficient.” 

The position of mayor in the Village of Greenport pays a low five-figure, part-time salary, but Mr. Stuessi said he’s approaching it as a full-time job.

“My hope for the future would be that the village treats the job of being mayor as a full-time job. It’s always been considered part time. I think the level of commitment that’s needed to manage the village and take care of the community shouldn’t be anything less than full time.”

Mr. Stuessi said the last three months have been a blur of activity, but already he feels his new administration is making a difference. 

“We’ve certainly, probably, had more meetings in 90 days than anyone expected or was prepared for, but we did it out of necessity because there was a lot of work that had to be done,” he said, adding that he’s pleased with the community response to the newly configured Village Board’s efforts.

“To get 300 people in the first ‘Vision’ meeting and 250 in the second one was really wonderful,” he said, referring to a pair of recent meetings aimed at fostering ongoing dialogue between residents and village officials outside the formality of public board meetings.

“What’s been wonderful and surprising is how receptive people have been towards working together and finding solutions,” he added.

Mr. Stuessi talked at length about the concept of creating a more efficient, more welcoming village government.

He said services such as “being able to pay utility bills online” are important to him, as well as “creating an atmosphere [in village hall] of ‘How can we help you?’ at the front desk.”

He noted that the plastic divider that was put up to separate visitors from Village Hall staff during the pandemic has been taken down and added that “we have local neighbors bringing flowers into Village Hall pretty much weekly, which is really nice.”

The mayor said he’s seeking to fill open positions at Village Hall, including an administrative clerk and an economic development position “who will lead [the] search for grants and work on state and federal funding.”

He added that the grant writer position was crucial from a fiscal standpoint.

The new administration’s decision to raise taxes by nearly 17% in March “barely even covers just day-to-day operational” costs, he said.

“Honestly, we need to go out for state and federal funding — together with grants — on all the items we need to deal with,” he said.

Mr. Stuessi also said that the village’s planning and zoning board attorney Brian Stoller and another attorney from his firm, Jared Kasschau, “are going to handle all the village’s legal activities, which include Planning Board, Zoning Board and general village legal matters.” Village attorney Joseph Prokop will be leaving his position after submitting his resignation, the mayor said. 

Deputy village treasurer Stephen Gaffga was promoted recently to village treasurer as well.

Mr. Stuessi, 50, grew up in Northern California’s Almaden Valley, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley, before it became the nation’s biggest tech hub. “When I was a kid, it was still very rural, but by the time I left high school everything had been developed.”

He said he and his younger sister, Kelli, were raised by their single mom after their parents split when they were young. His father worked as a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s detective, conducting undercover drug stings on the graveyard shift, and later moved to Lake Tahoe, where father and son spent time together during Mr. Stuessi’s youth.

Mr. Stuessi moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he and their late mother raised two daughters, Emma, now 24, and Alex, 22. Emma is currently pursuing a master’s degree in foreign service at Georgetown University and aims to work for the U.S. State Department, her father said. Alex recently graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in environmental science. Following an internship in South Africa — where she studied great white sharks — she plans to pursue a career in marine science.

Mr. Stuessi began living in Greenport six years ago, after being introduced to the North Fork by a lifelong Greenport resident. He had been working as a consultant in New York City and commuting to the North Fork on weekends,“initially coming out Thursday night and taking the Monday morning 5:20 train back to the city.”

He moved to the village full time in 2020 — and almost immediately was hit with a sobering reality: a rare form of chest cancer known as thymoma, which required surgery to remove a malignant tumor “the size of a peach.”

He recently received a two-year clean bill of health from oncologists, but said he remains as physically active as possible to stay healthy and stave off a recurrence.

Like Greenport’s previous mayor, George Hubbard Jr., Mr. Stuessi follows a pretty standard daily routine, in part so that villagers know where to find him if he’s not in his Village Hall office.

“I can’t walk across the street without getting stopped [about] something, which is nice, because people care,” he said. Mr. Stuessi said he’s up every morning between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to walk his dogs, a pair of rescue mutts named Pedro and Abby. He’ll often take one of them on a morning swim or kayak trip in the bay, and is often back in the water in the evenings.

After that, he said, “typically, I’m in Sterlington Deli for coffee and an egg sandwich.”

From there he’ll head to Village Hall by 8:30 a.m. to return emails and phone calls, or meet with constituents.

Unless he’s heading out on a longer treks in his pickup, Mr. Stuessi gets around on a three-speed bicycle with a wicker basket hanging from the handlebars. When the distinctive bike is parked, unlocked, in front of Village Hall, residents know the mayor is in.