Tag Archive | "Valerie Justin"

From Rafts to Pirates to the Sag CAC, Local Org. Gets A New Co-Chair

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Judah adjusted

By Claire Walla

He’s led white-water-rafting expeditions in Alaska, taught sailing while dressed as a pirate in Chicago and lived abroad in Japan. And now, 31-year-old Judah Mahay is on his way to becoming the new chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to the Town of Southampton.

“I love different cultures and I love different places,” said Mahay, who was born and raised in Alaska and lived near Stony Brook before moving to the Sag Harbor area about a year-and-a-half ago when his wife was hired to work at the Water Mill Center.

When asked how his experience on the East End has been thus far, Mahay submitted to a wide grin.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “There’s a large population of Latino cultures, then there’s the juxtaposition between the people who are farmers and the individuals who use this as a second home, and those who have retired out here. It makes for a very interesting dynamic.”

Of his new role with the CAC, he said, “I’ve always kind of had that approach of bringing people together to inspire some type of community interaction.”

Back in high school, Mahay noted this knack was manifested in his single-handedly forming a competitive hockey team. Although, he added, “As I’ve gotten older, it’s been less along the lines of entertainment and more along the lines of political issues.”

Recently, Mahay said he’s focused his attention on grass-roots organizing efforts like No Label and Americans Elected.

Mahay has thus far participated in local politics from the sidelines, attending a smattering of both CAC and Southampton Town board meetings in the past year. This is his first full-blown foray into the local political scene.

Mahay’s new role was officially announced at the CAC’s first meeting of the New Year last Sunday, January 12, when current chair John Linder explained his reasons for passing on the torch.

“I’ve done it for a long time,” said Linder, who has been at the helm of the organization for five years, even though he lives full-time in Manhattan. “It was always kind of ridiculous, because I’m not here during the week.”

The two men will officially serve as co-chairs for the remainder of 2012 while Linder shows his successor the ropes. Already, Mahay is looking forward to his new role.

“I would love to see the Sag Harbor CAC [evolve] in the fashion of what it is now: representative of the community’s voice,” he explained. “But, certain actions need to be taken in order to gauge the community’s voice. And that involves outreach.”

Sitting at a small round table inside the John Jermain Library’s temporary space on West Water Street, Mahay and Linder discussed the need to grow the CAC with the only other CAC member in attendance that day, Valerie Justin.

“I think people know we exist, but they just don’t know what we do,” Linder said.

To try to increase participation, he suggested setting up tables where CAC members would be stationed, ready to initiate one-on-one conversations with people interested in joining, or even learning more about the CAC.

Justin suggested the group reach out to Moveon.org, a politically motivated grassroots organization that — despite having national influence — has a strong presence in local communities.

“I think it’s a goldmine!” she stated. “These people [Moveon.org members] are used to being politically active.”

Mahay said he would look into forging a connection with the organization. And, in the vein of digital endeavors, he expressed an interest in creating a website for the Sag Harbor CAC, which currently has no online presence, and putting together an up-to-date (electronic) mailing list. He even spoke of activating a Twitter account for the local organization.

At the request of both Linder and Justin, Mahay will present a model of this proposed website at the CAC’s next meeting: Sunday, March 11 at 1:30 p.m.

“My long-term goals are to be as engaged in the community as I can,” Mahay continued. “Maybe 10 years down the road I’ll run for public office and make that my full time job [Mahay currently works at Chase Bank in East Hampton] — I can’t imagine a better thing to do with my time.”

“I always knew that I wanted to make my primary function in life to help people,” he added. “And whether it’s trying to help someone reduce their mortgage payments, or it’s public office, it’s the same root aspiration. It’s just that in one scenario you’re doing more to affect change.”

Say Goodbye to CONPOSH

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web conposh

By Bryan Boyhan

At its height, CONPOSH — the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor — was such an influential organization that prospective developers would come before them to see if the group — with representatives from nearly two dozen neighborhoods — planned to fight their application.

In the end, there was not even a handful left on the operating committee and after 18 years of hosting public forums and lobbying village officials, CONPOSH called it quits earlier this month.

“We voted to give the remaining $6,500 in our budget to the library,” said Valerie Justin, one of the last four members.

CONPOSH started in 1993, as development pressure in the village began to heat up and was imagined as an organization that could bring otherwise disparate groups together.

“The thing I noticed were there were various scattered neighborhood movements, fighting such things as a proposed nursing home and an apartment house,” said founding member Peter Davies in an interview this week.

“As soon as one group of neighbors started raising the roof, they were immediately labeled troublemakers, and shouted down,” said Davies. “I thought if we could form an alliance, we could make an issue everybody’s issue; we could all speak with one voice.”

Indeed, the first big challenge the group took on was a proposed nursing home at the 10 acre site of the former Cilli Farm at the end of Glover Street. Instead of letting the neighbors in the immediate vicinity fight the proposal alone, CONPOSH galvanized residents across the village to show up at planning meetings to press for more challenging reviews. The developer eventually relented and ultimately the property was preserved using, in part, money from the nascent Community Preservation Fund.

Davies said he drew the idea for identifying the different neighborhoods in Sag Harbor loosely on the old and new neighborhoods of Manhattan, including historical neighborhoods like Hells Kitchen, and relatively new incarnations like SoHo. In Sag Harbor there were long-established neighborhoods like Eastville, Redwood and Murray Hill; but Davies added places like Churches, in the area around Division and Union streets, and School, defining the neighborhood around Pierson High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School.

In the beginning there were about a dozen-and-a-half neighborhoods identified, but as the organization’s influence grew, it expanded to include 23, including one, Lily Pond, which was actually outside the village limits.

As organized, each neighborhood had a representative who brought issues before an organizational committee. From discussions about an issue, a facilitator would emerge — the organization never had an acting president or chairman, relying instead on the issue’s facilitator to move it forward.

Frequently that led to one of the group’s many public forums, which usually included a representative from local government, a member or two from CONPOSH versed on the issue and community members with specific expertise. These forums, which addressed subjects such as water quality, waste management, village budgets and candidates for village board, regularly attracted dozens of residents, elected officials and project developers — several with their attorneys in tow — to a half-dozen or more venues: the basement of the Old Whalers Church, the sanctuary of the Methodist Church, Bay Street Theatre.

“We were peripatetic,” said Davies. “We wanted to make sure we held meetings throughout the village as an attempt to bring the community together.”

Residents were kept abreast of CONPOSH news via a monthly newsletter, The Neighborhood Voice, edited — until their move out of the area several years ago — by Davies’ partner, Mark Scherzer. The newsletter updated its readers on action the organization or the village was taking and where the next forum was scheduled. The September 2002 issue, for example declared in a headline “ACTION NOW ON ROCCO’S, referencing a notorious nightclub on West Water Street. A forum (“Rocco’s — Neighbors Look for Relief”) was scheduled for Christ Episcopal  Church with Mia Grosjean and Valerie Justin as facilitators. After years of pressure from CONPOSH, residents and village officials, the building that housed the nightclub was sold and approved for condominiums which, at this writing, remain unfinished.

But the last issue of The Neighborhood Voice went in the mail in 2006, and forums became less frequent. Membership dwindled and there were fewer hands to organize.

“Honestly, there was nobody who was willing to do anything,” said Justin. “You can’t have the same three people doing everything.”

Justin, who observed the entire arc of CONPOSH from the inside, said the organization had accomplished much in its nearly two decades, including pushing for filtration at Havens Beach, preserving the Cilli Farm and educating the public about traffic calming.

“Even if what we did didn’t solve the problem,” said Justin, “it made the authorities aware of public opinion.”