After a North Merrick Board of Education election campaign that included a notable amount of mudslinging and numerous social media attacks, two newcomers — Vincent Lentini and Michelle Gordon — were elected to the board. They narrowly unseated incumbents Todd Ransom and Steve Enella.
But there was another surprise in store for the community. The next day, a trustee for more than 12 years, John Pinto, submitted his resignation. According to a number of social media posts, and buzz around the community, Pinto resigned in protest of Lentini’s and Gordon’s election.
Materials circulated by supporters of Ransom and Enella during the campaign alleged that Lentini and Gordon were beholden to the interests of the North Merrick Faculty Association and New York State United Teachers, the statewide teachers union.
In a May 25 interview, Pinto declined to comment on the reports, although he did express disappointment with the election’s tone, and pointed to his long tenure on the board.
“My departure will be a great relief to me, because it frees up my time,” Pinto said, “and no great loss to the public.”
Pinto added that he retired once, after 12 years on the board, and was asked to return two years ago, when a new superintendent came on board and other senior trustees had also retired.
“I explained that I would only come back for the one term and help with the transition,” Pinto said. “Then I’d let the young people in the community have the chance to set the path for the children’s education.”
On May 21, the Board of Education called a special meeting in the hope of deciding how to fill Pinto’s seat. The board was split evenly, however, on the next steps.
While Enella, Ransom and Trustee Wendy Gargiulo said that they would like Enella — who received the third-greatest number of votes — to remain on the board, effectively filling Pinto’s seat, trustees Ed Corona, Jennifer Hyland and Tracy Miller said they would prefer to solicit letters of interest from the community and select the most qualified candidate.
“Since the board was deadlocked, no decision was made nor action taken at last night’s meeting,” said Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Seniuk in a statement on May 22.
In an interview shortly after her election, Michelle Gordon said that she was on the receiving end of “blatant lies” in the days leading to the vote, and that on election day, outside the polls, a resident “yelled profanities” at her.
“I think it’s very disappointing,” Gordon said. “There were a lot of things written about me that were untrue. A lot of them were never asked directly to me.”
Gordon said that although she was endorsed by the North Merrick Faculty Association, she was not asked to run, and is “not bringing a teachers union vote” to the school board.
Suggestions to the contrary are “blatant lies,” she repeated.
Gordon added that once she is seated on the board, she intends to “try to mend” the divide in the community. At her first board meeting, she said, she plans to make a statement, requesting that the faculty association not endorse or electioneer going forward, “if that’s people’s main problem.”
“I’m going to lead by example,” she said. “When they go low, I’m going higher, and I hope my positive attitude will bridge the gap . . . By the same token, the other side that seems to spew lies, I will ask that they respect that this is someone’s life, someone’s mother.”
Asked last week about the level of acrimony during the election, and the board’s next steps to fill Pinto’s seat, Seniuk said that she was not concerned.
“I have complete confidence in the North Merrick Board of Education to continue to make decisions in the best interest of the students of this district,” Seniuk said, “including the resolution of the trustee vacancy, which is within the purview of the board’s responsibilities.”
The school board will again discuss filling Pinto’s seat at the June 12 meeting.