MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The late Putnam County Judge James Reitz was a longstanding member of the Temple Beth Shalom Men’s Club’s annual Vision Breakfast panel.  On Sunday, Jan. 26, the temple renamed the event in his honor.

Reitz, who pioneered the county’s drug treatment court, was 57 when he passed away last June, suffering a heart attack while on the bench.

“He was here at every occasion that the temple had,” said Joel Greenberg, who organizes the Vision Breakfast. “He was really a part of this temple. Because of that, our breakfast is now called the Judge James Reitz Vision Breakfast.”

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Rabbi Sarah Freidson said Reitz was an important part of the temple community and called him a friend.

“When I came [to Mahopac], he welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “Every year at this breakfast, we got to hear his upbeat vision and his honest assessment and the work he was doing with people on the path to recovery. It’s an honor and a privilege to rename the breakfast after him. I know how much his loss has been felt. It’s not often you get to see someone who has had such a wide impact in so many circles.”

The Vision Breakfast, held every January for the past 21 years, features a panel of elected officials, law enforcement representatives, school administrators and clergy who discuss their vision for the coming year—the challenges they face and the goals they hope to accomplish.

Anthony DiCarlo, superintendent of Mahopac schools, discussed the major capital improvement projects the district is about to undertake.

“The district passed a $54 million bond (in May 2019) and we begin work this year with the redoing of our roofs,” he said. “Next year, at the high school, [we’ll have] brand new science wings, the music areas are being done, learning labs being reconstituted. We owe it to our kids to be in front of the most current equipment and programs so they can be as competitive as possible, and we are beginning to see that.”

He also noted that the district’s three elementary schools are rolling out programs to get them all on the same page academically.

“It doesn’t matter whether you go to Austin, Fulmar or Lakeview, everyone is getting the same curriculum,” he said. “That is very, very important.”

He also spoke of the district’s “Life” curriculum, which teaches students skills for life beyond the classroom.

“We are in tough times and schools have to adapt to the society we live in,” he said. “These new programs allow our students to talk about issues they want to talk about. Whether we like it or not, there is a lack of communication in our society and it’s not about cellphones. It’s being able to resolve conflict with one another face to face. We are trying to address this and have them be ready for life when they leave the Mahopac School District.”

This year’s breakfast was attended by Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater, who talked about the string of vandalism that struck Yorktown in early December, including some that were anti-Semitic in nature.

“We brought in the county police, the DA’s office, state police, and the FBI,” he told the audience. “We are taking this very seriously and not letting it divide our community. It’s contrary to what Yorktown stands for, and we won’t let it define our community. We have been engaged with our interfaith coalition and designated a Town Board member to be our liaison with them.

“Beyond that, we are really trying to modernize how town government operates,” he added. “We gave our website a facelift to make it more user-friendly. And we’ve had conversations about solarizing our town and being a leader in climate change. We are in Mahopac today, and obviously there is some great synergy between Carmel and Yorktown and I’m so glad to be here and be part of the panel.”

Carmel Deputy Supervisor Suzi McDonough spoke of the exciting projects that the town is undertaking this year, including several park projects—Airport Park and Swan Cove—and the development of a new master plan.

“It is very exciting this year because in April we start the conversation about the master plan. It is going to be like an open canvas that we all get [to be part of],” she said. “We want to meet face to face with [the community] as part of this comprehensive master plan to make sure we are inclusive of everyone.

“We may be looking at zoning changes, so we want to make sure we hear from everyone,” McDonough said. “If you have any suggestions, no matter how small or how big, make sure to get them into the supervisor’s office. We want to make sure you are heard.”

McDonough said the Town Board also wants to improve its professionalism and decorum at its meetings.

“We’ve had some bad press lately, but we want to try to turn that around,” she said. “Life is too short for this kind of negativity, so let’s all be positive and work together. We want to make it so people say, ‘Wow! You live in Carmel? That’s awesome!’”

State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne said that while the nation seems more deeply divided than ever, he believes its diversity remains one of its strengths.

“It’s not just about our background, but it’s understanding that people have different thoughts and ideas and that’s OK,” he said. “So, the solutions that we come up with will last a thousand times longer because more people bought into that idea.

“When I’m in Albany, that’s why it’s important I get buy-in from the folks on the other side of the aisle,” he continued. “I need to get advocates from both sides. It’s challenging but extremely rewarding.”

Byrne said one of his biggest challenges for 2020 will be taking on the state’s enormous budget.

“This $180 billion budget is one of the largest state budgets in the country,” he said. “We are facing a $6.1 billion deficit from last year. Medicaid is certainly part of that. In the months to come, we are going to have budget hearings and then we go into negotiations with the governor and hopefully have a timely budget passed by April 1.”

Byrne said he’s been advocating for the governor to forgive an error committed by the Mahopac School District nearly 10 years ago that caused the state to halt its aid for a capital project and ask for money to be returned. The legislature passed a bill calling for forgiveness and holding the district harmless, but Gov. Cuomo vetoed it.

“One thing we will be advocating for is the bill for forgiveness for the Mahopac School District building aid. I find it disheartening [it was vetoed] because the issue was self-reported,” he said. “Mahopac wanted to do the right thing. This is an issue across the state that school districts have been dealing with. It’s not fair that it’s so selective.”

Councilman Frank Lombardi, who lost re-election to the board two years ago but won back his seat last November, said he’s excited to return because 2020 brings much work to be done.

“We have a lot going on in town and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back to the Town Board,” he said. “We have some important issues that need to be addressed, including the many parks that we were struggling to put together when I first came on the board. People were playing soccer on a baseball field and vice versa. Now, we have the Airport Park that is dedicated to soccer and lacrosse. It’s big and it’s beautiful and you should get out there one day.”

Lombardi reminded the audience that the opioid crisis is still a blight on the community and remains a challenge for 2020.

“Last year there were two overdoses in our town, which is two too many,” he said. “We passed a synthetic-marijuana law (preventing its sale) a few years ago—it’s all just chemical compounds that messes up the brain. When we work together as a group, we get a lot more done. There is so much more that brings us together than what keeps us apart.”

He agreed with McDonough that etiquette at Town Board meetings needs to improve.

“We need to bring a little more professionalism back [to the Town Board]. We have started working on that and will continue to that,” he said.

He also had praise for local law enforcement.

“We need to make sure Carmel remains one of the safest towns in New York. We have great police officers; some new, young officers who are energetic and anxious to get out there and have an impact on our community,” he said. “There are a lot of great things to look forward to in 2020, and I am happy to be part of it.”

Newly elected councilman Bob Schanil said with the revision of the master plan, the town has an opportunity to position itself to make it palatable to both seniors and young people just starting out.

“We have to make it attractive to millennials,” he said. “There are a lot of millennials in the city having babies and starting families and I want to make Carmel and Putnam County a place they’d like to call home.”

Deacon John Scarfi from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church said his presence at the temple’s breakfast illustrates that inclusion is the cornerstone of life in Mahopac/Carmel.

“We are not different. We are all one people from one God,” he said. “We come from different places, different faiths. But we are one people from one God. If we really believe that then the idea of loving each other is really easy.

“You have welcomed me as a member of your [temple] and that is a real gift,” he continued. “It’s how we present ourselves to others that really matters. If we are not a loving, just, and caring people, they’ll see right through us.”

Barbara Reitz, Judge Reitz’s widow, thanked the synagogue for naming the breakfast after her husband.

“I know everything he’s stood for comes from kindness,” she said. “We would not go out to dinner much because I couldn’t eat [because] he would stop everyone as they walked past and give them a smile. He loved everyone and we were a good team. I know he’s still here. I’m more blessed to have loved him and have him in my life.”