April 05, 2006

Roland Runs For Mayor

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Westhampton Beach residents who miss seeing former FOX 5 anchorman John Roland's familiar face broadcast the "Ten O'clock News" each evening are in for a pleasant surprise: Only two years after his retirement, New York's favorite anchorman is ready to step back into the public arena.

And his next stint in the spotlight is far from the anchor desk: Roland announced this week that he will be running for mayor of the Village of Westhampton Beach in the upcoming June election.

Roland said his decision to throw his hat into the proverbial political ring was prompted by a request from current Westhampton Beach Mayor Robert Strebel, who has decided not to run again after eight years in office: "Mayor Strebel asked me if I would run, because we see eye to eye on so many issues."

Strebel said he chose not to pursue the position again due to "personal reasons," and so he called Roland, who agreed to run.

"I think the village can go far with him," said Strebel. "I think he can do a lot of good."

While Roland has interviewed his share of politicians, he admits he's never before considered a career in local politics. "This is the first time. I was rather hesitant to stick my toe in the water but once I decided to do it, I jumped in head first."

The former anchorman said that his 35-year career as a newsman has uniquely prepared him for a new career in the public eye as he campaigns for the mayor's seat. "All these years, I've been keeping politicians honest. I think I know how to handle them."

Should he be elected, Roland, a 40-year resident of the village, has a priority list already in place. "The first thing we have to do is to revitalize Main Street." Roland said that unless the Westhampton Beach sewer district project is completed, new business cannot be developed. "You can hardly do anything along Main Street. You can't open a restaurant, you can't put apartments above buildings. That project has to go through."

Roland said he and Strebel share the same mindset on the urgency of the issue. The sewer district project is the one project Strebel began and wasn't able to complete during his stint in office, and Roland plans to carry the project through to completion.

"That's number one, because it will really help turn the village around," he said.

As for other concerns facing village residents today, including the proliferation of banks and the threat of big box stores, Roland said he's not wasting time on what-ifs. "I don't want to look backward — what's done is done. If there were mistakes made, down the road I think they'll probably shake themselves out."

Once the sewer district project is in place, Roland has definite dreams for his corner of the world. "I think Westhampton Beach will continue to be a warm, friendly, family village, with hopefully, a little more mix of retail and restaurants on Main Street." The new village hall, he added, is a "terrific addition," as are new sidewalks. "The place is really getting spruced up."

Although Roland and his wife, Joanna, still divide their time between the village and Manhattan, it's the small-town charm of Westhampton Beach that touches the heart of the big-city anchorman.

"It's just a spectacular little jewel, a delightful place, physically and emotionally, and it's filled with wonderful people. I'm just very, very lucky to have found it."

Roland's familiar smile and generous nature has long been a fixture at East End charity events; he's long been a supporter of worthy causes such as the East End Hospice and the American Heart Association.

Having lived in Westhampton Beach for almost 40 years, Roland believes that his love for and dedication to the village coupled with his 35 years of keeping politicians on their toes translate into a win-win for voters. "I've gotten an awful lot out of the village. I just thought that now it was time to give something back."

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