On a recent Thursday afternoon, Frank Fugarino, president of the Pattersquash Creek Civic Association, bounced between calls on his cell phone and emails on his laptop, tackling issues ranging from neighbors’ spotty electric service to a veteran’s leaky roof and even his desire to bring a new medical facility to Mastic Beach Road.
While it represented a typical day for Fugarino, it was also his 53rd wedding anniversary to his wife, Anne. They celebrated earlier in the day with brunch at Toast in Patchogue.
“He always gives me beautiful cards,” Anne said, “and he bought me a hundred lottery tickets.”
‘This is what it can be’
Fugarino, 75, is a local power broker with community members, land developers, business leaders and local politicians. His goal is to make Mastic Beach a destination community and resolve quality-of-life issues.
“Why didn’t this area take off?” he asked, looking out his home’s glass storm door to the calm dark creek that leads to Narrow Bay. “I think it will.”
He added: “I don’t see any difference between this and what you see out east.”
Fugarino wants to see Mastic Beach blossom, as he saw the Bronx do from the time he was growing up there to his years as a high school principal in the New York City public school system.
“I’m a product of the Bronx,” Fugarino said. “I saw what happened there. And what brought back the Bronx was new building.”
Fugarino, who started vacationing in Mastic Beach in the 1970s, also took along family.
“With those summers off, I began to appreciate what Mastic Beach and the water and the bays have to offer. And I introduced that to my family, brothers and brother-in-laws and, you know, all that. And they came out, either bought summer homes or wound up living out here, as well. Family had a great time out here.”
In 2005, the bungalow he owned suffered a fire. In the aftermath, he decided to take the building down and replace it.
The Fugarinos have permanently lived in the new house since it was built about a year later. He became president of the civic association in 2007.
“I wanted folks that we relate to in government to realize what Mastic Beach has to offer,” Fugarino said. “You know how difficult changing perception is. Their perception is that this place doesn’t matter or that it was once a great summer bungalow place and now it’s changed. I wanted to show them, ‘But this is what it can be.’”
Fugarino points to the Village of Patchogue, which has experienced a resurgence over the past two decades, as an example of what can be in Mastic Beach.
“Patchogue is successful because they began recognizing that you had to bring people who the businesses would benefit from. You have to follow the Patchogue model. They built the residential and then everything followed. It’s like the story about the baseball field and then they come.”
The most important issue for Mastic Beach, Fugarino said, is to have a sewer line down Neighborhood Road. “The lack of sewage impacts on additional residential housing that would support businesses as you see being supported in Patchogue.”
Voters in 2019 approved a referendum to create the new sewer district in the Mastic-Shirley area. The approval allowed for $191.3 million federal and state grants to build out Phase 1 and 2, which includes about 1,900 homes and about 150 commercial properties located mainly along the Montauk Highway business corridor between the Forge River and just west of the William Floyd Parkway.
After delays due to the pandemic, contracts will start going out to bid in January for the initial phases, according to county officials.
“I have been fighting very hard for this project to move forward,” said Suffolk Legis. Rudy Sunderman. “I want to make sure that the residents get what they voted for.”
The delays have frustrated some local leaders, but they are relieved to see things moving along now.
Beth Wahl, president of the William Floyd Community Summit, has been pushing for a sewer district in the Tri-Hamlet area since 2002. Once federal funding arrived in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Wahl said plans “really started taking off.”
Sunderman is seeking an additional $32 million to connect Neighborhood Road in Mastic Beach to the approved Mastic Road sewer line, Tim Rothang, his chief of staff, confirmed. The connection, if approved and funded, would provide sewers to the business district on Neighborhood Road Fugarino hopes to invigorate. “As of right now, we’re still optimistic, but we haven’t been able to secure anything,” Rothang said.
Wahl said she is excited for the proposed district and hopes the proposed Neighborhood Road connection will become a reality. “They need it desperately, desperately,” she said. “Neighborhood Road, without sewers, is never gonna thrive, just like Montauk Highway. We need to have sewers, and it’s gonna make a huge difference.”
The veteran proponent for sewers said she recognizes the struggle Fugarino faces advocating for the “desperately needed,” but costly, connection. “The funding issue is the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not up to us.”
To Fugarino, Mastic Beach inevitably winds up getting “studied to death” with no outcome, and he’s “the nudge” who’s there to push things along.
‘A good egg’
Anne said she is accustomed to the workload that her husband has taken on since becoming PCCA president.
“When I wake up in the morning he’s on the computer, or he’s on the phone,” she said. “And then has breakfast and then somebody else calls him, and then he has to run somewhere else. He loves it, though. He loves doing it.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I get aggravated with him many times, but he’s a good egg.”
The couple enjoys spending time with three of their grandchildren, Evan, 10, Lily, 9, and Alana, 6, who live around the corner. They make fresh pasta, muffins and mini-pizzas together, and Fugarino teaches them Italian. “It’s dialect,” he added, “but it’s Italian to me.”
‘The squeaky wheel’
Before leaving the house for his anniversary meal, Fugarino sent an email to Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico on behalf of two of his PCCA members who were having trouble with PSEG.
“They have spotty electric service down there,” Fugarino said. “One of their poles is in the water because of climate change.” He said another pole was struck by a vehicle over two weeks ago, downing an electric wire. He said both of his impacted members appealed to PSEG for help without success.
“The idea is the squeaky wheel. Keep moving with things, keep bringing attention to the area for the benefit of the area.”
After returning home, he sent a follow-up email to Panico, who responded within minutes.
“Who am I?” Fugarino asked. “I have their trust. He immediately responded. This is my relationship with them.”
Panico said he’s known Fugarino for nearly 12 years and described him as a relentless communicator “but in a good way.”
“He’s frequently updating me on issues as they arise,” Panico said. “The benefit of that is you have an individual contacting you in real-time so you can get ahead of the issues before they become permanent issues.”
The library: a home away from home
Fugarino’s communication blitzes have proven successful.
Kerri Rosalia, director of the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, recalls Fugarino’s perfect attendance at board and community meetings regarding proposals to renovate the library and his frequent communication with her during that time.
“Any time he felt that there was something that needed clarification or communication, or he had a suggestion, he contacted me,” Rosalia said. “So it wouldn’t be unusual for Frank to either show up in my office, text me, email me, or call me or all of those things on any given day.”
Voters approved a $22.7 million bond to renovate the main library and create two new branches, including one at the epicenter of Fugarino’s Mastic Beach revitalization efforts, Neighborhood Road, last December.
Rosalia described Fugarino as a facilitator of information regarding the renovation to the community, even during “exciting” community meetings.
“He believes in investing in the community,” she said. “He wants to see something better for Neighborhood Road and Mastic Beach and I think he ultimately believes the library’s presence there could be a positive towards economic redevelopment and beautification and betterment of Neighborhood Road.”
The library is also a big part of Fugarino’s personal life.
“The other side of Frank that people don’t see is that he’s a grandfather and he’s very involved in his grandchildren’s lives,” Rosalia said. “And I see him at the library — at least pre-COVID — almost daily. He’s very much a library user himself and with his grandchildren.”
A good neighbor
After reading Panico’s response regarding the PSEG issue, Fugarino took a call from Chris Nunemaker, a Mastic Beach resident concerned about his neighbor’s welfare. The Town of Brookhaven condemned the house his neighbor rents earlier this year and Nunemaker said the landlord and property manager have not yet resolved the issues he has seen firsthand.
“These people are living there, they got water dumping into buckets through their ceiling, they got squirrels and raccoons in their ceiling, and it’s like ridiculous,” Nunemaker said. “He’s a vet, he shouldn’t be treated like that. Nobody should be treated like that.”
Fugarino has known Nunemaker and his neighbor for a few years and has gone into the house to see the issues himself. Since then, Fugarino has kept track of the Town of Brookhaven’s building and law departments’ involvement in this process for Nunemaker and his neighbor.
Fugarino said he assured his neighbor and the veteran he would get the issue “on the front-burner.”
He hung up with Nunmaker to call Panico’s office, asking an aid about a follow-up building inspector visit. He called Nunemaker back immediately after. “Let’s have a game plan,” he told Nunemaker. He said he would follow up with Panico’s aid the next day, but asked to be reminded.
Community leaders and elected officials agree that Fugarino steps up to advocate for his community members.
“He’s a very caring individual, a very tenacious individual,” Panico said. “Frank has been a longtime advocate for addressing quality of life issues in the Mastic Beach community.”
“He’s there for everybody,” Sunderman said. “It talks volumes about somebody that’s willing to help not only Mastic Beach where he represents, but he’s willing to help Mastic. He’s willing to help Shirley. He’s willing to extend himself to make us all have the quality of life that we want in the areas that we live.”