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James Vilardi is the Nassau Herald's Person of the Year


James Vilardi is a lifelong Five Towns resident who grew up in Inwood and now lives in Hewlett. Involved with several diverse civic organizations, he is someone who has used his real estate acumen — pro bono — to help a local business remain viable.

Vilardi, 60, says he just likes helping. “I think of myself as a problem solver,” he said. “There’s a solution to the problem. We just need to find it.”

He was taught by his late parents, Levy and Josephine Vilardi, to lend a helping hand. They were involved with the John Oliveri Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1582 in Inwood. Levy was a post commander, and Josephine was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary.

A 1975 graduate of Maria Regina Diocesan High School — now Kellenberg Memorial High — in Uniondale, James began his college career at SUNY Albany, but came home when his mother died two years later to be with his father. He attended Nassau Community College, and earned a bachelor’s from Adelphi University in 1979.

He got involved in community service even as a college student, running for commissioner of Sanitary District 1, which collects trash and recyclables in the Five Towns and surrounding areas. He studied public policy in the Suburban Studies Department at Adelphi, completing the coursework, but not finishing his master’s degree. Many people in the Five Towns , however, would likely say that Vilardi not only has a master’s, but a Ph.D. in helping people and supporting community causes.

The Herald is proud to name Vilardi its 2017 Person of Year.

“Jim is somebody who loves to just get things done,” said Rabbi Boruch Bender, who heads the Lawrence-based Achiezer Community Resource Center, which works with other groups to help families enduring hardships ranging from illness to financial troubles. Vilardi was one of several people Achiezer honored at its annual dinner in February. “Jim is very reliable — whenever there’s a need for community advocacy, he follows through on his promises,” Bender added, referring to one case in which Vilardi helped a widow with young children receive the government services she needed.

“Where I can, I like to help,” said Vilardi, who for the past 20 years has owned the Bedford Construction Group in Valley Stream, which builds housing across Nassau County.

His community involvement runs the gamut, from Jewish organizations such as Achiezer; Chevra Hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County, a volunteer ambulance corps; and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces to the Five Towns Community Center, the Inwood Civic Association and the Inwood-based Leonardo da Vinci Lodge 2385 Sons of Italy. The Sons of Italy scholarship, given to a graduating Five Towns high school senior, is named in honor of Vilardi’s parents.

He also serves as chairman of the Nassau County Bridge Authority, which oversees the Atlantic Beach Bridge, and finally attained his college-years goal of being a commissioner for S.D. 1 in 2005. The sanitary district serves the villages of Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Inwood, Lawrence, Woodmere, Woodsburgh and portions of the unincorporated areas of Lynbrook and Green Acres.

Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas, who is also the superintendent of S.D. 1, has known Vilardi for 15 years. “Jim puts the needs of the community and others before himself,” Pappas said. “He has committed himself to making the Five Towns a better place to live by being involved in so many community organizations. He has always been available to lend a helping hand to all of the Five Towns.”

As a sanitation commissioner, Vilardi frequently interacts with people in the community. He includes his cellphone number on his campaign literature for commissioner — and people do call. “A Hewlett resident, Jonathan Miller, called about a problem with his litter collection,” Vilardi recalled, crediting his wife of 27 years, Mariann, with putting up with all the hours he isn’t at home. “I said I’ll be right over; I live just a couple blocks away. Public service is a great thing. I just enjoy it.”

Former Queens State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder described Vilardi’s efforts with Achiezer as “his tireless work” at the Feb. 26 gala in Lawrence. Goldfeder recommended that Marty Rosen contact Vilardi about a problem Rosen was having with the state Department of Transportation. The DOT had raised the rent on Rosen’s 40-year-old business, the Five Towns Mini-Golf and Batting Range, on Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence, from $4,750 per month to $12,435 — a 161 percent increase — based on the DOT’s reappraisal of the property value in 2016.

Vilardi stepped in, and applied his many years of appraisal experience — his first career — to researching comparable land values. “Jim did a fabulous job of coming to us with the right information to help us survive and remain in business,” Rosen said. “For someone of his stature to come to us was a gift from God. His attitude toward business in the Five Towns — it’s all in his nature to only do the best for us.”

From helping residents find lost rings accidentally dropped in the trash to working to get people the services they need, Vilardi clearly remains committed to community service. “A guy like Jimmy makes the Five Towns a better place,” Bender said.