Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi on Three Decades of Service

Cortlandt Town supervisor, Linda Puglisi | Photo by Stefan Radtke

As she prepares to step down at the end of the year, Linda Puglisi reflects on her 30 years spent as Cortlandt’s town supervisor.

When schoolchildren and Scout troops visit Cortlandt Town Hall, at the keen invitation of Supervisor Linda Puglisi, they always ask: “How did you become supervisor?” And Puglisi always responds: “I raised my hand to be a Girl Scout leader, and one thing led to another.” She then goes on to explain that life is an evolution, a journey, and “you need to have the vision to seek out and grab opportunities to fulfill your dreams.” Those words are bittersweet now, as Puglisi packs up her office and retires from the role she’s cherished for the past 30 years.

Born in Canton, OH, and raised in Pearl River, Puglisi “caught the bug” for politics around age 10, when her father ran for state senate and lost at the same time John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency and won. “I was enamored with JFK, and it was the ’60s; I wanted to do good things and save the world.”

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Linda Puglisi
Linda Puglisi was first elected town supervisor in 1991. | Photo by Stefan Radtke

High school student government was the natural first step, followed by the political science program at Ohio’s Wittenberg University. Marriage, a move to Cortlandt, and the arrival of twins came next, which led to heavy involvement in school activities, the PTA, and trips to Albany to lobby for school aid. Twelve years as a preschool director increased her business acumen tenfold.

Thoroughly entrenched in her adopted community, Puglisi became a regular at town board meetings, and she didn’t sit quietly when developers pitched their plans and issues about the environment bubbled to the surface. “I’m not shy,” she says with both conviction and a chuckle. “If I’m passionate about an issue, I have no problem standing up and voicing my opinion.”

Linda Puglisi's son and his, wife, Oonagh
With son Dr. Jeffrey Puglisi and his wife, Oonagh | Photo courtesy of Lina Puglisi

Friends and neighbors noticed and encouraged her to run for town council in November 1987. Puglisi was the clear underdog, as her two opponents were fixtures in local politics, so it was considered an upset when she won. One of her first post-election moves was to relocate the town hall from a shared space with Croton to its current location in a school building that was closing at the time.

The end of her four-year term came quickly, and when it was time to decide between re-election and a bid for town supervisor, the choice was easy: “I like to be in charge. I like to set the agenda; I like to set the pace.” Puglisi ran against three men, one of whom was the incumbent, and in November 1991 became the second woman to hold the office of Town Supervisor in Cortlandt’s 233-year history. Three decades later, she owns the distinction of being Cortlandt’s longest-serving supervisor. “I have been so fortunate, blessed, and honored to have people place their trust in me, and I have never forgotten that,” Puglisi says, admittedly misty-eyed.

Linda Puglisi's daughter Allison Tam and husband Thomas
Daughter Allison Tam and husband Thomas | Photo courtesy of Linda Puglisi

“I’m disappointed I can’t be supervisor forever. I always have new ideas, things I want to do. But 30 is a round number…”

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While healthy finances have been a foundation of her administration (low debt, zero deficit, yearly surpluses, and no more than a 2% town-tax increase, on average), Puglisi is most proud of the services she’s implemented that are “critical parts of life that we take for granted.” On her watch in the early-to-mid-’90s, Cortlandt became one of the first towns in the region to set up a 911 system and establish an Advanced Life Support paramedic program.

Around the same time, the town had unfunded federal and state mandates to filter the water and recycle. Puglisi entered into a joint waterworks initiative with neighboring communities that resulted in the construction of a water filtration plant and kicked off a recycling plan that included educating residents on what recycling was all about.

Before taking office, Puglisi notes that Cortlandt didn’t have particularly strong laws governing the environment. “I ran on that,” she says. “We must have rational growth… don’t cut down every tree; protect the wetlands.” She increased open space in Cortlandt by more than 3,000 acres over the course of her tenure, balancing such efforts with economic growth. She threw her support behind the creation of two shopping malls (Cortlandt Town Center and Cortlandt Crossing) and the expansion of NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, yielding thousands of jobs. She also lobbied Metro-North for a larger train station.

Linda Puglisi with her grandchildren
With grandchildren Oliver and Jeremy Tam | Photo courtesy of Linda Puglisi

Her tougher days in office revolved around weather-related events (a tornado in 2000, plus flooding and lengthy power outages from a handful of recent hurricanes), the COVID-19 pandemic, and the controversial Indian Point power plant in Buchanan, a village in the town of Cortlandt. “When I first became supervisor, ConEd put a hotline phone in my house.” It would ring any time there was a spill.

“Indian Point was our largest taxpayer and employer,” says Puglisi, who will spend her final days as supervisor continuing to “chip away at those issues,” trying to get state money back to the town. “I’m disappointed I can’t be supervisor forever,” she laments. “I always have new ideas, things I want to do. But 30 is a round number…” she says, her voice trailing off.

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Perhaps retirement will mean more than just a one-week annual vacation at the Cape with her beloved family and the two grandsons she adores. Or, maybe she’ll host a podcast with her son. “I would love to be a sports announcer in my next life,” she says. Should that happen, Puglisi will be ready with the sign-off to end the show of her dreams: “I love Cortlandt and all of you,” which is how she closed every speech and every written message to the community. “It comes from the heart,” she says. And after a 34-year career in town government, in which she ran unopposed half the time, her supporters know it better than anybody.

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