Trio of Candidates to Contest Pleasantville Village Justice Seat
Editor’s Note: The print version of this article incorrectly reported that all three candidates are attorneys. Andrea D’Aria is a legal assistant. The Examiner regrets the error.
Three Pleasantville residents are vying for village justice later this month, a position that has been held by Justice John Curley for the past 28 years.
Andrea D’Aria, Michael Todd Shilinski and John Vukelj, all with legal backgrounds, are on the ballot for village voters to consider in the Mar. 21 election.
D’Aria grew up in the village, part of a family that has called Pleasantville home since her ancestors arrived from Sicily about 90 years ago. An alumnus of the Pleasantville School District and Pace University, D’Aria is currently a senior legal assistant at PepsiCo, a position she’s held for 20 years, specializing in contract law. She has been secretary of the Pleasantville Lions Club since 2017, a longtime member of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Junior League of Northern Westchester for the last 23 years.
“I love this amazing village and have seen so many changes over the years,” D’Aria said. “My biggest priority is keeping Pleasantville as much like the wonderful village I grew up in (as possible).”
D’Aria’s pro bono work includes advising low-income individuals and assisting with child support calculations. She has also volunteered to work with a New York City law firm to guide immigrants through the challenging process of becoming citizens.
Additionally, for the past two years she has mentored law students through the Larry D. Thompson Legacy of Leadership Fellowship Program.
D’Aria is a Pleasantville homeowner and landlord and at times has been a tenant in the village, developing an expertise through personal experiences that’s needed to help resolve landlord-tenant disputes, cases that might come with greater frequency amid new development and an influx of new residents.
Displaying fairness and compassion is essential, D’Aria said.
“You really want to help people and see that people have success in their plans and offer defendants encouragement,” said D’Aria. “I feel my experience in special contract law in the food and beverage world where legal problems come up all the time gives me an advantage. I am level-headed and open-minded and fair in my work and my personal life and can bring those traits to the bench if I were elected.”
Michael Todd Shilinski
Shilinski, a 20-year village resident, practices law locally, specializing in litigation, elder law and estate planning cases. He and his wife have 12-year-old twin boys who attend Pleasantville Middle School.
Schilinski said he has been active in the village. He was appointed to the Pleasantville Zoning Board in 2016, where he served for six years, and he and his law firm Gullotta & Shilinski, LLP, are members of the Chamber of Commerce.
He also serves as a hearing officer at Pleasantville High School for students involved in serious incidents that could end with expulsion, an experience he said increased his awareness of youth involvement with the legal system, particularly drugs.
“Talking to kids in the community about the law is not right under the village justice role, but there is a little wiggle room to see what they understand and explain that a small little mistake can be detrimental to their future and their health,” Shilinski said.
Shilinski said Curley has been a role model he would like to emulate.
“Curley has got to be one of the most even and fair-minded judges I’ve seen,” he said. “As a village justice you could very well know people who are fighting parking ticket violations or other small misdemeanors. In a village of 7,500 people, everybody makes mistakes at one point or another. You always want to give them a break and not impose the maximum penalty, which is something you can work with.”
His background as a litigator and his community service is what Shilinksi believes makes him best-suited for village justice.
“My legal practice here in Pleasantville for the last 12 years has let me know the groove of the village,” Shilinski said. “I’m here every day and I know what’s going on. This village is so unique and I’m happy and lucky to live and work here.”
Vukelj has lived in Pleasantville since 2016, when he, his wife and two children moved from New York City.
“My family loves living in Pleasantville and I take a lot of pride in my years of volunteer work here,” said Vukelj, whose children are in third and eighth grade.
He has coached youth soccer, baseball and basketball and is a member of Dad’s Club, CYO, Westchester Youth Soccer League, AYSO and Sherman Park Little League. He also served on a committee that worked on the Pleasantville School District’s Five-Year Strategic Plan initiative and has been active with various legal and alumni associations.
Vukelj, born in New Rochelle, is a litigation and criminal investigations attorney who has worked on high-profile cases in New York City for the last 20 years.
He said if he wins the election, it will allow him to serve the community in a different capacity.
“It’s an opportunity to help people and have an impact on their lives for the better,” he said. “If you have to appear before a judge in a local town court it’s probably not your best day. I want to be involved with that process to find a way to resolve those cases fairly and justly and help people help themselves.”
Vukelj said his extensive courtroom experience gives him a leg up to do the job well.
“What sets me apart is my level of experience in procedural rules and knowing a lot about mishandled evidence,” Vukelj said. “I’ve deposed people from all walks of life from teachers to electricians to celebrities.”
He anticipated that new residential development in the village may also spur more real estate issues.
“We may see more tenant-landlord issues, questions around unit pricing and zoning,” Vukelj said. “That may add some new questions for the court.”
Next week: A preview of the Pleasantville Village Board election.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/