EASTON — A local fire department volunteer and teacher, Don Abbatiello is a somewhat fresh candidate running for re-election to Ward 2 of the Easton Town Council, campaigning on making Easton more walkable and affordable for residents. The councilman is running unopposed, as no one filed to run against him in Ward 2.
Abbatiello is wrapping up his first term as councilman, which he won in 2019 during a special election following the resignation of Pete Lesher. Now, the councilman is running for his own four-year term for the first time.
“A few things that came up in 2019 I’m still working on,” he said. “I hope we can try to be responsible with taxpayers’s money. Times are tough and we don’t need the government spending money frivolously. That’s always a concern of mine. The town has done a phenomenal job of not raising taxes in over a decade and I think that’s really important.”
Abbatiello said making Easton more walkable for pedestrians, bikers and travelers is also an important part of his campaign.
“One of the things that I pushed for in last year’s budget is a sidewalk on Elliot Road,” he said. “It’s what the people wanted — you have a large number of people walking on (Route) 328, which is a state road. They’re working on putting a sidewalk in.”
The councilman wants Easton walkable and accessible for all. In 2020, Abbatiello worked with leaders in the community to establish the Inclusive Easton Committee, a group focused on making Easton more accessible for those with physical and mental disabilities. Though it wasn’t his idea, he helped push the idea through on the town council side.
“It’s really important for people with physical disabilities,” he said. “There definitely needs to be (assurance) that the town is following the Americans With Disabilities Act and making sure that we’re compliant with new businesses that are opening.”
Earlier this year, the councilman voted against the controversial “Home Depot” text amendment, which would have allowed a home improvement store larger than 65,000 square feet to apply for a spot outside a shopping center in town. Current comprehensive plans restrict big box stores to shopping centers.
“I do stand by what I said,” Abbatiello explained. “It’s a 110,000 square foot building ... it’s not something you can easily move once you say it can be there. I wanted to make sure we were finding the right spot for it and I felt the best way to find the right spot was to stick with the comprehensive plan.”
While Abbatiello agrees Easton has grown significantly in the past couple of decades, he thinks smart growth is still key.
“I think we need to be smart about it. One of the things I liked about (Easton) was that there is a plan for how development takes place — it’s not haphazard, which you do see in other towns,” he said, adding that the town needs to “stick with that plan. By sticking with that we have smart development: businesses that are needed in community and businesses that are going to bring jobs.”
Easton has also grappled with increasing foot traffic downtown for businesses during the pandemic through initiatives like outdoor dining. Last year, the promenade, or plans to close down Washington Street, failed after complaints were raised. The town moved to “parklets” or converting parking spaces into outdoor dining spots and renting barriers.
Abbatiello said “parkletts” are something to consider but only one piece of the puzzle.
“Parklets are a piece of it, but there needs to be reasons to come to town and if you want people to come to town, events are key to that,” he said. “The sooner we can make outdoor events safely done, I think the better.”
The councilman said he’s eyeing the Fourth of July as one potential opportunity for an outdoor event this year.
Abbatiello grew up in Shoreham, New York, but studied history and secondary education at Salisbury University, where he was introduced to the Eastern Shore.
“Long Island is very crowded with lots of traffic , and it’s very expensive,” he said. “I was looking for something different and the Eastern Shore provided that.”
In 1998, he was hired through Wicomico County Public Schools to teach history and government for a local middle and high school, a job he still holds.
Abbatiello’s wife, Christine, got a job in Easton not long after. The family moved to town in 2007.
“It’s a beautiful town with great people and one of the best decisions I ever made,” he said.
Abbatiello quickly got involved in community service. He joined the Easton Volunteer Fire Department in 2009 and he has since served in administrative roles as well, including president of the EVFD.
“I’ve always been interested in service,” he said. “I was big into service in my community in New York, and my father-in-law was in the fire department.”
In 2019, he “made the jump from serving as president” of EVFD “to serving the town” as a councilman.
“I teach history and taught government, so I have always been interested in how government operates and solving problems when they arise,” he said. “The fact that Mayor (Robert) Willey has been a member of the department for decades means I saw him on a regular basis. The issues facing the town became something I got more interested in.”
Abbatiello is running unopposed and expects to be re-elected, but he has always encouraged competitive elections. The councilman said residents should get involved with the town in any way they can.
“We didn’t have anybody run against” the council, he said. “I understand people’s lives are busy and maybe they didn’t feel like they wanted to commit ... but there’s still a lot of different organizations around town to get involved in.”