Readers Write: Don’t treat Jennifer DeSena the way I was

The Island Now

Democrats in North Hempstead are reeling from the shock of losing the supervisor and other seats they held for decades.

In 2017, Nassau Republicans were more shocked when I was elected
the first Democratic Hempstead supervisor in 112 years. Similar to the situation I faced, the new Republican supervisor, Jennifer DeSena, takes the reins of a township where she is in the minority and the opposing party holds a majority on the town board, where much of the municipal power lies.

I urge the Democrats in North Hempstead to eschew the temptation to use this power for
strictly political purposes and to instead to reach out to Ms. DeSena in a spirit of collaboration.

Ms. DeSena’s recent comments indicate she believes that the Republicans in Hempstead gave me a warm reception upon arrival. She is mistaken.

In contrast, my reception in 2017 was far icier than I expected. At the last town board meeting of my predecessor, former Supervisor Anthony Santino, Councilman Anthony D’Esposito (Santino’s chief of staff’s son whom he appointed to his seat), Councilman Edward Ambrosino (since indicted, convicted and disbarred) and Councilman Dennis Dunne voted to give raises and/or transfers to about 200 people.

They also voted to amend a union contract so virtually no employees could be laid off even in a financial crisis -both in an effort to tank my administration before it even began.

When I arrived for my first day in the office as Supervisor, I discovered what I came to know is called an “upper decker” was left for me in the private office bathroom. (If you don’t know what that is, find SNL sketch “Paranormal Activity’ with Kate McKinnon discussing upper deckers and ghosts.)

Basically, it involves feces and the toilet tank. Soon after, I discovered that the supervisor staff’s furniture had been shipped out and replaced with pieces slated for a dumpster, including a sofa that had only a strip of plywood for the bottom and that new Democratic clerk Sylvia Cabana’s office had been left stripped bare.

Next, I found out that I was not invited to certain other councilmembers’
swearing-in ceremony and that instead they planned to have tax collector Don Clavin play

Upon hearing of this, however, Republican Town Attorney Joe Ra rebuked them and
I attended. Joe Ra was a gentleman to me and believed that there was a level of decency that always should be accorded to the office – even for a Democrat. This was just my first day.

Despite all this, in the beginning, I really thought we could move forward and have good
bipartisan government. I would call each councilmember and ask them if they wanted to discuss the agenda or anything else.

Routinely I was told, ‘Just talk to the majority leader,’ a newly created title for Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney. Councilman Bruce Blakeman, would meet
with me then, as he endorsed my candidacy and was my appointed deputy.

Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby met with me but caucused with the Republicans. Unfortunately, it became clear to me not too far into my term that bipartisan utopia was not going to happen.

The goal was to obstruct and prevent me from having wins in order to ensure that Don Clavin could play supervisor for real in 2020.

While wanting your party’s candidates to win is natural and fine, thwarting good government initiatives and putting politics over governing and delivering for residents is not.

I was able to achieve some notable wins during my tenure working with Erin and Bruce: ethics reform, passing the first-ever multi-year capital plan to repave roads and fix the crumbling town infrastructure, scoring a $10M grant for Baldwin redevelopment, among others; but there were so many great things that did not happen because of this obstruction.

For example, this winter home and business owners across Hempstead could be saving at least 15% on their heating bills as energy costs soar if the Hempstead councilmembers supported the Community Choice Aggregation proposal I put forward.

I even left a letter for Don Clavin on my departure urging that he advance
this and other thwarted measures. So far nothing has happened and residents are the losers.

Obstruction and juvenile, mean-spirited behavior should have no place in government. Again, I urge the Democratic majority coalition in North Hempstead to try and work collaboratively with the new incoming Republican supervisor; to meet with her and offer her the chance to govern with you in the bipartisan way I had hoped would take hold in Hempstead.

And of course, upper deckers are best left for SNL.
Laura A. Gillen
Former Town of Hempstead Supervisor

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