Democrat Siela Bynoe and Republican Pepitz Blanchard, who will square off Tuesday in a special election for Nassau's vacant 2nd Legislative District, say residents of some of the county's poorest communities are shortchanged critical services -- despite paying among the nation's highest tax rates.
But at a debate last week in Garden City hosted by the League of Women Voters, Bynoe and Blanchard disagreed about who has the experience and knowledge of the district to hold down taxes, boost affordable housing and improve Nassau County's finances.
"I have a deep experience in public administration and fiscal management, so I would work to ensure that our tax dollars are spent responsibly," said Bynoe, 46, executive director of the Huntington Housing Authority and a member of the board of commissioners for the North Hempstead Housing Authority.
Blanchard, 52, a respiratory therapist at Nassau University Medical Center, spent much of the debate Thursday attacking party Democrats as tax-hikers who fail to fulfill election-year promises.
"I will be a member of the [GOP] majority and will have a seat at the table to get things done," said Blanchard, a Westbury resident. "People will listen to my voice."
Republicans control the county legislature by an 11 to 8 margin. If they win two more seats, they would have a supermajority, allowing them to approve borrowing without any Democratic votes.
The winner of the special election Tuesday will replace Robert Troiano, a Democrat who resigned his seat last month to become director of operations for the Town of North Hempstead. Troiano defeated Blanchard in November by 6,440 to 1,149 votes.
Democrats have a significant voter registration advantage in the district, which includes Hempstead, West Hempstead, East Meadow, Westbury, New Cassel, Lakeview, Hicksville, Malverne, Rockville Centre, Uniondale and Garden City.
The district has 24,395 registered Democrats, 6,031 registered Republicans and 5,976 voters unaffiliated with any party, according to the Nassau Board of Elections.
Bynoe, of Westbury, said that if elected she would work to implement health programs for minorities, youths and seniors and increase county revenue by putting properties that are not currently paying taxes onto the tax rolls.
She also touted her experience on the Westbury school board. She said the board has made difficult choices, cutting $4.4 million in spending, in part through reducing central office staffing and not replacing retiring teachers, while staying within the state's property tax cap.
"I have a keen understanding of the district and the issues they are facing," Bynoe said. "I have the professional, education and government experience to fight for the communities' needs."
Blanchard said the school board has relied too frequently on tax increases to solve budgetary problems.
Blanchard, who emigrated from Haiti in 1984, says he is the underdog in the race -- the district has never elected a Republican. But he says voters should consider a GOP alternative after nearly two decades of Democratic control of the seat.
"I am a guy who plays by the rules, that keeps his word and will not change," he said. "I am running to make things better."
Blake Brown, 26, of Hempstead, who attended the debate, said the winner of the election must restore funding, cut by the GOP in 2012, for youth programs. Bynoe and Blanchard each said they would vote to restore the youth funds.
"We need programs to keep youths off the street and help them learn a trade," Brown said.