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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Brown: Wait, what?! Joseph Cairo wants VOTERS to pick Hempstead board replacement

Nassau County Republican Committee Chair Joseph Cairo speaks

Nassau County Republican Committee Chair Joseph Cairo speaks to media in Westbury on Nov. 6, 2018. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Erin King Sweeney, who is soon to leave Hempstead's Town Board, and soon to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, was back on Long Island last week.

She returned for, among other things, her Social Security card.

Because without it — or more specifically, without U.S.-government-issued proof of her full name — King Sweeney can't get a North Carolina driver's license.

She'd tried, but a government-issued ID with her middle initial — instead of her fully spelled-out middle name — didn't cut it at North Carolina's DMV.

"I had a photo of my Social Security card," she said last Friday, "but that wasn't going to work, either."

The last few weeks have been a rush for King Sweeney — daughter of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), and, for a time, generation-next in a nascent King political dynasty — and her family.

They've found a house, along with a place to board the family's horse, she said.

Still, all the while, King Sweeney said, she kept the plan to follow her husband to a new job in North Carolina mostly to herself.

That changed last week, with word that, because of the move, King Sweeney, leader of Hempstead's majority-Repubican council, would not seek election to a second term.

That made her a short-timer mere weeks before the Nov. 2 general election, which instantly raised the question of whether King Sweeney would serve out the remainder of her term.

"I am going to resign on Monday," King Sweeney said.

With that — bam! — the race to find King Sweeney's replacement in Hempstead, where the majority-Republican board and Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen have been at odds, over almost everything, for almost two years, was blown wide open.

But get this:

Joseph Cairo, Nassau's Republican Party chairman, believes the GOP should leave King Sweeney's post vacant until voters choose her replacement.

Wait, what?!?!

Cairo, breaking with decades of GOP practice in Hempstead, the party's longtime stronghold, does not believe the board should appoint King Sweeney's successor before the election.

"I haven't discussed this with the [GOP majority on the] town board," Cairo said in an interview last Friday. "But from a political point of view, I think that it is too short a period of time to appoint somebody."

Traditionally, on matters such as filling vacancies on boards or other elected bodies, the recommendations from the county party chair — Republican and Democrat — carry the day.

Cairo's position, however, breaks with the Nassau GOP's history of moving elected officials through "the chairs" — that is, appointing party members to vacancies, which in turn gifts them the ability to run for the positions as incumbents.

King Sweeney, who was considered one of the party's rising stars, was appointed to her post in January 2015 to replace Angie Cullin, who had retired after 28 years on the board.

King Sweeney went on to win a full term in the November election.

This November, King Sweeney was one of two board members up for election.

The other — who will be seeking his first full term — is Thomas Muscarella, a Republican appointed in April to fill the seat of former board member Edward Ambrosino, who resigned after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion charges.

Cairo acknowledged that King Sweeney's move has left the GOP scrambling to find a new candidate in a district that increasingly leans Democratic — so much so, that reaching out to Democratic neighborhoods, such as Baldwin, became one cornerstone of King Sweeney's tenure.

"We're reaching out, to community groups, to political groups and we will find a good candidate and we will run a good seven-and-a-half week campaign," Cairo said.

Earlier last Friday, Jay Jacobs, Nassau's Democratic Party chair, said he believed there could be enough time — depending on when King Sweeney actually moves out of the county — for the GOP to appoint her successor. Under state law, there comes a point at which it's so close to the election that the candidate's name cannot be removed from the ballot. 

"I think they could do it, although I don't think they should," he said.

But Cairo said just because he wants to keep a seat vacant this time around, it doesn't mean that the GOP won't make appointments down the road.

"If it was next year, it would be a different story," Cairo said.

As for Long Island born-and-bred King Sweeney, a move South won't cause the culture shock other Northerners might experience.

"It's not as far fetched as it sounds," she said, because her mom is from Atlanta.

She laughed, remembering her grandmother's warning as her mom went off to college: "Don't bring me back no damn Yankees."

Her mom, however, ended up marrying New Yorker Peter King.

"I'll be back, a lot, to see my parents," on Long Island, King Sweeney said.

Will she miss politics?

Never say never, said King Sweeney, who will continue working as an attorney.

But for now, she said, "I'm excited about having more time with my family."

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