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Gillen concedes Hempstead supervisor race

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, left, and Hempstead Receiver

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, left, and Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Donald X. Clavin Jr., right. Credit: James Escher

Democratic Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen on Thursday conceded in her race for reelection to opponent Donald X. Clavin Jr., returning the town’s highest elected office to Republican control in 2020 after a contentious two-year term.

Gillen’s concession came after a count of absentee and affidavit ballots showed Clavin, the town’s receiver of taxes, maintaining a 1,650-vote lead over the incumbent. The results have not yet been certified by the Nassau County Board of Elections.

Clavin’s win re-establishes near-total Republican control of Hempstead, the largest town in the United States, which experts say has traditionally been the power center of the Nassau County Republican Party. Gillen, a commercial lawyer who won the seat in an upset election in 2017, was Hempstead’s first Democratic supervisor in more than a century.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the first Democratic Supervisor in 112 years,” Gillen said in a prepared statement Thursday. “To those who supported my good government initiatives and fight against corruption, I am disappointed to say we fell just short.”

Clavin, who has served as tax receiver for 18 years, thanked Gillen for her service to the town Thursday and promised an “inclusive and forward-thinking administration.”

"I wish the current Supervisor, Laura Gillen, well and I look forward to working closely with her to facilitate a smooth and orderly transition,” he said in a statement. “I also want to ensure that all neighbors of our community have a voice in the process and have a stake in governmental decision-making."

Gillen’s two years in office were marked by often partisan infighting with members of the Republican-controlled town board, a trend that increased after she sued the body last year over nearly 200 personnel transfers and a layoff-protection provision for union workers that the board had approved shortly before she took office.

Gillen prioritized anti-corruption measures, both as a candidate and officeholder, and her tenure coincided with federal and local law enforcement investigations into various town departments. But her efforts to enact her legislative agenda were often thwarted by the board.

“You can run as a reform candidate against corruption, but at the end of the day, you've got to have a proven track record of showing those reforms,” veteran Albany lobbyist Desmond Ryan said. “To a certain degree her initiatives were stymied by the Republicans on the board. And that's a difficult environment to be in.”

In his campaign, Clavin emphasized Gillen’s vote against the town’s 2019 budget, which cut taxes, and he promised to slash the payroll of the supervisor’s office by $1 million. He will enjoy a 6-1 Republican majority on the town board. Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the board’s lone Democrat, did not endorse either candidate.

Michael Dawidziak, a pollster and political consultant based in Sayville, said the race had been a “must-win” for Nassau County Republicans.

“This was very possibly the most powerful Republican organization in the country, or certainly one of them. And that power base was always centered in Hempstead,” he said. “Winning it back was really crucial to the future success of the Republican Party,” he said of the town supervisor’s office.

As for whether Clavin’s election means an end to the fractious town politics of recent years, Dawidziak said that remains to be seen.

“As long as Clavin remains popular [and] puts good management techniques into running the town, I think you'll see peace in the valley for the time being,” he said.

Clavin will be sworn in Jan. 7 at Hempstead Town Hall. 

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