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Hempstead street renamed for LI's first African-American mayor

Former mayor of the Village of Hempstead James

Former mayor of the Village of Hempstead James A. Garner attends the street renaming ceremony in his honor on Saturday as part of the celebration of the 375th year of Hempstead Village. Garner, elected in 1989, was Long Island's first African-American mayor. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Hempstead and state officials gathered Saturday to celebrate the village’s 375th year and to rename the street that runs along Village Hall in honor of Long Island’s first African-American mayor, James A. Garner.

Nichols Court, which runs between Washington and Main streets was dedicated as James A. Garner Way, after a long list of local officials, community members and dignitaries from around the country gave tribute to Garner.

Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan said the new name recognizes Garner’s work in the village over 16 years as mayor. The village board unanimously chose to rename the street, and a sign featuring Garner’s picture was unveiled Saturday.

“This is the day we gather to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the village of Hempstead,” Ryan said. “I missed the first 300 years, but I’ve been here the remaining 75 and I’ve loved every day in this village.”

Garner, a Republican, was first elected in 1989 and served until being defeated in 2005 by Wayne Hall, who lost to Ryan last year. Garner went on to serve as chief deputy comptroller for Nassau County under former Comptroller George Maragos. He is the CEO/owner of his consulting firm, The Garner Group.

Garner ran his administration on a campaign of urban renewal and community development to improve the village and return business to Hempstead.

He oversaw a $100 million budget that addressed planning and zoning, bolstered police and fire protection, and attracted retailers and banks to return to the village. Garner secured $400 million in federal and state aid for community development projects to improve housing prices and reverse a 20-year decline, village officials said.

“It’s a great legacy of what’s here today,” Garner said. “I like to think I’ve been a trailblazer for our young people and left an indelible mark on the people of Hempstead.”

Garner, 73, was praised by various officials, including former Gov. David Paterson, Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City Public Advocate and state attorney general candidate Leticia James and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Paterson, who moved to Hempstead as a child, said Garner was the only Republican he ever voted for. He said Garner taught him the importance of minority-owned businesses for a diverse community. .

“People can thrive whatever color they are and whatever issue they have if they have the opportunity,” Paterson said. “No one thrived more than James Garner.”

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