Political disagreements are taking center stage in North Hempstead early in the term of the new Republican supervisor, who promised in her inauguration speech that partisan politics would be a thing of the past.
Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, the first Republican candidate to win the seat in more than three decades, joined the town board along with Republicans Dennis J. Walsh and David A. Adhami, and Democrat Robert Troiano Jr. The Democrats hold a 4-3 majority.
On her first day, DeSena sent out an email asking the Democratic council members and their aides to rearrange the office space to include the new Republicans, after the office was shuffled to relocate the council members near the supervisor suite.
"What I wanted to do was come in here and continue in the way that Supervisor Bosworth had governed, but it was clear from before I came in and last week that it wouldn’t be possible," DeSena said, referring to her predecessor, Judi Bosworth.
Councilmember Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat, said the office was rearranged to make room for the supervisor’s incoming staff. She said the seating decision is "a red herring and a distraction from the work that the council members need to do to run the government."
The tension came to a head at the board’s first meeting on Jan. 6. The most disputed topic of the meeting was personnel resolution, which featured the transfer of several employees out of the supervisor’s office and clerk’s office to different departments in the town. Half of those transfers — four from the supervisor’s office and one from the clerk’s office — were moved to the town board’s budget.
The transfers, along with five new hires in DeSena’s administration, were approved 4-3, with Republicans dissenting. DeSena said she wanted to table the vote until the Jan. 20 meeting before approving the resolution, but the measure was pushed through by the majority.
The next resolution included more than $800,000 in budget transfers that were approved, 4-3, to fund the moves. Lurvey said the funds came from savings among different departments in the town, including an exempt position that was not filled in the comptroller’s office, reducing the town board’s part-time and seasonal budget expenses, and reducing the professional services funding in the Department of Public Works budget. She stressed that the moves would not cost taxpayers any money.
"What we saw was a realignment of some positions to help ensure a smooth transition," Lurvey said.
DeSena opposed those transfers and said the money could have gone to different departments, including highway, which she said was searching for six more employees. In the personnel resolution, she specifically protested the transfer of Bosworth’s former chief of staff, Jeanine Dillon, who will serve as a chief research assistant to the town board. Lurvey defended the appointment and said Dillon’s experience is an asset to the board. Dillon’s annual salary will remain unchanged at $157,890.
Craig Burnett, Hofstra University associate professor of political science, noted the similarities in DeSena’s position and former Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen. She was the town’s first Democratic supervisor in more than a century and saw several initiatives fall short with a GOP-majority town board. She lost to Republican Don Clavin in 2019.
Burnett said higher Republican turnout in 2021, after a heated 2020 presidential election, most likely led to DeSena’s victory.
"For a lot of voters, it was the first opportunity after the presidential election, a very hotly contested one, to go and express themselves in some way," Burnett said. "It’s what I call a tidal flow of politics, and right now it’s a little better tide for one party."