Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen named Republican Councilman Bruce Blakeman as deputy supervisor Saturday, in what she said is a “bipartisan” overture to try to form a coalition on the Republican majority board.
Gillen, the first Democratic supervisor elected in more than a century, will hold her first town board meeting Tuesday night where five of the six town board members are Republicans. Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby is the board’s lone Democrat to join Gillen.
Blakeman was the only town board member during the campaign to endorse Gillen over Republican incumbent Anthony Santino.
As deputy supervisor, Blakeman will serve as acting supervisor and run meetings while Gillen is away. Gillen said she chose Blakeman for his decades of experience in local government, including serving as presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature. Blakeman will not receive any further payment to his part-time $71,000 town board salary.
“I ran on the campaign to not follow partisan politics. He seems to be the right person for the job,” Gillen said. “I’m hoping this is an indicator of my sincere desire to work in a collegial bipartisan way with a Democrat and a Republican deputy supervisor.”
Gillen will need to form a coalition on the town board, where Blakeman and Republican Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney often split with Santino, but were still often on the losing side of votes.
Blakeman said he thinks Gillen and the board can work together to move a bipartisan agenda forward, including ethics reform.
“Laura has demonstrated she is a person of high integrity and promised during her campaign to try to run Town Hall in a bipartisan manner. The fact she reached across the aisle to me proves she’s sincere,” Blakeman said. “I believe we will work together to come up with a consensus on the issues facing the town and resolve any controversies for the benefit of the taxpayers.”
Blakeman said he still stands firmly with the Republican Party and has served as financial and legal advisers to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He most recently lost a 2014 bid for Congress to Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
King Sweeney also supported Blakeman’s selection as deputy supervisor after working alongside him to pass ethics reform.
“Bruce Blakeman is a good friend of mine and I think it’s a wise selection reach across party lines,” King Sweeney said. “Bruce is obviously very capable. I think it’s definitely a selection made in good faith and he brings years of experience.”
Blakeman did not think that Republican politics would stand in the way of working with Gillen when the party may try to take the seat back in two years.
“Two years is a long time and we all have to focus on the day-to-day management of town government,” Blakeman said. “We cannot be concerned about what may or may not happen two years from now.”