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Long IslandPolitics

New Hempstead supervisor needs a coalition to lead, experts say

In a GOP stronghold, Democratic Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen must navigate a town board that had largely supported her opponent.

Incoming Democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen

Incoming Democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

On a governing board with seven members, the magic number is four.

Less than two weeks after Democrat Laura Gillen’s unexpected victory in the Hempstead Town supervisor’s race, experts are wondering if she’ll be able to reach a majority on the mostly Republican board once she takes office Jan. 2.

“For her to govern, she has to be able to get enough votes,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works mostly with Republicans. “Everybody is now a potential ally or a potential enemy.”

Gillen likely already has three votes: Herself and Republican council members Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney, both of whom bucked their party to oppose incumbent Supervisor Anthony Santino in the race.

But who would be number four?

“I think that all bets are off in a Gillen administration as to how the alliances shake down in Democrats versus Republicans,” said Jeff Guillot, a Democratic political consultant.

Santino’s final months in power were marked by infighting and accusations of nepotism and cronyism that may have cost him the election, ushering in the town’s first Democratic supervisor in more than 100 years for Long Island’s GOP stronghold.

Although hourslong town board meetings were fraught with shouting matches among council members and from the audience, Santino mostly enjoyed a four-member majority, joined by councilmen Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne Sr. and senior councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the board’s sole Democrat.

“All the relationships are now changing,” Dawidziak said. “Everything before was through the filter of ‘how did they get along with or deal with Tony Santino.’ This is the proverbial deck getting completely reshuffled.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Gillen said she thinks there will be more cooperation and unity with her at the town’s helm.

“I think many of the council members will be happy working with my administration. I intend to work with them cooperatively,” Gillen said. “I’m very optimistic I’ll build a nice relationship with all the members of the council.”

But some of her campaign promises — such as increased transparency, the appointment of an inspector general and other ethics reforms that have been rejected previously by the current town board — could be difficult to fulfill when she takes office.

King Sweeney said she has “great hope for the whole board” under Gillen’s tenure.

“Most of these issues are not partisan,” she said. “There’s no need for this drama and I hope we can finally get something done.”

In addition to herself, King Sweeney and Blakeman, Gillen would need to court at least one more member to round out her coalition.

Although D’Esposito and Dunne both ran on Santino’s ticket last week, D’Esposito has promised to work with Gillen. Dunne could not be reached for comment.

And while Councilman Edward Ambrosino, who has also pledged to work with Gillen, has often been a swing vote, he is facing federal tax-evasion charges and may not be able to keep his seat if he is convicted or takes a plea deal.

Meanwhile, Nassau Republican Party chairman Joseph Mondello said Thursday that he had supported Blakeman’s proposal to spend $100,000 from the postal budget for Gillen’s transition team, saying the board should “not stand in the way of someone elected by the people.”

The resolution failed to get enough votes at last week’s town board meeting, although Mondello said he had urged Santino, D’Esposito and Dunne to cooperate with the incoming supervisor.

And then there’s Goosby. The Democrat has said publicly that she supports Santino, and she has voted against or abstained from several issues that Gillen campaigned on, including the appointment of an inspector general.

Goosby, who has held office since 2000, was pivotal in a 1988 lawsuit that ultimately forced the town board to abandon its at-large representation — which was deemed discriminatory — and elect council members by districts. She received 91.1 percent of the vote in last week’s election.

In a statement through the town’s spokesman, Goosby said: “I am eager to work collaboratively with the incoming Supervisor, Town Clerk and all of my colleagues on the Hempstead Town Board in the best interests of the residents of Council District No. 1, as well as all of those who call Hempstead Town home.”

She could not be reached for further comment.

“Where does Dorothy stand now?” said Norman Scott Banks, a former Democratic Hempstead Town councilman who lost his seat following Goosby’s redistricting lawsuit. “She took the position of Supervisor Santino, who was never a friend of Democrats and barely spoke to them.”

Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee, said he hopes Gillen can restore civility to the town board.

“I think the best news for Hempstead is they can get back to business,” he said. “This offers us a the opportunity to take vitriol and nastiness out of the political environment and start a new era of bipartisanship, cleaning things up in Hempstead. It’s good for Democrats and good for the Republican Party.”

With Celeste Hadrick

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