The Nassau County Republican machine roared back to life Tuesday night with a new standard bearer, Donald Clavin, who appeared to flip Hempstead Town back to GOP control through a drumbeat of attacks on the rollout of County Executive Laura Curran’s reassessment.
Republicans stomped back on the scene Tuesday night with Clavin, the receiver of taxes for the past 18 years, appearing to unseat first-term Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen. Clavin was leading Gillen by about 1,400 votes, but Gillen has not yet conceded the race. In 2017, Gillen was the first Democratic supervisor elected to run Hempstead in more than a century.
Kate Murray, a longtime Hempstead town supervisor who lost the county district attorney race in 2015 and stepped away from elected office, defeated Democratic Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana.
Elsewhere in Nassau, Oyster Bay's Republican Supervisor Joseph Saladino defeated his opponent, Town Clerk James Altadonna, a Republican running on the Democratic line. Republicans maintained their 11-8 majority on the county legislature.
The victories follow the loss of the Nassau County executive and Hempstead town supervisor's races in 2017, and last year, the ouster of three Nassau state senators as Democrats gained control of the chamber.
Arrests of high-profile Republicans, including former County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife Linda, and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, had tarred the party's reputation when Gillen and Curran were elected in 2017.
"I think the Republican Party — some may have thought it was on its last leg. I think, and we certainly showed last night, we're far from it," Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Cairo said in an interview Wednesday.
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state and Nassau Democratic parties, said voters may have confused Laura Gillen, who had no role in setting countywide assessments, with Curran, the Democratic county executive
“People are asking if Laura Gillen suffered from the backlash over the assessment matter, and then when I point out Gillen had nothing to do with it, people are confused," Jacobs said Wednesday. "I think there was certain confusion over the assessment issue. ... It was a confusing set of circumstances, with shared first names that created a complicated electoral environment, I think, for her."
Jacobs and the party focused their campaign messaging on prior corruption scandals involving Republican officials and contracting controversies in the Town of Hempstead. Jacobs said the party was emphasing corruption, not assessment, during the campaign.
“Defending Laura Gillen, who has nothing to do with assessment, just didn’t seem to be the direction that we should go in when there was all this corruption," Jacobs said. "Frankly, had we looked at it, had our polling indicated it better, maybe the answer is getting up there and explaining to voters how, no, it’s the wrong Laura, and no she didn’t raise your taxes.”
Clavin has been a familiar face to thousands of county taxpayers, offering advice on how to challenge their assessments in folksy town hall settings, often clad in a signature fleece or puffer vest. And his name is familiar to taxpayers who pay the bills at Town Hall.
“People just said he’s been helping residents for 18 years, and he wants to do something positive in the supervisor’s office, and they’ve given me the opportunity,” Clavin said.
Clavin has cast blame on the county assessor's office for angering residents: “All they’ve asked for is someone to come out and talk to them, to answer questions, and the unwillingness of the assessor’s office -- it got residents very, very upset.”
Curran said in an interview Wednesday that she saw how Republicans "used fear and misinformation in the campaign, and of course, that was done deliberately."
She said she had no regrets about the reassessment. "I truly believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons … there's a reason nobody wanted to touch this, because it's difficult. I'm not afraid of doing the difficult thing if it's the right thing."
Nick Langworthy, state GOP chairman since July, said a Clavin win "is a tremendous victory, both for Nassau County, but also for the state of New York. This is the largest town in America. For the Republicans to come back and win back what they had for a very long time in their town supervisor office, that's a critical bellwether … it's a sign of really good things to come."
Asked about running for reelection in 2021 against a reinvigorated Republican machine, Curran said "two years is a long time. I’m going to keep doing my job, a job that I love," and she said she would continue to fight "chronic, systemic problems in Nassau County government. I'm going to continue full steam ahead righting the ship."
Clavin, asked whether he would challenge Curran in 2021, said he was going "to make a nice meatloaf for my kids tonight" and said he was “focused on the job that the residents asked me to do, and that's to provide good governance as supervisor.”
- Nassau County had a 27.3% turnout for Tuesday’s election. That included 255,287 voters on Tuesday in addition to the 30,018 votes cast in early voting.
- Suffolk County had a 26.7% turnout. That included 267,121 votes on Tuesday in addition to the 17,012 early votes.
- Statewide turnout was 22.7%, including 2.6 million votes cast Tuesday and 256,251 in early voting.
Source: New York State Board of Elections