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In Nassau, view on appointees depends on party allegiance

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen. Photo Credit: Raychel Brightman

What a difference a majority makes.

In Hempstead Town, Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat who sits on a town board controlled by Republicans, proposed a law this week that would bar board appointees from running for election. The Republican majority traditionally has appointed new members to the town board whenever a vacancy occurs

“When such an appointment is made, the appointee inherits the benefits of the office as well as the power of apparent incumbency, which gives an inequitable advantage over any other prospective candidate,” Gillen’s resolution read. “It is fundamental to a representative democracy that the people within the district (or townwide) vote to elect its representative without the Town Board having tipped the scale.”

But Democrats in North Hempstead had no such qualms last month

The Democrat-controlled town board and Democratic Supervisor Judi Bosworth voted to appoint Democrat Veronica Lurvey to fill a town board vacancy that occurred when Anna Kaplan won a state Senate seat last November. The Democratic party has nominated Lurvey, a lawyer and community activist, to run as its town board candidate in November.

A ceremonial swearing in of Lurvey, who was appointed Jan. 29, is scheduled Thursday evening before the North Hempstead Town Board meeting.

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, the state party chairman, said there is no hypocrisy involved. He noted that Gillen’s proposal was voted down by town Republicans Tuesday. While Democrats support Gillen, they will follow the law until it changes, he said.

Jacobs said the “big difference” between what happens in Republican-controlled Hempstead and Oyster Bay towns compared with Democrat-controlled North Hempstead is this: Republicans create the vacancies while Democrats fill openings that occur through death, indictment or election to higher office.

“It is customary for the Republican Party to get sitting council people to resign either because they get them another appointed job or something else to get rid of them so they can put in their own people to run again," Jacobs said. "They have them resign during their term so they [the new appointees] can get the benefits of incumbency. That’s gaming the system and using the system.”

Jacobs pointed to Oyster Bay, where the GOP-controlled town board on Tuesday appointed former town clerk and state Assemb. Steve Labriola, a Republican, to replace Republican Rebecca Alesia, who stepped down from the town board to take a position on Oyster Bay’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The Nassau Republican party has nominated Labriola to run for the seat in November.

“The facts of what happened in North Hempstead is that Anna Kaplan, who was the incumbent, ran and won and became a state senator," Jacobs said. That created a vacancy that needed to be filled. That’s different. If a council person, God forbid, dies, we understand that there is going to be a vacancy that needs to be filled.”

He said the same thing holds true if a council person is indicted and goes to jail.

In those cases, Jacobs said, the party hasn’t created the vacancy to help itself.

“This is a long-standing countywide gaming of the system,” Jacobs said. “That just has to end. That is what Gillen is complaining about. That is what we’re complaining about.”

But Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican appointed before he was elected to the town board, said, “splitting hairs on how town board vacancies occur doesn’t change the fact that Democrats have appointed council members to one local town board and then feign outrage when another town does the same thing. This is a case study in hypocrisy.”

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