It was 2019, but it might have been any time over the past five decades in Hempstead.
The GOP faithful chanted “Joe! Joe! Joe!” for a county chairman, not Margiotta or Mondello, but Cairo.
Winning candidates talked about “promises” to the taxpayer.
And as had been true for a century, Nassau County Republicans were back in their well of power.
Tuesday appeared to reverse Democrat Laura Gillen’s stunning 2017 blue wave win, with Don Clavin, the receiver of taxes, claiming victory in the town supervisor race. It was a tight vote, and Gillen ended election night without conceding.
But if the results hold, with Kate Murray returning to town hall as clerk, it looks like a return to the past for this suburban municipality with a population larger than Newark or Boston.
It was as if the past two years were hardly a memory. Despite subpoenas out from the U.S. attorney's office regarding issues with town concessions, the politically connected vendor Butch Yamali was right there on the dais with victorious Republicans. Earlier in the day, Yamali sent out an email asking for votes for Clavin.
And as if channeling the ghosts of Nassau GOP election night parties gone by, there was a ceremonial bashing of Newsday. This time the task fell to Al D’Amato, who for 18 years brought a touch of Hempstead to the U.S. Senate. He took to the stage at party headquarters to say the paper “can’t tell the truth” and, “I have subscribed to them because you always have to know what the enemy is doing.”
Taking back Hempstead was a big goal for the state party, which poured some $350,000 into Clavin’s campaign in recent months, more than the state Democratic Party gave to Gillen. It was a testing ground for Republicans. If they couldn’t win back ground with their storied machine in Hempstead, what would the party’s future be?
Viewers got a glimpse of where the party wants to go from the election night event. Candidates stressed how they campaigned on taxes and assessment, a warning to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat up for reelection in two years.
“This is about the taxpayer,” Clavin said in his victory speech.
One attendee wore a “socialism sucks” T-shirt, a national economic argument filtering down to the local.
And there was much murmuring about state criminal justice reforms that would reduce the use of bail for many offenses. There have been no consequences yet, but generating fear of crime in one of the nation's safest suburbs has been an essential element of the GOP playbook for years. One campaign worker waved around the headline to a New York Post story about how many inmates might soon be set free. It was the same story President Donald Trump seemed to refer to in a Tuesday tweet.
Expect more on that subject as Democrats fight to hold the State Senate in Albany — and hope to increase their recent electoral success in the nation's suburbs that has resulted in congressional and statehouse wins.
That's not to say that the suburbs are monolithic or spoken for — look at Steve Bellone’s big county executive win in Suffolk. But for a little longer at least, it was back to the future in Hempstead.
Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday's editorial board.