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When Laura Gillen battled her way into the supervisor’s seat in the Town of Hempstead in 2017, she broke an extraordinary streak: The town’s uninterrupted leadership by Republicans stretched back at least 100 years.
Gillen, 53, a Rockville Centre Democrat, had substantial opposition from a Republican town council but fought her way to some significant wins in her two-year term via bully-pulpit messaging and a tireless, detail-oriented approach. The longtime corporate litigator pushed through ethics reforms that reduced nepotism and conflicts of interest. The required online posting of town contracts she championed added transparency, and rules changed to require bidding on all professional services contracts of more than $10,000 provided accountability. Funding for road repaving and repairs, long neglected, increased tremendously. Political mailers, traditionally sent out at regular intervals at town expense, and barely disguised as informational material, were reduced significantly.
Now Gillen is bringing that same tenacity, thoughtful planning, and crucial goal-setting to her run for the House to replace Kathleen Rice, who is not seeking reelection.
Gillen has a long list of issues that need addressing, and it’s the right list. She’s never been soft on crime or in favor of broad cashless bail, much as opponents would try to paint her that way. But she knows more attention needs to be focused on addressing and treating mental illness if street crime is to be reduced and public safety, and the perception of it, improved. The sweeping mental health crisis is devastating many Long Islanders. Her solution is driving more money to the problem, securing new beds, recruiting and training new workers, and focusing on the oft-ignored mental health needs of senior citizens and the often-underresourced treatment of young people.
She also knows, from her time at the Hempstead helm, how intractable the affordable housing crisis has become in her district. Her past experience partnering with Habitat for Humanity to repurpose “zombie homes” showed creativity. Her hope of pushing federal dollars toward incentivizing housing, revitalizing downtowns, and creating jobs gains credibility in light of the $10 million she helped secure from the state to redevelop Baldwin. The Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center and accompanying parking garage she helped bring to the Uniondale Hub are further evidence she gets results.
Gillen also has the right views on passing common-sense gun regulations, protecting women’s reproductive freedoms, guaranteeing secure elections nationwide, and addressing crucial environmental needs. She supports comprehensive immigration reform that would stop the uncontrolled flow of unmonitored people into our nation, but would create enough opportunity for newcomers to build lives here and strengthen our nation. And she’s not afraid to buck her party; she's dubious about any new deal with Iran to lift sanctions in return for assurances of no nuclear development.
Anthony D’Esposito, 40, has served on the Hempstead Town board since 2016. Before that he was a New York City police officer and detective. The Island Park Republican is also a longtime volunteer firefighter, and served for seven years as Island Park’s fire chief.
D’Esposito’s expertise in combating crime is deep. His proposal to bolster federal gun task forces and double down on federal gun prosecutions as meaningful deterrents to all kinds of crime makes sense. But his dark vision of a district and a region where criminals wreak havoc and mayhem without fear of retribution just isn’t real.
His campaign’s use of a graphic online video of FDNY paramedic Lt. Alison Russo being brutally stabbed to death was ill-considered, as is his refusal to repudiate that use now. And trying to connect that crime to Gillen and the issue of bail reform, when the suspect has no arrest record and Gillen is not soft on crime, is irresponsible.
But perhaps more importantly, D’Esposito, whose experience and skills seem better focused at the town level, doesn’t seem to have a deep understanding of the issues he’d have to consider in Congress outside of policing. He blames inflation on other nations perceiving the United States as “weak.” He says he wants to balance the nation’s budget, but did not specify a spending cut he’d support. He argues that whatever cuts can be found once he’s elected should be spent on beefing up border security, and that paths to citizenship for people already here must wait until the border is secure.
As an attorney, Gillen says she often found that seemingly opposed parties could only make progress through collaborative settlements that benefited both sides. In today’s Washington, that’s a message worth shouting from the rooftops.
And no one will be more aggressive, dogged and determined in fighting for her district.
Newsday endorses Gillen.
ENDORSEMENTS ARE DETERMINED solely by the Newsday editorial board, a team of opinion journalists focused on issues of public policy and governance. Newsday’s news division has no role in this process.