The Lakeville Estates Civic Association held the first meet and greet for candidates running in the Town of North Hempstead and Nassau County Legislature Wednesday night in North New Hyde Park.
Republican Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and Democrat challenger Jon Kaiman, who was supervisor from 2004 to 2013, each answered questions posted by civic members related to their resumes, ideas for the town and issues pertaining to the association specifically.
The two candidates for the county’s 10th Legislative District, incumbent Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Republican, and Democrat challenger Weihua Yang also gave brief introductions on their backgrounds and platforms to civic members at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department Company No. 5 firehouse.
The first question for DeSena and Kaiman referred to their times as supervisors. DeSena, who was elected in 2021, was asked about possibly taking credit for the 5% tax cut the seven-member town board, which has a majority of four Democrats, approved for this year’s budget after she submitted a tentative budget that had a 2.1% tax raise.
DeSena said she discovered large town reserves after submitting her tentative budget and resubmitted a new budget proposal with an 11% tax cut, which was not passed. The supervisor said it’s part of the process in the town board that once her tentative budget is submitted, the board members discuss and make amendments.
“It was a proud moment for all of us to offer that vote and that we now have that for our residents,” DeSena said.
Kaiman said a lot of people are responsible for solving problems in government and that if there are limited things to talk about, officials may try to take credit.
“I understand there is a divide in this town board, but we need to respect everybody when you achieve things or get results,” Kaiman said. “I think we would all be better off and probably have a friendlier environment.”
Kaiman was asked about claims against him that he raised taxes every year as supervisor, taxes increased 44% during his term, he voted himself a 33% raise and approved a $31 million tax hike as the chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.
Kaiman said he did not raise taxes every year and in certain years the tax raises amounted to $3.50 and $7.50 increases for the average household. As for his role with NIFA, Kaiman said it was not the authority’s responsibility to set the budget but to make sure it was balanced and the numbers added up.
“The reality is taxes went up maybe $30 or $40 in the town fund over the 10 years I was there,” Kaiman said. “So it sounds really bad when you read it in their campaign mail. but the impact to the voters and taxpayers was minimal.”
DeSena said the town could have done better and returned more money to the taxpayers during Kaiman’s time as supervisor.
“I know our residents want tax relief and I’ve given that to them and I’m going to give it to them again,” DeSena said.
Both candidates said they were against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s New York Housing Compact, which called for a major increase in housing on Long Island in favor of local control from municipalities.
“We hear from everyone involved and we make a decision about where we can build new types of housing and where it’s just not appropriate,” DeSena said. “I will continue to fight for local control so that we can preserve our quality of life and our resources.”
Kaiman said he is “100% against” the proposal and that it was a violation of home rule law in the state. He responded to DeSena’s point about him proposing accessory housing during his time as supervisor, which was withdrawn after resident criticism.
“We had the ability to withdraw and we did,” Kaiman said. “That’s different than if the state were to make a rule that they can pass over our objections, not giving us a chance to govern ourselves. That would be a mistake.”
Kaiman said he held people accountable when asked about political mailers claiming he presided over corruption during his time as a supervisor. In 2007, a 16-month investigation into allegations of corruption led to the arrests and convictions of several North Hempstead Building Department employees.
“When you lift a rock up and dirt comes out because you’re cleaning the grounds, you get dirty,” Kaiman said. “I came into government knowing that the Building Department was limited in its ability to do what people were asking it to do and we had problems with them.”
Kaiman said after starting the 311 Call Center in 2005 his administration was able to find inconsistencies in the department and brought in the district attorney’s office at the time.
“Once we found that they did something wrong, we were able to have them fired and ultimately they were arrested and a couple of them convicted,” Kaiman said.
DeSena, who asked Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Philips to audit the Building Department last year, said the problems currently persist from Kaiman’s time that she is still working on fixing.
“To say that you fixed it and the problem happened over the later years is really a gross oversimplification,” DeSena said. “I would not say you fixed it, I would say problems still exist.”
When asked about her endorsement of Congressman George Santos, DeSena said she was lied to along with the 3rd Congressional District and she too was offended and victimized by his lies. DeSena has since called on his resignation from Congress.
“I helped in every way I could, I have encouraged everyone to report what they knew,” DeSena. “He’s a liar, I have not worked with him.”
If re-elected, DeSena said her top goals are to provide tax relief, continue improving North Hempstead’s infrastructure and renovate the town’s parks which have lacked support.
“I am committed to moving those projects forward to improving our parks and doing it with great management, continued tax cuts and in a very responsive way,” DeSena said.
When asked to describe his new vision for town government, Kaiman said it’s to use the technology and resources in the town to give people confidence in their government.
“People need to know that the government can their money, be responsive, call them back when they call and get problems solved in real-time, and that’s what I’ve always done,” Kaiman said.