In her first State of the Town address, North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena touted the need for collaboration and transparency in town government.
“I want to say we are doing this together,” DeSena said of her fellow Town Board members, four of whom were in attendance. “We are committed to doing the work for the town and we are committed to being collaborative and bipartisan in cooperation.”
DeSena’s 30-minute address marked the 35th anniversary of the address and was the first to be delivered by a Republican supervisor since 1989.
The early months of DeSena’s tenure have been marked by tension between her and the Democratic majority on the Town Board. And any ideas of bipartisanship seemed to dissipate after a Democratic member of the board, Veronica Lurvey, recorded a response that praised progress under DeSena’s Democratic predecessor and talked of Democrats’ priorities. Lurvey then was attacked by DeSena’s spokesman, who accused her of injecting partisan politics into town government.
State, town and village officials from across the county came to Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington for DeSena’s address, which was held in conjunction with a luncheon featuring the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset.
As she has since beginning her campaign for office, DeSena emphasized her focus on streamlining government operations and making the town more efficient where possible.
DeSena announced several proposals aimed at cutting through red tape and showing constituents how their government operates.
North Hempstead TV in its decade-plus of running has not featured Town Board meetings. DeSena plans on changing that to make it more accessible to residents who cannot make it to Town Hall in Manhasset on Thursday nights or go to the town’s website, where it is livestreamed and recorded.
“I believe residents should have greater access to watch our Town Board meetings,” DeSena said. “Town Board meetings are where the real business of government is conducted.”
A second initiative DeSena described was holding town hall meetings in North Hempstead’s six districts accompanied by the council member from that district to “make it easier to hear residents’ concerns.”
The supervisor said too many residents feel they aren’t given enough opportunity to ask questions and make comments. More details on times, dates and locations will come at a later date, DeSena said.
Before her election in November, DeSena was active in her community, including as executive director of the Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse. She said that experience allowed her to advocate against the dangers of drug use and she is planning to establish a Substance Misuse Advisory Council.
“I’ve worked passionately to educate and empower parents to protect their families from the risks of alcohol and other drugs,” DeSena said. “Many lives can be saved through prevention, treatment and recovery. And I believe not only is the town able to do something to help the problem but that we have a moral obligation to do so.”
DeSena also expanded on her previous announcements about the Building Department, where she is proposing a resolution to require the building commissioner to decide on expedited permits within seven days and to remove a town statute that lets Town Board members override the decisions of commissioners.
“During our research into the subject, when my team spoke to building departments from the municipalities, they were met with shock and disbelief that this was actually in the town code in North Hempstead,” DeSena said.
When she submits her first budget this fall, DeSena said, she will prioritize “critical infrastructure.” The supervisor said that the Town of Oyster Bay committed $20 million toward road resurfacing in the most recent budget compared with North Hempstead’s $4 million, and that there needs to be a shift.
“That’s woefully inadequate and it’s clear that our priorities must shift,” DeSena said. “In my first 90 days in office, I’ve heard from countless residents that they’re unhappy with the state of our roads and I’m proud to announce that road repair and reconstruction in the town of North Hempstead will be made a greater priority going forward in future budgets.”
In November, DeSena was the first Republican nominee to win the town supervisor election in over 30 years, succeeding Judi Bosworth, a Democrat who did not seek re-election.
Since her administration began, DeSena and the two newly elected Republicans on the Town Board, David Adhami and Dennis Walsh, have had tense relations with Democrats, who hold a 4-3 majority.
At Town Board meetings, issues have been brought up such as the communal office space previously used by council members being separated, as well as Democrats blocking DeSena’s choices for the town Board of Ethics.
“I look forward to working with you,” DeSena said at the beginning of her address. “And I know that we’re going to do great things together.”
After DeSena’s address, Lurvey recorded a response for residents about “protecting the progress that has been made here in North Hempstead over the past several years and about what lies ahead” that will be aired on North Hempstead TV following reruns of the supervisor’s speech.
Lurvey described town accomplishments under Bosworth, specifically during COVID-19 and elaborated on priority initiatives for the year that town Democrats released last week.
“In such divisive and partisan times throughout the Country, the Town, under the leadership of Supervisor Judi Bosworth, had produced bipartisan agreement and consensus through vision and bold leadership,” Lurvey said. “Integrity and credibility were strengthened, and substantial strides were made toward a bright future with many environmental and infrastructure initiatives. These steps made the Town of North Hempstead the best place to live on Long Island.”
The councilwoman said constituents can expect a bevy of improvements this year to roads and other infrastructure, and the revitalization of North Hempstead Beach Park while the town maintains an AAA bond rating.
“I want to emphasize that all of these improvements are the culmination of months of collaborative discussions between the members of the Town Board, the previous Supervisor, and our wonderful Department Heads, and the Capital Plan was approved in a transparent process to serve you, the taxpayers,” Lurvey said.
Brian Devine, director of communications for the supervisor’s office, criticized Lurvey for the response.
“Taxpayers deserve better than a Councilmember who makes the highly questionable decision to utilize a taxpayer funded television studio to make a political rebuttal, something that has never happened in the 35 year history of the State of the Town. Shame on Councilwoman Lurvey.
“Beyond that, it’s incredibly disappointing to see Councilwoman Lurvey use this platform to announce she and her fellow majority councilmembers have no interest in supporting the initiatives that Supervisor DeSena proposed, which were met with incredible enthusiasm from our residents.
“After watching this video and reading through their ‘Democrat initiatives’ press release, it would be clear to anyone that Councilwoman Lurvey and her fellow majority Councilmembers are the one who are shamelessly injecting partisan politics into Town government, not the other way around.”
A previous version of this story was published, it has since been updated.