Gounaris, Liu share views and ideas for N. Hempstead’s District 4

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Gounaris, Liu share views and ideas for N. Hempstead’s District 4
Christine Liu, left, and James Gounaris, right, speaking at the League of Women Voters event Thursday night. (Screencap by Brandon Duffy)

James Gounaris and Christine Liu, the candidates running for North Hempstead’s 4th Councilmanic District, faced off twice at two different meet-and-greets throughout the district last week.

The two shared their visions for the town and district during a Lakeville Estates Civic Association candidate meet-and-greet Wednesday night at the Manhasset-Lakeville Company No. 5 firehouse in North New Hyde Park and League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset Thursday night at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset. 

Gounaris, of Manhasset Hills, is running on the Republican and Conservative Party lines for the Town Board seat. He is the current president of the Herricks Board of Education. Gounaris has been a trustee since 2011 and in his fourth one-year term as president, which began in the summer of 2022. Professionally, Gounaris is the coordinator of food and nutrition services and the district registrar for Great Neck Public Schools. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from St. John’s University.

Liu, of New Hyde Park, is running on the Democratic Party line for the vacant seat. She is a community liaison for state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington), vice president of the Nassau County Asian Advisory Council and co-founder of the Herricks Chinese Association. Previously, Liu was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She graduated from New York University and Regent University School of Law. 

The town’s 4th District includes Manhasset Hills, Herricks, Great Neck Plaza, Russell Gardens, University Gardens, Lake Success and parts of Garden City Park, North New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Floral Park, and other incorporated areas. It is also the town’s first Asian minority-majority district.

The district’s current representative, Veronica Lurvey, was redistricted out of her current district last year and is running for town receiver of taxes. 

The first of approximately 10 questions Wednesday night, which were submitted ahead of time by members of Lakeville Estates, asked Gounaris and Liu their thoughts on having an open-door policy with civic leaders and meeting with them on a fairly regular basis. 

Gounaris said an open-door policy to him means being available to listen to constituents and their struggles, inequities or recommendations they may have to make their community better. He committed to maintaining an open-door policy and that he would never alienate a member of the community. 

I will be available to every civic association and I will be available for any other organization as I have been within the Herricks community,” Gounaris said. 

Liu said she has an open-door policy in her current roles and would commit to maintaining it if elected while adding that she told Sillitti she would resign from her community liaison  position if she wins the council seat.

“I’ve always been proud to have an open-door policy and that will never change,” Liu said. 

Liu mentioned multiple times Wednesday night her commitment to being in the district and working at town hall, which is when Gounaris said in rebuttal if elected everyone in the district will know his name.

“I am going to be here for every resident who lives in our community to make sure that your voices are heard and that you see the results you deserve from the town of North Hempstead,” Gounaris said.

Both candidates shared with the audience their experiences learning about different cultures in the district, specifically the Muslim community, through either their personal lives or community engagement. 

The candidates were in agreement that new parts of the district, specifically the greater New Hyde Park area, have been neglected by previous Town Boards.  Both are from the area. 

Gounaris said he thinks the 311 call center is a good program but needs to have someone on the phone when addressing more urgent needs in the district.

“I believe 311 is a good program for certain things, but if I need to talk to somebody, I can’t talk to anybody from 311,” Gounaris said. “You deserve to have a government that’s working for you and you deserve to have a government that you want to be proud of.” 

Liu said part of the district has felt neglected over the last two years by the Town Board and that she has knocked on thousands of doors to hear constituents’ concerns. 

“I don’t think we can go another two years with somebody with another full-time job and not able to respond to us in a timely fashion,” Liu said.

Gounaris said he has learned a lot during his time on the Board of Education when asked about making the town more inclusive and combating different forms of hate. He said during his time as trustee the district has added celebrations for Diwali, Eid al-Fitr and Lunar New Year and if elected he would look to expand the town’s anti-hate programming.

Liu said she’s proud of the work she’s already done and that she was a panel guest for the Bellmore-Merrick Democratic Club’s “Hate Has No Home Here” discussion. Liu said the town needs to fight for all people of all races and all religions. 

Tensions Wednesday night rose when a question about a recent resolution passed by the Herricks board was asked. 

Specifically, a civic member asked about a resolution this summer amending the district’s use of facilities policy. The question said “It seems only the Asian communities, Chinese, Indian and Muslim groups are excluded from using the schools” and asked Gounaris to elaborate. 

The second part of the question for Gounaris asked: “As the head of the school board you are breaking the bridge between the community and the schools. How can you convince us that you will build bridges between the community and the town if elected?”

Gounaris, who stood up to answer the question, said he was insulted by the question and that the school board worked tirelessly to create a new policy that treated every group fairly. 

“That is not what our school district or our school board is about,” Gounaris said. “What we did is we changed the policy so that these groups could use our community center for their events with an equal footing for all to be able to have access to it.”

The policy in question references a resolution the board approved recently that amended the use of the facilities policy. Among the changes, the Herricks High School auditorium can no longer be used for events held by outside groups.

District residents during the Sept. 7 board meeting expressed concerns with the update and how it will affect next year’s Lunar New Year Celebration, which was previously held in the high school gymnasium with at least one thousand attendees. 

Herricks Superintendent Tony Sinanis said during the September board meeting that the amendments centered around updates for custodial help, security, limits and transferring the burden of insurance from the district to the organizing group, among other things.

Gounaris continued to reiterate that the policy was in the works throughout the year and members of the community were aware of potential changes and by no means was the policy meant to exclude a specific group or community. 

“We could no longer guarantee the safety of our children and the integrity of our work that we’ve done in the buildings by having events go on of the magnitude of that size,” Gounaris said about the policy’s effect on Lunar New Year.

Liu said members of the community were not informed of the upcoming changes and there was no dialogue in the community from the district, PTA or board on the matter. Liu added that the outside groups could have helped make accommodations in terms of more security and lower numbers for the event.

“It would be nice just to be included in the conversation as to what’s going on in these new policies,” Liu said. 

At the League of Women Voters event Thursday night, candidates were asked about their opinions on waterfront development, working across the aisle and other district questions. 

Liu said her opinion on building on the waterfront is that developers need to engage in community discussions and feedback. Liu said public hearings and presentations from the developer through the Town Board show what’s feasible for a specific area.

Gounaris agreed with Liu and said years of industrial use and overdevelopment have led to the town trying to reclaim its waterfront area and it’s important to find a balance with putting up developments that are more affordable, among other concerns.

Liu said before running she went to North Hempstead Town Board meetings on issues that she was passionate about, specifically when the town was discussing whether or not to allow recreational marijuana a few years ago.

Gounaris said he has attended Town Board meetings on and off for the last 15 years and each one is an opportunity to hear different perspectives in the town on a number of issues. 

Both candidates said they would not have a problem working with members of the Town Board from the opposite party. 

Liu said issues on the Town Board, such as paving roads, picking up garbage and keeping street lights on, for example, are not Republican or Democrat issues. 

“What’s best for the community is how I’m going to vote and how I’m going to work together,” Liu said

Gounaris said he is willing to work across the aisle with any other elected official regardless of party and that Town Board members have a commitment to be responsive to the taxpayers. 

“This is not red or blue, this is about red, white and blue,” Gounaris said. 

A previous version of this story was published. It has since been updated.

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