The Town of Hempstead is the largest township in the United States, and newly sworn-in Supervisor Laura Gillen said it should have the biggest heart, too.
“Hempstead isn’t just a town, it’s a home,” Gillen said during her swearing-in ceremony Monday morning at Hofstra University. “It’s our friends, neighbors, the people we see at the supermarket and on the train platform, on the school playground and in the church parking lot. It’s the people we interact with every day. People who work hard for their money and families and deserve better.”
Gillen won the seat in an upset victory in November against incumbent Anthony Santino, becoming the first Democrat elected to the position in a century.
The last time a Democrat won, women couldn’t even vote.
Now, Gillen joins a growing female, and Democratic, leadership in Nassau County. Later that day, County Executive Laura Curran was sworn in as the first woman to hold the position. Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth was elected to her third term in November and will be sworn in on Sunday.
Curran and Bosworth attended Gillen’s swearing-in ceremony along with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.
“But today isn’t really just about my victory, it’s our victory,” Gillen said. “It’s a victory for the taxpayers of our town and, on a much broader scale, it’s a victory for good government.”
Gillen’s inauguration comes after a rocky transition period.
In the last weeks of Santino’s term the Town Board voted to add a no-layoff clause to a union contract that Gillen has previously said handcuffs her administration.
The board also approved of 192 promotions, transfers and hirings.
Gillen said her election was transformational not because of the party change but because of “how people think about government.”
Schumer, who attended the ceremony, told the crowd of residents that it wasn’t just a great day for the town and county – but for the country, too.
“What has happened here in Nassau County is the same as what’s happening all across America,” Schumer said. “We saw it in Virginia. We saw it in Alabama. The American people are rejecting the status quo in favor of elected officials who will actually represent them … for far too many Americans, the system has stopped working for them. They feel the government no longer serves the middle class, that their leaders aren’t listening to them.”
Gillen, a Town of Hempstead native, understands the needs of the middle class, Schumer said, because it’s “in her bones.”
Gillen said her grandfather sailed to America from Italy in 1914, landing on Ellis Island as a 7-year-old who spoke no English.
Without a college education he made his way from Brooklyn to Baldwin and took a job as a sanitation worker in the Town of Hempstead to support his family, Gillen said.
Just two generations later, Gillen said, she stands before the public as town supervisor.
“My grandfather came to the Town of Hempstead because he saw the tremendous opportunities and beauty the town offered, a place where he could offer his family a better way of life,” Gillen said. “And isn’t that really what we all want. What we all deserve?”
The supervisor race wasn’t about left versus right, Gillen said, it was about right versus wrong.
Gillen’s message to get corruption out of town government and create a more efficient system garnered bipartisan support.
Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who will serve alongside Gillen, crossed party lines to endorse her.
Blakeman served on Gillen’s transition team along with fellow Republicans Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and former Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy.
Gillen previously told Blank Slate Media that her administration, much like her transition team, wouldn’t be about party politics.
“My administration will be comprised of some of the best and the brightest – consummate professionals who are leaders in their industries and have achieved success both inside and outside of government,” Gillen said in a statement.
The Friday before her inauguration Gillen announced members of her top staff.
Matthew Hynes, former chief of staff for state Sen. John Brooks, will serve as senior adviser for constituent affairs. Averil Smith, comptroller in the Town of North Hempstead, will be Gillen’s director of finance.
Adam Haber, appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the director of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, will serve as executive assistant for economic development and government efficiency.
“One hundred years, it is exciting,” Haber, an East Hills resident, said. “Clearly there’s a lot of work to do. Things have been done the same way for a very long time, and I think the vision that Supervisor Gillen wants to take is something I’m excited about.”
One of Gillen’s goals, Haber said, is to get the Hub developed at Nassau Coliseum.
Haber said the administration is ready to work “across the aisle and do whatever it takes” to get things done.
Town government, Gillen said, should never be about party politics. It should be about “practical ideas, thoughtful solutions and competent execution,” she said.
“In that spirit we must move forward together,” Gillen said, “Rs and Ds, blues and reds and start building the future of the town as partners.”