It was a race nobody thought she could win. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, Laura Gillen, the Democratic candidate for supervisor in the Town of Hempstead, upset the Republican incumbent, Anthony Santino.
Although Santino outspent Gillen by a margin of about 8-1, Gillen rode the wave of anti-Trump public sentiment. Receiving over 80,000 votes, she won handily, with the margin of victory greater than 2200. The newly elected Gillen was the first Democratic supervisor for the Town of Hempstead in over 100 years.
With a population of over 775,000, Hempstead is the largest town in America, and Supervisor Gillen came into office with a full agenda to make the town a better place for its residents.
However, because the Republican-dominated Town Board held five of the seven council seats, everyone knew this would be an uphill battle.
In town government in New York State, the supervisor is thought of as a kind of CEO. She sets the agenda for board meetings, and she proposes a budget. However, her vote counts the same as every other councilperson.
In other words, for anything to be accomplished in the Town of Hempstead, you need a majority vote. (There was one lone Democratic Councilperson on the council, Democratic Minority Leader Dorothy Goosby. However, Ms. Goosby often votes with the Republican majority.)
Immediately after Election Day in 2017, Supervisor-Elect Gillen put together a transition team. She filled her staff with competent professionals who were excited to create positive change. I was excited as well: Supervisor Gillen asked me to be her deputy chief of staff of Economic Development and Government Efficiency.
I have an extensive background in finance, real estate, and venture capital. I have government experience as a former director of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a three-term Roslyn School Board member, and a former candidate for Nassau county executive and the state Senate.
With my decades of experience in the private and public sectors, I was optimistic, believing that most people in government would do what’s best for their constituents.
Our efforts would be blocked at every turn.
Off to a Bad Start
On Dec 12, 2017, just before Gillen took office, outgoing Supervisor Anthony Santino, through a 4-3 vote by the town board, approved promotions, raises, and transfers to 192 Town of Hempstead Republican loyalist employees.
At the same time, the town board voted to protect these 192 employees: they could not be fired for budgetary reasons, only for misconduct or gross incompetence. If that weren’t bad enough, the Nassau County Republican leadership then rewarded Santino with a cushy job at the Nassau County Board of Elections, with a salary of $160,000 per year.
After taking office, Supervisor Gillen sued Anthony Santino and all members of the town board, asking a judge to reverse the decisions that left her fiscally handcuffed. Ultimately, the judge ruled the no-layoff clause null and void, because Santino and fellow Board Member Anthony D’Esposito had awarded some of the 192 jobs to their relatives.
As you might expect, the Republican town board majority was furious.
Adam Haber is the former deputy chief of staff of Economic Development and Government Efficiency, Town of Hempstead