After unseating Republican Anthony Santino in a GOP stronghold, newly elected Democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen was swept into office with a mandate to clean up town hall. The leader of America’s most populous town shared why she removed her name from signs, her plans to make government more responsive to the people, and how she is working with the Republican majority town board. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Long Island Press: How does it feel to be the first Democrat to win the Hempstead supervisor’s seat in more than a century?
Laura Gillen: One hundred and 12 years. It feels great. Not a lot of people thought I was going to win the race, but I always believed it was winnable. I’m just excited for the opportunity to bring change to the Town of Hempstead.
LIP: What is your vision for the town?
LG: I want to get us on secure fiscal footing. I think that’s really important, so we can continue to provide great services to the residents. I want to see what I can do to find efficiencies to save taxpayer dollars. I want to make us a greener town. Not only is it good for environment, it’s good for the residents and it’s good for costs associated with energy. If there’s any taint of corruption, I want to clean that up. I want to really make a government that’s more accessible. More town government information online so people can really see how their taxpayer dollars are being spent.
LIP: Why did you remove your name from all town signs?
LG: The public doesn’t really have an appetite for this shameless self-promotion that has characterized the Town of Hempstead forever. The amount of mail that we received about nonsense. The cost associated with these relentless mailers. Even at the 911 memorial, residents who wanted the name of a loved one on a piece of paper got a piece of paper with the supervisor’s name on it.
LIP: Before being sworn in, you were barred from seeing your predecessor’s office and your clerk’s office was cleared of furniture. Have there been any more such oddities?
LG: The door was unlocked when I arrived on January 2nd, so that was helpful. Of course, we had the issue with the clerk’s furniture, but that has been resolved. To my knowledge no furniture has gone missing as of late.
LIP: Ethics was your main issue on the campaign, but now that you’re on the job, have you uncovered any other issues that require more immediate attention?
LG: We saw that while municipalities across the state were racing to refinance their debt before the Trump tax plan took effect, the Town of Hempstead did nothing. We lost the opportunity to refinance a lot of our debt. Roughly in the area of $2.5 million we lost because we can no longer refinance this debt because of changes in the tax law. That was disappointing, but there’s going to be greater oversight. I put up a resolution that gives our comptroller the ability to refinance the debt when it’s able to be refinanced if the market indicates that it’s a prudent decision.
LIP: Are you concerned the Islanders’ new arena slated to open in Elmont will hurt event attendance at Nassau Coliseum and other destinations in The Hub?
LG: Theoretically, that could be trouble for the coliseum. I think it’s great that we’re going to do something exciting in Belmont. I’m very happy that we’re going to keep the Islanders here. As the arena in Belmont gets developed, we’ll find a way to make the best use of The Hub so it’s still a vibrant economic area.
LIP: Did crossing party lines to make Republican Councilman Bruce Blakeman deputy supervisor ruffle feathers?
LG: It was received very well by the public. I also ran a campaign that said I want to work in a bipartisan way. My husband is a registered Republican, so I’m used to living in a bipartisan world. I think the public liked that. They want to see elected leaders work together. I have a Republican majority board and I’ve been making efforts to reach across the aisle and work with them in a collegial way to do what’s best for the taxpayers.