King Sweeney drops bid for re-election to Town Board

Cites family needs as reason for surprise withdrawal

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Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney announced on Sept. 12 that she was no longer seeking re-election to a second, four-year term on the Town Board.

In a statement to the Herald Life, Sweeney, a first-term Republican from Wantagh, said she and her family were moving out of state. “My husband’s job has been relocated to North Carolina,” she said. “Therefore, based upon the needs of my family, I will not be a candidate for re-election.

“My personal journey over the last year has made me appreciate more than ever the importance of family,” she added. “I send my deepest gratitude and best wishes to the residents of the 5th Councilmanic District, whom I have had the privilege to serve.”

Sweeney was appointed to serve as the representative for the town’s 5th District — which covers Bellmore and Merrick, as well as parts of Baldwin, Freeport, Wantagh and Seaford — following Angie Cullin’s retirement in January 2015. She was elected to a full four-year term that November.

It is still unclear who will take King Sweeney’s place on the ticket as the Republican candidate for the 5th Councilmanic District. In a statement to the Herald, Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said the party would find “a talented and qualified candidate” before Nov. 5, but did not specify who that would be.

In a break with recent tradition, however, Cairo said he believed the party should avoid appointing a successor, given the short run-up to the election, and allow King Sweeney’s successor to be elected. Every Republican currently serving on the town board, including King Sweeney, was initially appointed, and participated in the subsequent election by running as an incumbent.

In July, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen announced the full slate of Democratic candidates for the upcoming election, including Lora Webster, a Democrat from Point Lookout, the candidate for Sweeney’s seat. Webster is a Paralympic volleyball player, a homemaker and a childhood cancer survivor.

Webster said she was shocked by King Sweeney’s announcement, adding that it was “totally out of the blue.” Her friends and colleagues were also surprised, she said, many of whom reached out to her via text last Thursday afternoon.

Webster said the news would not alter her campaign style, however, and vowed that she would continue to run a grassroots campaign as if an opponent were still in play. “There are still 55 days to go,” she said. “I’m still going to run the race like I’m behind, and use that as motivation. As far as I’m concerned, I still have to prove myself to a ton of people.”

King Sweeney is appreciated by many of her constituents in Bellmore. Eileen Casazza, the leader of the Bellmore Preservation Group, spoke of the councilwoman’s “real energy and passion for the district.”

“We could always say, ‘We have X problem, let’s try this solution,’ and she’d always be so supportive,” Casazza said. “Even though she’s moving on, we’re going to keep that standard alive in Bellmore.”

Earlier in her tenure, King Sweeney advocated for legislative reform efforts that were shut down by former Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican with whom she had publicly feuded over transparency and ethical reforms. Following Gillen’s election as supervisor, King Sweeney expressed interest in championing those reforms with the new supervisor.

Tensions arose last April, however, when Gillen filed suit against the board for a series of controversial job protections and interdepartmental transfers pushed by Santino at his last meeting. They ensured that many appointees would not only keep their jobs but, in some cases, also receive significant raises.

“Voters know every Republican in Town Hall was initially selected, not elected, for their positions,” Gillen said in a statement. “Now is the time to end that practice and let the people choose their representatives, not party bosses. I respect Councilwoman King Sweeney’s decision and wish her the best of luck.”

King Sweeney gave no indication of whether she intended to pursue a political career in North Carolina. Republicans dominate the state, although registered Democrats outnumber them — a situation that has given rise to a number of court cases. One such case came before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has consistently declined to rule on what it has termed “partisan gerrymanders.”

Like all states, North Carolina will begin reapportionment after the U.S. 2020 Census.

Nassau County sustained its own two-year legal battle over gerrymandering from 2011 to 2013, before settling on the current district lines that were expected to keep Republicans in control, according to Newsday.

Timothy Denton and Erik Hawkins contributed to this story.