Incumbent Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican, faces a challenge this year by Democrat Laura Gillen, who is an attorney.
In a year marked by significant rifts within the Republican-dominated Town Board on a variety of issues, the next supervisor will face a divided council and increasing calls from the public for strong ethics reforms, despite a number of new rules passed by a slim majority over the summer.
The Herald asked four key questions of each candidate on the issues of partisanship, ethics, the environment and the opioid crisis.
Do you think that the broad ethics reform package passed by the Board goes far enough? Why or why not?
Santino: Putting taxpayers first, the Town Board passed ethics reform in a bipartisan vote targeting public corruption and conflicts of interest. It mandates online publishing of public works contracts, bars personnel from working for entities doing business with Hempstead, requires online financial disclosures, prohibits convicted felons from seeking office and caps elected officials’ non-government income at $125,000 annually. This is separate and apart from town salary, health insurance and full-time pension credits.
Councilpersons netting more than $125,000 annually may opt to fully disclose all clients to ensure their outside income does not conflict with their oath to honestly serve taxpayers. Those bound by professional ethics codes, such as a medical practitioner, may seek a waiver of this provision from the Board of Ethics.
Strong anti-nepotism restrictions bar elected officials from voting on personnel matters involving relatives and prohibit employees from serving in a capacity wherein they would directly report to a relative.
Gillen: There has been no real ethics reform in Hempstead. All commonsense transparency initiatives I called for and then similarly proposed by other Republican board members were rejected by [Town Supervisor Anthony] Santino and his rubberstamp majority. These include proposals for an inspector general, the broad disclosure of contracts and bids, vendor disclosure of political campaign contributions, public complaint mechanisms for violations and anti-nepotism and cronyism measures.
Santino’s rejection of each of these leaves one wondering what he is hiding. The main proposal of Santino’s “ethics” package was one placing an outside income cap of $125,000 for part-time board members. When pressed to articulate an ethical reason for the cap, Santino could not do so. Nor could he explain why the figure of $125,000 was determined to be operative and why someone who made $126,000 was necessarily less ethical than someone who made $124,000. This regulation is clearly aimed at preventing the two Republican board members who make in excess of $125,000 in outside salary, Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman, from running for re-election. Both King Sweeney and Blakeman often disagree with Santino.
Santino’s so-called ethics package proposed no serious changes and still allows nepotism and cronyism to flourish in the Town of Hempstead.
The Town of Hempstead has jurisdiction over essentially all the South Shore’s wetlands. What should be done to further protect them?
Santino: The Sierra Club endorsed my campaign because I’ve made a healthy environment and conservation of our natural resources a cornerstone of my Hempstead Town agenda. Our wetlands are the first line of defense between the surging Atlantic Ocean.
Nassau County must build the Bay Park Ocean Outflow Pipe to the Atlantic. Reduction of effluent in our waterways will decrease nitrogen levels, reduce algae bloom and increase water quality.
Hempstead was the first to approve the Long Beach Island Storm Damage Reduction Project. U.S. Army Corps and town personnel continue work on shoreline mitigation projects to reduce the impact of erosion in our wetlands.
Town workers rebuilt bulkheads in Merrick, Bellmore, Barnum Island and other coastal locations. We are rebuilding roadways and drainage systems, as well as upgrading areas, with a robust $20 million commitment in 2017. And I will increase our commitment to infrastructure projects in 2018 and beyond.
Gillen: Long Island has a significant amount of wetland acreage, a fair amount of which is located in the Town of Hempstead. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report indicates that we have lost a staggering amount of wetlands over the years. Protecting our wetlands is vital because they reduce the impact from flooding and storm damage, provide a habitat for wildlife, help maintain good water quality in rivers, recharge groundwater and help control pests. As a region highly susceptible to flooding, preservation of this natural resource is essential.
The approach is threefold: protect, restore and educate. To protect our wetlands, we need to ensure current regulations are being enforced, provide a complaint mechanism for violations and ensure that current laws are sufficient. To restore, we need to monitor water quality and clean up pollution and address erosion. Of course, Nassau County taxpayers’ budgets are stretched. We should look to other sources to help generate essential funding to maintain our wetlands. We should encourage non-profit partnership with groups like the North Shore Land Alliance to prevent development and destruction of these vital areas.
Would it benefit the Town to have a bipartisan Board?
Santino: Hempstead Town is America’s largest township and also one of its most diverse. Our bipartisan Town Board has elected council members registered with both the Republican and Democrat parties.
I am very proud of the strong working relationship I have forged with Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat from Hempstead. Together we are working to build a bright future for Hempstead Town’s ever more diverse citizenry.
Regardless of political party registration, many of my colleagues and I work day after day for good government that puts taxpayers first by cutting spending, controlling costs and relentlessly saving tax dollars with innovation.
Gillen: Absolutely. The Town of Hempstead has been controlled by one party for over 100 years. This is a recipe for corruption perpetrated by individuals who believe themselves insulated from any electoral backlash. There is no doubt that the Town of Hempstead is filled with patronage and waste. Any governmental body is improved when competing ideas are offered and when elected officials must examine and address these differing views in order to best serve the many residents served. If elected, my administration will restore the “public” back to the concept of public servant, and I will always place residents first. I have reached out to certain Republican Town Board members not currently up for re-election who will be part of the Town Board in 2018 and discussed how we can work together constructively to deliver the best results for the town. I have no doubt a new bipartisan administration will operate more effectively than the current one.
What can be done at the town level to further combat the opioid crisis?
What can be done at the town level to further combat the opioid crisis?
Santino: Opioid abuse continues to devastate families across our town and nation. Although municipal government does not have a health department or police force like Nassau County and New York state, my administration has taken action to help beat the scourge of heroin. We’ve trained the town’s public safety officers, lifeguards, parks personnel, bay constables, vital Town Hall personnel and other emergency responders to administer Narcan when the a situation arises in order to save a life and give a second chance to someone in need. Town personnel have already saved lives with this program.
Gillen: As the next Hempstead Town supervisor, I will create an opioid task force that will organize reports, drug take-back days, education programs and support groups. In addition, I will ensure that all public safety personnel are trained and equipped with Narcan to address any crisis situation. I will establish an open line of communication with Nassau County police to make sure there is no delay in response to any opioid-related situation, as well as communication with service organizations that provide help to addicts. Unfortunately, this epidemic is one that impacts every community within the Town of Hempstead and is a threat to all our children and families.