The Town of Hempstead has roughly 770,000 residents, nearly 20 percent of whom identify themselves as Hispanic. Yet until Sylvia Cabana took office as town clerk last year, town documents were available only in English.
Translating them into Spanish may have been an obvious move for Cabana, a Democrat and the Spanish-speaking daughter of immigrants. But it should have been obvious to anyone. New York City and Albany have offered public documents in other languages for decades, and it is scandalous that it took the town clerk’s office so long to take this first step to helping Spanish speakers negotiate the complexities of government.
The failure to recognize that we are not all the same, and do not all have the same needs, is a failure of government at its most basic level, and raises the question: How many other ways has the town lagged in serving its residents’ fundamental needs?
For years, town officials have seemed to disappear behind the quaint notion of “America’s largest township,” with its villages and hamlets. In fact, the town is a sprawling municipality with all the complexities of any large city, and the clerk’s office is one of the largest and most complex agencies in local government, touching our lives from birth to death. Under Cabana’s leadership, it has finally begun to take not just language, but technology, seriously, completing upgrades that should have taken place years ago, including the installation of credit card readers and the online processing of many forms and applications online. And Cabana has gotten this done while working within budgetary limits.
Her Republican opponent, Kate Murray, has an impressive record of public service going back decades, from her stint in the State Assembly to a variety of town and county offices, including two terms each as clerk and supervisor. We hope she will continue to seek opportunities to serve, but Cabana, who has done an excellent job, is the better fit.