Surrounded by dozens of supporters, Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin announced his candidacy for Hempstead Town supervisor on Feb. 19. “We need a supervisor that will put the priority on keeping residents in their home,” said Clavin, a Republican, outside Ancona’s Pizzeria in his hometown of Valley Stream. “We need taxpayers first.”
Clavin, receiver of taxes since 2001, criticized incumbent Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, for her stance on fiscal matters. He said he was disappointed that Gillen, in her first term, voted against the town’s 2019 budget that was approved by all six council members.
Last October, Gillen proposed a budget plan that would have slightly cut taxes for most residents, but the town board rejected it and introduced its own plan to cut taxes by $11 million. Clavin publicly supported the Republicans’ plan in the run-up to the vote and on Tuesday said Gillen’s no-vote went against residents’ interests. “That is not putting taxpayers first,” he said.
But Gillen told the Herald that the savings in the board’s budget was based on a system that predicts how many employees will retire, which she said in the past has proved unreliable. In 2017, she noted, the town went over budget by $13 million — $8.5 million was due to miscalculating the number of retiring employees. “I’m the [chief financial officer] of the town,” Gillen said. “I don’t believe in sham accounting practices. . . . It was really my budget with their sham thrown in.”
Clavin also said he would cut $1 million from the supervisor’s staff payroll on his first day in office. Samantha Smith, a Gillen campaign spokeswoman, countered that, in 2017, Clavin brought a number of “patronage” employees into the tax receiver’s office, with salaries totaling more than $500,000. “The shell game played with taxpayer money by people like the receiver needs to stop,” Smith said in an email. “The receiver of taxes is part of the problem, not the solution.”
Town Council members Bruce Blakeman and Erin King-Sweeney, both Republicans, appeared at the news conference to support Clavin’s candidacy. “This is the face of Nassau County,” King-Sweeney said, “We’re going to lead you to victory.”
Blakeman, who in 2017 endorsed Gillen over former Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican, said Clavin would make the town a better place to live in. “This is a great place,” he said. “This is a great town, but we can’t rest on our past laurels. Our responsibility is dictated by what we do not only for our residents now, but their children and their grandchildren.”
At the news conference, the Nassau County Republican Party announced other candidates that it would run for Hempstead Town seats. King-Sweeney and Blakeman are slated to run for re-election, as is Councilman Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne Sr. Jeanine Driscoll, who could not attend the news conference, will run for receiver of taxes.
Kate Murray, former town supervisor, was announced as the party’s choice to run against Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, a Democrat. Murray was clerk for two years before being appointed supervisor in 2003, a position she held until 2015 when she launched an unsuccessful bid for Nassau County district attorney. Democrat Madeline Singas holds the seat now.
“I know what it is to be town clerk and I know what it is to be town supervisor,” Murray said, “and Don Clavin has what it takes to be a great, great supervisor.”
Gillen talks feats, priorities
Gillen, who became the first Democratic supervisor in the Town of Hempstead in over a century when elected in November 2017, said it was an easy decision to seek another term. She noted that she is the only one on the Town Board who has never voted to raise taxes.
“When all these taxes were being raised year after year by Kate Murray, his running mate, he never said a word,” she said of Clavin. “He said nothing. He likes collecting taxes and spending them. He’s spent more money on mail this year than anyone else.”
Gillen said she is proud of how she and her administration have been “shaking up the status quo and looking at things that hadn’t been looked at in decades.” Her accomplishments, she told the Herald, include refinancing the town’s debt, which has saved taxpayers nearly $4 million; digitizing records and bolstering technology in Town Hall; creating a more competitive and transparent bidding process for vendors vying to do business with the town, which lowers costs; and putting more funds toward improving roads and infrastructure. In 2018, she said, the town spent about $17 million on road and infrastructure repairs, fixing about 70,000 potholes.
Gillen looks to continue the town’s “culture change” up to Election Day, which is Nov. 5, and through 2021 if re-elected, noting her current ethics reform proposal and her push to establish special elections to fill vacant positions in the town.
Her ethics plan pushes to “end the culture of cronyism and nepotism in Town Hall” and create a more open hiring process. She added that she would not take financial contributions from employees, who should not feel pressure to donate money to elected leaders or supervisors to secure their jobs or get promoted.
Gillen has also tried to hold a public hearing on special elections to replace the longtime practice of filling vacant seats by appointment, but has been blocked by the Republican-controlled board. She noted that all the council members, aside from herself and Democratic Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, were initially appointed to their positions, rather than elected by their constituents.
“My main priority right now is to keep on fixing this town and making it better and keep delivering good results to the taxpayers,” Gillen said. “I think as long as I continue to do the good work I’ve been doing, that the election will take care of itself.”