With the elections of 2017 behind us, much has been written about the Town of Hempstead’s town supervisor position being held by a registered Democrat for the first time in over a hundred years. However, few have mentioned the “Oceanside factor” the first time it happened. The first registered Democrat to become town supervisor was from Oceanside, and it occurred 115 years ago. His name was Girdell V. Brower.
Born to Joseph and Mary Elizabeth Bedell Brower on Sept. 15, 1867, in the house his grandfather built, and lived in on the northeast corner of Long Beach Road and Foxhurst Avenue (currently the location of Towers Funeral Home). Brower grew up on the family farm on the street that bears his family name. He was educated in the one-room schoolhouse located on the northwest corner of School Street and Christian Hook Road (present-day Foxhurst and Oceanside Roads). His father was active in the Democratic Party, and a former highway commissioner. Brower became interested in politics at an early age. In addition to becoming the Democratic leader in Oceanside and the chairman of the Hempstead Democratic Town Committee, Brower established a successful business supplying oysters to major hotels in Manhattan and Washington D.C. He married Jane E. Raynor of Freeport on September 14, 1892.
Brower was a politically active native Nassovian, present at county’s formation at the turn of the 20th Century. While an active Democrat, he was part of a group concerned that Republican and Democratic officials were not being open in their dealings. Then in 1901 the town’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution abolishing its spring elections, consolidating them into the November general elections. While this was done in counties throughout the state, some in Nassau saw it as a trick by the supervisors to add nine months onto their current terms.
At the time, there was no opposition. But in early 1903, a “citizens” movement led by Brower and Robert Seabury discretely formed and submitted full slates of candidates to the town clerk on the last day of filing for nominations under the pre-resolution timeframes. Brower received the nomination for town supervisor. The Citizens Party also challenged the constitutionality of the 1901 resolution, and the courts quickly ruled that combining the spring and fall elections was unconstitutional, and determined that the supervisors were improperly extending their own term lengths. The courts compelled the town clerk to distribute ballots that included only the names filed by the Citizens Party.
The Republicans were in a bind. They had been out maneuvered and had no candidates on the ballot. Anyone who wanted to vote for the incumbent, Smith Cox, had to write-in his name. While the Democrats were expected to endorse the Citizens ticket, they conversely refused to pledge themselves to the Democrats.
The elections took place on April 7, 1903. Brower easily won and was immediately sworn in as Town of Hempstead supervisor. And just like that, Republican control of the town supervisor position ended.
As supervisor, Brower is credited with establishing a strict budget system for the operation of county financial affairs. This was in contrast to the practice in place for the past four years in which the supervisors’ books had been closed to the public. However, the Citizens Party’s request for an indictment connected to a partially completed courthouse projected to cost $500,000 more than its original $100,000 price tag ultimately floundered.
In 1905, Brower was appointed as superintendent of the New York City Water Department station in Rockville Centre, a position which required him to move to the superintendent’s house next to the reservoir office opposite the west end of DeMott Avenue. And in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Brower as the postmaster of Rockville Centre. He held this position until 1921.
While Brower made his official residence at 97 South Park Ave. Rockville Centre, he always maintained his fishing shack on Bedell Creek in Oceanside. Throughout his retirement, Brower’s greatest pleasure was life on the bay. He visited the shack whenever weather permitted, and in many ways, it was only fitting that Brower’s fishing shack was the spot where he passed away on July 11, 1946.
While a blip on the radar with respect the town town supervisor position, Brower ended Republican control. After declining to run in 1905, his picked successor, Democrat Judge Robert Seabury, who won the seat by 5 votes. But in 1907, Cox was back as town supervisor and a new Republican streak started. Despite his prominence and influence at the time, Brower became just another forgotten piece of Oceanside history.