When Laura Gillen declared victory over incumbent Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino late Tuesday night, it wasn’t only Democrats celebrating the Rockville Centre attorney’s historic win.
Santino, who conceded the race on Wednesday morning, has been under fire from council members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman — fellow Republicans — for months over his management style and an alleged lack of transparency and basic ethics at the town government level.
Blakeman went so far as to buck his party and endorse Gillen last month, while King Sweeney said on Wednesday that she looked forward to working with Gillen to do right by Hempstead taxpayers.
“The voters spoke, and they spoke loud and clear, that the era of bullying, intimidation and ego-driven politics is over,” King Sweeney said in an interview, adding that she did not even consider Santino a true Republican.
“Tony Santino is a disgrace to the Republican party,” she said. “He’s not a Republican. I am, and I want to rebuild the party.”
Gillen will be the first Democratic supervisor in Hempstead history, and King Sweeney said that she plans to work with the new supervisor to revive many of her legislative reform efforts that have been effectively shut down in the past by Santino.
“Basically, I’m going to renew all of my efforts to bring transparency and honesty back to local government,” she said. “I will start with, among other things, moving forward with the inspector general proposal, mass mailing restrictions and greater scrutiny of town procedures and practices.”
King Sweeney has long pushed for an inspector general post to independently look over all contracts the town signs with outside companies and catch incidences of political favoritism. She also introduced legislation last month to block taxpayer funded mailings by town officials up for re-election for 45 days before the vote, alleging that Santino and others were essentially using the mailers as campaign propaganda.
Political analyst Larry Levy, who serves as the Executive Dean at Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies, said Wednesday that a bipartisan governing majority in Hempstead is likely, with Gillen’s win.
“There’s a potential working majority, with Gillen, Blakeman, King Sweeney and [Democratic Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby],” he said. “It doesn’t mean the other Republicans won’t come along, but clearly if they don’t, here are four people whose interests are aligned in the ‘friend of my enemy’ sense. They have a chance to show how governing can work in the nation’s largest township.”
Goosby, who has voted consistently with Santino despite being a Democrat, offered her congratulations to Gillen and Sylvia Cabana, the Democratic town clerk-elect, who unseated Republican Nasrin Ahmad.
“Congratulations to my new colleagues on the town board,” Goosby said. “I look forward to continuing a great working relationship, camaraderie and collaboration with all the town board members.”
Levy added Wednesday morning that, no matter the Hempstead board dynamics going forward, it would be hard to overstate the historic nature of Gillen’s win in the Republican stronghold.
“The word ‘history’ is often overused in sports and politics — but this was truly historic,” Levy said. “When a town has had one party control its government for 100 years and then, all of a sudden, unpredictably — even if you could see the tinder was out there in the grassroots — that’s history.”
Wednesday morning, Santino conceded the race publicly and vowed to work with Gillen toward a smooth transition.
"I congratulate Ms. Gillen on her victory and wish her the best of success as she assumes the position of Hempstead Town Supervisor," Santino said. "I look forward to working cooperatively with her to ensure a smooth transition for our township’s residents."