Two months after Laura Gillen was elected Town of Hempstead supervisor, defeating Republican Anthony Santino in a historic victory, she was sworn in to office on Monday. Expecting nearly 1,000 attendees, and not wishing to use extra town resources, Gillen decided to be sworn in separate ceremony from Council members Dorothy Goosby, Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne, according to Gillen’s spokesman, Mike Fricchione.
Gillen’s campaign and transition teams paid for the ceremony.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who was also sworn in that day after beating Jack Martins in the November election to fill Ed Mangano’s seat, were among those who attended the ceremony at Hofstra University’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse.
Gillen, a former attorney from Rockville Centre, who grew up in Baldwin, became the first Democrat to take control of the town in more than a century. The last Democrat to win the town supervisor’s post was Robert Seabury, who was elected by a five-vote margin in 1905. Gillen defeated Santino by roughly 2,000 votes, ending his more than two decades on the Town Board.
Santino was first elected to a four-year term as a Town of Hempstead councilman in November 1993 and re-elected four times. In 2000, he won a special election for the 4th District seat when the town switched from an at-large system of representation to the current district system. Santino was the senior member of the Hempstead Town Board and had been the longest-serving Hempstead Town councilman of the modern era. He was elected as supervisor in 2015.
Santino had faced withering criticism for several months leading up to the election by two council members of his own party, Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney, who alleged transparency issues and corruption.
“We’re going to break down the walls of silence and secrecy separating town hall from the taxpayers,” Gillen said, “and begin ushering in a new era of openness and transparency in the Town of Hempstead on day one — Jan. 1, 2018.”
Gillen, 47, moved to Rockville Centre in 2003. Before that, she graduated from Georgetown University and later from New York University’s School of Law. She served as an attorney and, most recently, worked as counsel to Uniondale law firm Westerman Ball Ederer Miller Zucker & Sharfstein, LLP, where she practiced commercial litigation until resigning after winning the election.
She became interested in politics after the Lighthouse Project proposal, developed by then-Islanders owner Charles Wang, fell apart. The project was meant to transform Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and its environs into a residential and commercial hub. Watching the deal collapse in 2009, and County Executive Ed Mangano “try to hoist that burden onto the taxpayers,” caught Gillen’s attention, she said. Residents ultimately rejected a proposal for a new taxpayer-funded arena to replace the Coliseum in 2011.
Seeking a way into public service, she ran for Nassau County clerk against Maureen O’Connell in 2013. Though she lost the race, Gillen said, she enjoyed the election process, ultimately running for supervisor in a race that she said was “worth fighting.”
Gillen has stayed active since Election Day, forming a transition team headed by chairman John Westerman, attorney for Westerman Ball Ederer Miller Zucker & Sharfstein, LLP; Counsel Keith Corbett, a lawyer at Harris Beach PLLC and a Malverne Village trustee; and Executive Director Brian Muellers, a former Nassau County legislator.
She did not stay quiet in Santino’s final weeks. Last month she blasted his effort to pass a contract amendment that would prohibit future termination of civil service employees, except for cause, saying that it would limit her administration’s ability to balance the town budget during fiscal emergencies.”
The resolution passed, with Blakeman and King Sweeney voting against it, as well as Democratic Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who has generally voted with the Republican bloc. Goosby did not explain her vote.
“I think every taxpayer in the Town of Hempstead is against that ridiculous amendment,” Gillen told the Herald last week. “We’re going to explore all avenues to rid the town of what I think is an immoral and potentially unenforceable amendment.”
Gillen said she has been visiting various town departments with her transition team, and will continue to do that during her first few days in office “to see how things are running, what’s working, what’s not working, where we could save money, where we can improve services, and trying to work cooperatively with the people who are in place and see if there’s anybody we need to replace.”
“It’s no longer going to be a town that’s dominated by party politics,” she said. “It’s about people.”