Should government representatives be elected by the voters they serve, or selected by government officials?
If past is prologue, the Hempstead Town Board will soon vote to appoint someone to fill the empty 4th Council District seat.
People who live in the Town of Hempstead’s 4th Council District have been without representation on the town board since former Councilman Anthony D’Esposito was sworn into Congress Jan. 7. D’Esposito was first appointed to the town council in February 2016.
As the vacancy approaches two months, some people are anticipating the Hempstead town board will continue its ages-old tradition of appointing someone to fill the seat. These vacancies are often created when a councilmember runs successfully for another position. Recent appointments by the board to the town council include Councilmembers Thomas Muscarella, Melissa Miller, and Dennis Dunne.
While proponents of appointments argue that special elections are costly and not a legal requirement, those in favor of holding special elections say appointments usurp the public’s democratic rights.
Barbara Epstein, part of the management team of the League of Women Voters of East Nassau, said the league doesn’t support or oppose individual candidates — but does favor special elections over appointments.
“There should be a special election from a good-government perspective,” Epstein said of the 4th Council District seat. “People should have the opportunity to make the decision as to who their representatives are. The town board is taking that out of the hands of the people.”
Redistricting because of the 2020 U.S. Census has made the vacancy a bit more tricky. A town spokesman said the vacancy would be addressed by the town board after the redistricting is settled.
“The town board is diligently considering candidates who can represent the town’s 4th Councilmanic District,” said Hempstead spokesman Greg Blower in a statement.
Former Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, who in 2018 attempted — but failed — to change town law to require special elections for vacancies, said appointments take power away from voters.
“That’s not democracy,” Gillen said. “This is used by the GOP in Hempstead to give their candidates the power of incumbency.”
Gillen said the cost of a special election is about $100,000, a small sum, she said, to maintain the public’s trust in government and voting. By having the town board — comprised of people who live outside the 4th Council District — appoint a councilperson, voters in the 4th District lose their vote, Gillen said.
“It’s undemocratic for people outside the district to pick the people who would represent the district,” Gillen said.
Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who was first elected in 1999 and is the first African American women to serve on the board, has often publicly spoke out against appointments. Goosby, the lone Democrat on the town board, filed a class-action suit against the town in 1988 that led to Hempstead shedding at-large voting for councilmanic districts.