An NAACP-sponsored forum at Kennedy Park on March 6 gave the four candidates running for village trustee an opportunity to address questions and air their views on the needs of Hempstead Village.
Election day is Tuesday, March 21. Two trustee seats are open, each for a four-year term of office.
The incumbent candidates are Deputy Mayor Jeffery J. Daniels and Trustee Noah Burroughs, who are running on the “Hempstead Now!” party line, Row A.
Two Hempstead school board members are running on the “Unity Party” line, Row B: Lamont E. Johnson and Dr. Joylette Williams.
All four candidates live in the village.
Barbara Powell, president of the Hempstead chapter of the NAACP, introduced the forum and its moderator, Cherice P. Vanderhall, a practicing lawyer and former village counsel.
Vanderhall asked the candidates previously prepared questions as well as questions submitted to her on cards by attendees. She also respectfully but firmly maintained order.
The issues the candidates addressed included business and residential development, policing, inclusiveness for the village’s diverse majority-minority population, poverty, and homelessness.
One of Vanderhall’s first questions was, “Developing Main Street and Fulton Street business and residential projects is the best way to reduce poverty and improve the economy of Hempstead. Yes or No?”
The answers were surprisingly varied.
“Yes, developing any city or village downtown area is important because that’s the main source of attraction,” Burroughs said. “We have a mixed-use project that we are working on. We’re also extending many of our resources in any other area for people that want to bring a business in the village that will participate and help out the village financially in a positive way.”
Daniels responded, “I’d say no, not fully. I think development is one tool but you don’t build your way out of a problem. People don’t get rich because all of a sudden you have a new apartment building in your downtown. People get economic mobility through education, through training, through financial literacy.”
But, answering a later question, Daniels also said, “Building permits have been pulled on three properties downtown. Construction will start in the second quarter of this year. … There will be sewer work being done. Each one of the construction sites will have about 50 or 60 workers and they’re all in the downtown area so the Community Benefits Agreement will be in effect. … One of the buildings comes with 40,000 square feet of new retail and a letter of intent signed with an ethnic grocery store.”
Johnson questioned the focus of recent development, which has resulted in new apartment units and storage businesses rather than destination-type enterprises.
“Every vibrant city or village has some type of entertainment,” Johnson said. “We have no bowling alley. We have no family entertainment. We have nothing to go to. We have absolutely nothing on Main Street.”
Williams brought up the importance of keeping the village clean amid new development.
“Beautification and the quality of cleanliness go along with feeling like you’re not only in a safe community but in a well maintained one,” she said.
Throughout the evening, the candidates sparred about each other’s qualifications and commitment.
Daniels repeatedly questioned Williams’ performance on the school board and implied that her single year on the village board ended because she did not build relationships well. Williams refuted him by listing her ongoing membership with the Hempstead Chamber of Commerce, the AARP local branch, the National Coalition of Long Island Women (local chapter), the Hempstead Community Land Trust, and the Lion’s Club.
Johnson obliquely referred to Daniels having been employed years ago by Don Monti, the master developer whose promised revitalization of Hempstead’s downtown area has stagnated for more than a decade.
Daniels explained that his background in finance and real estate had qualified him to be hired as a liaison between the village and the master developer. As liaison, he was the first to oppose Monti’s attempt to build apartment units at Washington and Front Streets instead of new mixed-use structures in the downtown area.
All four candidates expressed support toward the Hempstead Police Department, for which the village board has obtained body cams, radar training, and license plate readers.
The candidates also promised to hold county anti-poverty and anti-homelessness agencies accountable to fulfill their commitments.