Cecilia DowdNov 8, 2017, 6:19 pmNov 10, 2017, 12:46 pm

Hempstead supervisor-elect hopes to bring 'era of civility' to town board

Democrat, Laura Gillen, wins seat that has been under GOP control for over 100 years


HEMPSTEAD — A Long Island lawyer is celebrating her victory in the Hempstead town supervisor race after topping a long-time Republican incumbent and reversing over 100 years of Republican control.

People who voted for Gillen over her Republican opponent, Anthony Santino, said they were ready for a change.

"I'm glad; we needed change,” Hempstead resident Burbeth Smikle said. “Everybody seems to be motivated going forward and Hempstead is kind of slacking on things. I hope they can do something, you know."

After the bombshell results on Election Day, Gillen says she’s ready to tackle corruption.

"We are done with one-party rule, we are done with a government that only serves its buddies, we are done with the lack of transparency and the disrespect," she said.

Gillen says her friends and family believed in her ability to succeed when no one else did, but in the end, she says her victory was bolstered by a grassroots campaign.

"We went up against all the odds. My opponent spent millions of dollar trying to defeat me; we spent about $150,000. It was a grassroots campaign so girls anywhere should believe they can do anything if they try hard enough," she said.

Gillen says she’s ready to get to work to give the town a fresh start.

“I'm just really honored to have been given this new role and I’m going to work hard every day and earn the confidence of the voters of the Town of Hempstead,” Gillen said.

Though she will be working with a Republican-majority town board that only has one Democrat, she's confident she'll work well with the other lawmakers.

The first-time politician enters town hall on the heels of some tense months in Hempstead government, including a raucous October meeting which Gillen likened to “The Jerry Springer show.”

“I would say on the campaign trail, if you watched it online, it was like ‘The Jerry Springer show.’ It was crazy. Everyone yelling at each other. I think it's going to be a new era of civility in town hall,” she said.

A rift among Republicans — namely Supervisor Anthony Santino and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Councilman Bruce Blakeman — led Councilman Blakemen and King Sweeney to vote for Gillen.

“Laura Gillen is a very smart, confident accomplished person,” King Sweeney said. “She's a Democrat, I'm a lifelong-Republican. I will always be a Republican. My mission now, governmentally, is to serve my residents but it is also to restore the Republican Party to the greatness it once was.

As for whether party loyalty comes first or bipartisanship, King Sweeney says “residents come first” with a population split between Republicans and Democrats along with plenty of independents.

“Which means that we have to work with all the people,” she said. “I have to work with Laura Gillen, I have to work with Councilwoman Goosby to get things done. But that doesn't mean that we can't also have strong parties. We should have a strong Republican Party, a strong Democratic Party; that's what democracy is all about.”

Gillen says she’s hopeful that the board will work together to become a more productive body of government.

That sentiment will be put to the test during the first town meeting which is set for Tuesday morning.

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