Kestenbaum aims to lead Democratic vanguard

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Rita Kestenbaum recently resurrected her political career.

The Democrat and 32-year-Bellemore resident sat on Hempstead’s Town Board for two years in the early 2000s, then took a hiatus from politics until her bid for a vacant county Legislature seat last year.

Now, she is among a group of Democrats vying for a regime change in Hempstead, running against an entrenched town councilman for a supervisor seat that Republicans have held for 110 years.

“I’m willing to represent everybody, not just the politically connected,” Kestenbaum said in a sit-down interview with Blank Slate Media.

Like other Democrats, Kestenbaum said there is a system of cronyism in Hempstead’s town government that benefits Republicans.

Many town jobs, she said, are only really open to candidates with GOP connections, shutting out other town residents who may have equal or greater qualifications.

Kestenbaum said she wants to end these practices, which she says voters have come to expect from politicians.

She also said she wants to reduce “waste” in the town’s budget by removing costly “no-show jobs” from various departments.

She couldn’t name specific positions or departments, she said, because the town’s records are not open or accessible enough to outsiders.

“I really want to reduce the fat in the town. How do you do that? You have to be in,” Kestenbaum said. “Give me the opportunity to go in, and I’ll come up with great answers on how it’s going to be actually done.”

Kestenbaum would do away with unnecessary town mailers by increasing communications by email and other means — a policy she called “going green to save your green.”

Cutting these costs, she said, would allow the town to meaningfully lower the cost of living in the town.

While Republicans say they have maintained low tax rates, Kestenbaum said they have raised fees, which increases the burden on taxpayers just the same.

Kestenbaum also criticized Republicans’ use of money from the town’s reserve fund to balance the budget in the last two years.

Town Supervisor and Republican district attorney candidate Kate Murray has said that money was only used because a court decision ordered the town to cover in-state tuition costs for public colleges, an expense it did not anticipate.

Kestenbaum is running against Republican Anthony Santino, the leader of the Town Board who has represented its Fourth District since 1994, to succeed Murray in the supervisor job, which pays $160,000 per year.

While Hempstead has more registered Democrats than Republicans, Kestenbaum has a financial disadvantage in the race — as of Oct. 23, Santino had $81,578.28, compared to her $20,068.53.

Kestenbaum said she is still optimistic, though. She said voters are waking up to problems in the town, and she thinks she is winning over the voters she meets.

“You gotta get people angry, because the angry voter is going to turn out in November,” she said.

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