In the past, state Assemblywoman-elect Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven) would be the person who photographed elected officials as they made public appearances or attended local events.
Last Saturday, at the Lakeville Estates Civic Association’s holiday car parade, it still felt right for her to do it.
Sporting a fascinator with a wrapped present on her head, Sillitti snapped pictures of the area’s representatives, who donned suits and dresses.
“I ended up taking pictures for some of the elected officials not even thinking about it,” Sillitti said in a recent phone interview. “It’s like, hey, I can take that photo. And at one point somebody was like, ‘Gina, would you like to come in the photo?’ I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s right!'”
Come January, Sillitti will begin her first term as the state Assembly’s representative for the 16th District, which encompasses Great Neck, Port Washington, Manhasset, Roslyn Heights, North Hills, Flower Hill, Lake Success, Baxter Estates, Manorhaven, and Sands Point.
It’s the latest event on a road that began last February, when Sillitti, a 20-year veteran of government service who had held jobs in the Nassau County Legislature, the Town of North Hempstead and at the Nassau County Board of Elections, was announced as the Democratic candidate for the seat, following two-term Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso’s (D-Port Washington) January announcement that he would be retiring.
The COVID-19 pandemic did throw a wrench into the campaign’s initial plans, Sillitti said.
“I had this whole grand plan of meeting everyone, knocking on all the doors and everybody knowing my face,” Sillitti said. “It was an interesting campaign season.”
Nevertheless, she continued on, hosting Zoom get-togethers and informational sessions for voters. Late in November, Sillitti was announced as the victor of her race, with over 35,000 votes against Republican candidate Ragini Srivastava’s 30,263.
D’Urso himself was “very supportive” of her campaign, Sillitti says.
“I’ve known Tony and his wife Maria for many years,” Sillitti said. “And we have a very good relationship, and I speak with him often. I know his staff very well, I speak with them often. And the transition has been fairly smooth. We were so lucky to have him.”
Last week, Sillitti attended freshman orientation for new representatives, which involved visiting her Albany office, taking her official representative photo, and entering the assembly chamber for the first time, among other things.
“It felt like a crash course in government,” Sillitti said with a laugh. “Like trying to get as much information as you can into your brain, before the big test. It was exciting, and it was challenging. I met some of my new colleagues, they were, they were all as enthusiastic as I was, which was really great.”
Most of Sillitti’s work for the foreseeable future will be “100 percent virtual,” she says, but she intends to start on the ground.
“My understanding is, as of right now it’s going to be virtual,” Sillitti said. “But that being said, I want to be in Albany, at least in the beginning, if we continue to be virtual. The reason is, I really want to see how everything operates. I want the staff up there to get to know me, and I want to get to know them, and just really kind of see how the wheels turn upstate.”
“I’ll be Zooming in my office is my understanding,” she added.
From all outward appearances, Silletti’s freshman term will be dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and she says that the rising case numbers in New York are “scary.”
“We’re talking again about flattening the curve, we’re hearing that term again, which is scary,” Sillitti said. “The numbers are climbing every day.”
It is crucial, she says, that funding for critical services like schools, hospitals, fire departments, and police departments remains intact during the pandemic.
“We’re still waiting to see what the federal government is going to be doing at the state and local levels,” “Sales tax, in general, is at an all-time low, gas taxes are down, you don’t even think about how much the local government gets in gas tax, since we’re not going anywhere right now with a lot of things done virtually.”
But, she adds, New Yorkers now know what’s required of them to flatten the curve.
“Before, we were kind of caught off guard, caught out of nowhere,” Sillitti said. “Now we know the enemy. We just really have to make good choices, and, unfortunately, those good choices mean postponing those family gatherings that we wanted so desperately for the holidays. It’s this price that we have to pay to keep the economy going. Nobody wants to see a shutdown again, obviously, it would be devastating. And then just, the basics of life and death. Staying home and being socially distant is the most patriotic thing we can do right now to help America, to save our economy and save our neighbors.”
Closer to home, Sillitti says the 16th district’s Port Washington office will remain intact, as will the phone numbers.
“I really want to be very, very accessible to people,” Sillitti said. “I don’t want people to feel weird about calling. Some people are like, ‘No, I’ll figure it out for myself, or I’ll go online.’ Don’t. That’s what we’re here for. And even if it’s not a state issue, I’d be happy to, forward your inquiry over to the appropriate people. So I really want to be a place where people can feel comfortable calling, where they know who I am, and where they don’t be afraid to call. These are tough times. And this is the job of government, to help people during these tough times. And I want to be able to help.”