On the bright side, the transition of Republican Jennifer DeSena as North Hempstead supervisor has not been as bad as when Laura Gillen became the first Democrat elected Hempstead town supervisor in more than 100 years in 2017.
Gillen’s predecessor, Anthony Santino, and his town council supporters used his last 14 days in office to hand out $4 million in raises to 197 employees, move his top patronage hires to permanent positions in the new administration and grant the town’s unions a no-layoff clause.
In a letter to the editor last week calling for North Hempstead Democrats to give DeSena a chance in starting her new role, Gillen revealed other slights. This included the replacement of the furniture with badly worn pieces and what she termed an “upper decker” in the bathroom.
Gillen responded to the last-minute raises and staffing changes by suing the Town Board – and its members individually.
It’s kind of hard to top that as beginnings go.
But the four Democrats who now control the seven-member North Hempstead Town Board have not exactly rolled out the welcome wagon in greeting DeSena or the two new Republican board members, Dennis Walsh and David Adhami.
The Town Board’s Democrats moved seven political appointees who had served under Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Town Clerk Wayne Wink into positions working for the board and two into union jobs with no notice to the Republicans. Total cost: $800,000.
The Democrats also rearranged the traditional “all-work-together” Town Board office that had been in place for 50 years.
In came the former Bosworth staffers, out went the two Republican board members, who were given small offices near the supervisor’s offices.
Jack Martins, the former mayor of Mineola and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for county executive, implored the Democrats during a contentious board meeting last Thursday to maintain the collegial atmosphere that had existed under Bosworth during her eight years in office – especially in her last two when Democrats held six of the seven board seats.
During that time, Town Councilman Angelo Ferrera, the lone Republican on the board, shared office space with the Democrats.
Martins asked the four Democrats a fair question: how did the change in office space come about? But he was greeted with silence. Martins and the town residents are owed an answer.
Still, the Democrats, like the three Republicans, pledged a cooperative spirit at the meeting – despite repeated sniping between the two sides.
Robert Troiano, a former Democratic Town Board member who was the lone Democrat to win a town seat in the past election, said that no money was taken from the supervisor’s budget and the money used for the new Town Board staff positions had not increased the town budget.
How exactly that was done was also not sufficiently explained. We’d like to think that the town just didn’t have $800,000 lying around in a cookie jar.
Citing their unhappiness with the Democrats’ maneuver, DeSena and the two Republican Town Board members not only declined to vote on Democratic appointees but the supervisor’s eight picks as well.
This created a surreal moment when DeSena’s staff picks were passed on a party-line vote with the Democrats approving all eight and the new supervisor and the two Republican board members voting no.
One of those appointments was for a new position – communications director for the town supervisor. Not to be confused with Gordon Tepper, the communications director for the town. So, yes, the town now has two communications directors.
DeSena has not exactly been blameless in turning Town Board meetings into must-see TV and fanning the flames of political division.
Two weeks ago, she sent out a news release claiming the Town Board was planning a “deceitful post-election stunt” that included terminating five budgeted positions in the supervisor’s office. Turns out that wasn’t true.
Last week, she backtracked on her claim, acknowledging that no such changes had been made and citing misinformation she received from an unnamed source.
“I was told something this week that I’ve now been told was a mistake and I am looking forward to getting started working,” DeSena said. “I hope that I’ll be able to get some new staff in January. I look forward to working with the rest of the board and hope that we’ll be able to do this within the 2022 budget that you all approved.”
DeSena, a registered Democrat who ran as a Republican, has never served in elective office so some might see her accusation as a rookie mistake.
So here’s a suggestion: Shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later might not be the best way to work with Town Board Democrats.
That lesson did not appear to have been learned following Thursday’s meeting when Brian Devine, a former Oyster Bay public information officer whose position had just been approved by board Democrats, issued a news release.
“The Democrat council members in North Hempstead care more about keeping political hacks on the payroll than about the taxpayers of our town who are footing the bill,” Devine said. “That’s the only way to explain their irresponsible decision to protect these political appointees. Supervisor DeSena was elected to clean up the political mess left behind by decades of shenanigans and that’s exactly what she plans to do. It’s no wonder they’re clearly threatened by her actions and doing everything they can to hobble her administration.”
It should be noted that town taxpayers are also footing the bill for Devine’s salary. Thanks to the Democratic Town Board members who approved his position.
But there are more important and more troubling problems with Devine’s statement that DeSena should answer immediately.
Such as was she actually elected to clean up a political mess created by “decades of shenanigans?” And does she believe the Bosworth appointees who were retained are “political hacks?”
Because we don’t recall a single time in DeSena’s campaign against Town Clerk Wayne Wink that she said anything about a political mess or “decades of shenanigans” in North Hempstead or an administration filled with political hacks.
Were the voters misled about DeSena’s intentions?
Both DeSena and Wink said during the campaign that the town Building Department was seriously in need of improvement. And it is true that before North Hempstead Democratic Chairman Gerard Terry was sent to jail in 2016 for tax charges his presence in Town Hall was questioned.
But neither DeSena or anybody else for that matter complained about political divisions during Bosworth’s time in office.
If DeSena thinks otherwise, then she should say so and back up her allegations with specifics. Or, she owes at least Bosworth an apology.
If not, the town might face an even greater political mess – with her playing a starring role.