Manorhaven resident and Democratic state Assembly candidate Gina Sillitti discussed the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses and other topics over Zoom at a Blank Slate Media forum last Thursday.
Sillitti is running for the 16th Assembly District, which includes Great Neck, Port Washington, Manhasset, Roslyn Heights, North Hills, Flower Hill, Lake Success, Baxter Estates, Manorhaven and Sands Point. She is opposed by Republican candidate, small-business owner and Manhasset Hills resident Ragini Srivastava, who was unable to attend the forum due to health reasons.
The district’s current representative, Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso (D-Port Washington), announced in January that he would retire after two terms.
A 20-year veteran of government work, Sillitti began her career in the Nassau County Legislature before joining the Town of North Hempstead and working as its deputy commissioner of community services. She later worked for former Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and sitting Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, and currently serves as director of human resources for the Nassau County Board of Elections.
The candidate said that she supports most of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in New York and that his “his data driven approach” had “saved a lot of lives in New York.”
“Obviously, this pandemic targets, for the lack of a better word, the most vulnerable among us,” Sillitti said. “Overall, I would rather him [be in charge], then some other people that are in charge right now.”
She adds that federal funding for municipalities is needed everywhere, not just in New York.
“They kept picking on New York and calling it a blue state bailout,” Sillitti said. “But, the unfortunate thing is, it’s not just us, the pandemic didn’t just hit New York. We definitely took the brunt of it, we probably spent more than any other state, but the pandemic caused our economy across the country to come to a screeching halt. We lost billions in revenue, while we were spending billions of dollars to save New Yorkers and Americans. So it’s not a blue state problem. It’s an American problem.”
Sillitti said that the small businesses in the area are “legitimately nervous” about it, which may have to result in “the towns, the villages and the chambers coming together.”
“We have 31 villages in the Town of North Hempstead, and 22 of them, I think, are in the 16th Assembly District,” Sillitti said. “And our job, I believe, as elected officials, especially from the state government, is to give them the tools that they need to succeed. But that’s going to come with the revenue-generating measures that we talked about, the federal stimulus that we hopefully get, but the chambers of commerce are part of the backbone of these communities. Because of my background, I know a lot of these folks, I’ve worked with them for so many years. I know I can pick up the phone and call and say, ‘How can I help you? What can we do, to help out these businesses?’ Right now they’re hanging on by a thread, we tried our best to support them over the summer and into the early fall. And now we’ve just got to grab the bootstraps, and really hunker down to get through this winter.”
Sillitti says that she supports the Black Lives Matter movement and the police, and that while policing must be reformed, the police themselves need to have a hand in the changes.
“There can’t be police reform without police being involved in the reform,” Sillitti said.
She also said that “the intention was there” for bail reform initiatives passed by the state, but that “we could have done better,” and that placing the legislation in this year’s budget was “a cop-out.”
One D’Urso initiative that Sillitti said she would continue is the septic-to-sewer initiative on Plandome Road in Manhasset, which D’Urso obtained funds to conduct a study for.
“In our North Shore community, people love our bays and our waterways,” Sillitti said. “The septic to sewer would be something helpful for our waterways, and our drinking water, our storm resiliency, shoring up our sea walls, but all comes down, again, to funding. We’re in pretty dire straits, but there are things that are so important in the long term for our survival, essentially. I mean, we have to be ready for another superstorm Sandy.”
In terms of the environment, Sillitti said she is interested in “better ways of handling our garbage,” including possible community composting, increasing renewable energy storage and creating jobs in renewable energy.
While she supports discussing the consolidation of shared services, Silitti said she is not in favor of consolidating school districts.
“Consolidation would never fly, as much as it might be beneficial for budgetary reasons,” Sillitti said. “I mean, look at an area like Herricks, they don’t have a downtown, per se. The identity of their community is the school district.”
She does suggest consolidating local elections, school board elections and special district elections, for which she says turnout is “embarrassing.”
“The turnout for our local elections, school district, special districts, it’s embarrassing, which is surprising to me, because we always talk about our property taxes, but maybe you have 1,000 or 2,000 people that vote in communities of tens of thousands,” Sillitti said. “So, would it make more sense to consolidate not districts, but consolidate elections? To increase turnout? I don’t know if that’s something that school districts would be interested in doing, but I think it might be less confusing for voters. It would give voters more of a say, and a chance to participate in the process. I’d be interested in talking about that some more.”
Sillitti said she also supports the legalization of marijuana if it is “well regulated, and taxed, of course,” and will be voting for Joe Biden in November.
Raised in Mount Sinai and Florida, Sillitti attended the University of Georgia, majoring in political science, and moved to Manorhaven eight years ago. Her husband, Kevin Clemency, is a native of the Manhasset-Port Washington area.