The candidates for Hempstead town supervisor brought their campaign messages to the debate stage on Oct. 10 at Molloy College in Rockville Centre.
Hosted by the Nassau County chapter of the League of Women Voters, the three contenders answered more than a dozen questions in two hours, and each gave three-minute opening and closing statements.
Laura Gillen, the Democratic incumbent seeking re-election, reaffirmed her dedication to fighting corruption and modernizing town operations. Diane Madden, an animal rights advocate running as a Libertarian, staked her claim as the candidate “for the people” who would take political motives out of her administration. Challenger Donald Clavin, the Republican receiver of taxes, vowed to cut taxes and to work with town officials on both sides of the aisle.
Sitting in the spotlight at Madison Theatre at Molloy, the candidates butted heads on several issues, including campaign contributions, the town budget, patronage hires, animal shelter conditions, taxes and corruption, among others.
All questions came from attendees who submitted them on index cards to League volunteers. “Would you please explain the systemic culture of providing patronage jobs to those connected to the Republican administration in the Town of Hempstead?” the moderator read.
Clavin answered that the idea that you need to be a member of a certain party to get a town job is a false narrative. “It’s just not the case,” he said. “The majority of employees are tested civil servants who are represented by our great union.”
Gillen, however, affirmed that the culture does, in fact, exist. “To pretend that that stuff doesn’t go on is ridiculous,” she said. “You look at almost every commissioner or deputy commissioner, they’re the president of a Republican club.”
“My campaign is the people’s campaign,” Madden said in her response. “The only people I’m going to bring in are non-politically driven experts from every area in every department.”
Madden also affirmed that she would not accept campaign contributions from employees.
“No employee should feel that their job is dependent on buying tickets to fundraisers and things like that,” Gillen said. “Nobody should feel that pressure to donate to a political candidate.”
Clavin, however, did not see a problem with taking campaign donations from town employees. “If they want to open up their wallets and show their support, then I’m proud to do it,” he said. “I don’t pressure anybody. We shouldn’t put limits, because every special interest will have influence in your government.”
Next, candidates spoke about the town animal shelter. Madden condemned the current conditions and leadership at the facility.
Clavin responded. “Right now, if you go to the animal shelter, it’s sad enough to see the animals,” he said, “but the employees are working under such a fear right now. It has to be addressed. After I win, I’m going to bring Diane Madden to the table and we are going to work to make the changes.”
Gillen said she had called for the resignation of the shelter’s director, but her proposal did not receive enough votes from the Town Board.
Later, Clavin said that working with board members as a supervisor would be “the easiest part for me,” pointing to the endorsements he has received from members.
“I’m there in the office every day,” Gillen responded. “I work with the Republican staffers and we all get along fine. I partner with all my colleagues.
“I’m not just going to go along to get along when things aren’t being done right,” she added. “I can work together with people, and I’ve gotten a tremendous amount done.”
The conversation also turned to Gillen’s $2 million office budget, and she defended the people on her staff. “They’re doing an amazing job, and I need all of them,” she said. “They are the only 17 people that I have been able to hire, so $2 million out of a roughly $166 million budget. All the rest of them are [Republican] cronies.”
Clavin, however, said, “I’m slashing [the office budget] in half. You don’t need all these people. I’ll put [the money] back in [taxpayers’] pockets — exactly where it should be.”
Gillen again defended her staffers, who have helped the town “migrate from the stone age to the digital age,” she said.
Finally, taxes came up, and the candidates focused on how they would balance tax increases and programs.
“There are a lot of cuts that can be made,” Madden said. “Every area in the town needs to be looked at by outsiders, and slashed. There are a lot of ways to save money and a lot of ways to show taxpayers how the taxes are being spent.”
Gillen dug into Clavin, stating that taxes have gone up $99.3 million in the past two Republican administrations, and “Clavin was in office the whole time that happened.”
“I’ve been out there for the residents all along,” Clavin said, pointing to tax programs he has organized for town residents. “There have been a lot of great programs instituted by Republicans in the Town of Hempstead.”