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Oceanside sanitation commissioner asked to resign after alleged racist social media posts surface

Ryan Hemsley said posts were 'doctored' and 'made up'

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An Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 commissioner who was recently re-elected to the board was asked to resign after he was alleged to have published racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic social media posts in the past.

Commissioner Ryan Hemsley came under fire after the Facebook posts were unearthed, and as a result, the board has asked him to resign from his position. Hemsley said on Oct. 15 that the posts were “doctored or completely made up” to discredit him after a contentious election last month. Then in a series of text messages Sunday night, he told the Herald that he had been aware of the posts for many months, but that other people had posted them on his page, and he was asked to remove them by Commissioner Austin Graff before joining the board.

“These posts that were released are not who I am as a person,” Hemsley said on Oct. 15. “It is absolutely disgusting, and I did not post them. I am a veteran, family man and a member of an Oceanside volunteer group” — the Oceanside Community Warriors.

Hemsley, a sheet metal worker in Queens and a member of Local Union 28, joined the board in January after Commissioner Matthew Horowitz stepped down, citing conflicts from juggling his duties on the board with his career. Because he took over in the middle of Horowitz’s term, Hemsley had to run in last month’s election, in which he defeated challenger Dawn Veit, 1,036 votes to 141. Hemsley said he had not originally intended to become a commissioner; however, he was approached by Graff to take over for Horowitz.

The controversial posts, which included the n-word and jokes about the Ku Klux Klan, the Holocaust and others, were sent to the Herald by a group called Oceanside Against Racism. They were posted between 2014 and 2017, and featured racist jokes against African-Americans and jabs at Jewish people that made light of the Holocaust. They also took aim at homosexuals and people with disabilities. The posts are no longer visible on the Facebook page.

Hemsley said the posts were doctored based on political turmoil following his election win and were part of a “vicious cycle” surrounding the sanitation district.

“I was appointed to this position and just won an election by a landslide because people in this town trust me,” he said last Thursday. “Now, since I opposed some of the concerns at sanitation, these posts appear. This situation is exactly why I came to this position: to clean up this nonsense surrounding sanitation.”

Hemsley said the concerns he was referring to were about lawsuits against the board, including a pair of wrongful termination suits filed by former employees and a sexual harassment suit by the lone female employee in the district. He said he believed the posts were released as retaliation.

“This is just another attempt to get rid of a good person that’s trying to do right by the district,” Hemsley wrote to the Herald, “and is made into a villain when my agenda didn’t suit what they wanted.”

Graff said he spoke with Hemsley and asked him to resign after he saw the posts in a letter sent to him last Tuesday night, which he said was the first time he had seen them.

“What I saw was absolutely disgusting, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and everything that’s wrong,” he said. “I had a conversation with Ryan and asked him to resign.”

Hemsley said Thursday that he had no plans to resign over “something that isn’t true.” On Sunday, however, he said Graff was aware of the posts before the board appointed Hemsley, and had him scrub his page before he joined the board. He also provided screenshots of texts that Graff sent him asking him to clean up the page. Graff, however, said he was previously unaware of the posts, and that Hemsley was “deflecting his guilt.”

Graff told the Herald last Thursday that Hemsley did not deny that the totality of the posts were his during their conversation, but noted that he did deny that some of the posts were his. Graff said the commissioners and the Hempstead Town Board cannot force Hemsley to resign.

If Hemsley were to resign, the sanitation board could appoint a new commissioner, pending approval by the Town Board. That person would then have to run next June to finish the final year of Hemsley’s term, and then again in June 2022 for a full five-year term, if he or she wished to stay on.

While many members of the Oceanside community were outraged, the posts also drew the ire of local elected officials. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, decried them.

“These posts are outrageous, despicable, and no one should serve in elected office and propagate such racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-disability rhetoric,” he said. “The sanitation commission should seek to determine, as soon as possible, the authenticity of these posts and take action accordingly.”

Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, also condemned the posts.

“Racist and divisive remarks have no place in our community,” she said. “Being in elected office, we are held to a higher standard, and it goes without saying that remarks like these are unacceptable. If it is verified that he did, in fact, make these remarks, he should resign as Oceanside sanitation commissioner immediately.”

Officials planned to gather at sanitation headquarters on Monday night, after the Herald went to press.

Graff said the commissioners were probing the posts and have already requested a resignation.

“I asked him to resign because that kind of content has no place representing Oceanside,” he said. “That’s not what Oceanside is; that’s not what Oceanside is about. If I knew it before the election, I would have never supported him . . . We asked him to resign. We’re taking it one step at a time.”