Call me old school, but I remember when elected officials served the public while in office. Despite their own political motivations and desires to get re-elected, they checked politics at the steps of Town Hall and worked on behalf of the residents — regardless of political affiliation — to ensure that the government was working for the people.
When I was growing up, it was elected officials like these who earned the admiration and respect of their constituencies, including me. No matter the office you were elected to, your motivation was to fight for residents and their interests. Over the past two years, though, I learned that “people-first” government was a thing of the past, instead recast as a politics-at-all-costs style of governing by certain officials bestowed with the public’s trust.
The responsibilities that were placed in the hands of Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen were replaced with political fence-posts that, one by one, tarnished the role of the supervisor in town government. It was clear that after her first year in office, her intent was to get re-elected and no longer conduct the business of the people.
That was when Gillen set her crosshairs on my business, my livelihood and me. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Over the past four months, there has been an onslaught of political attacks against me. Millions of dollars in campaign cash and taxpayer dollars were spent slandering my business and my reputation of providing 40 years of quality services to Long Island residents — including those in the Town of Hempstead.
As my friends, neighbors, and patrons know, I have never been one to wade deeply into political campaigns. I’ve taken pride in working with those on both sides of the aisle on community endeavors and serving the public in my own ways. This year, though, it became personal between Gillen and me.
For months, her administration distorted the truth about my business and my reputation by feeding outlandish lies to the public at press conferences and in statements, and even going on television to state repeatedly, “I am not afraid of you, Butch Yamali,” as if I were public enemy No. 1.
I consider myself a respected businessman. I’m a Board of Education trustee, a past Little League president, an honorary fire chief, a community advocate, a philanthropist and a family man. I’ve supported thousands of charitable endeavors to help those in need. Whether it was during Superstorm Sandy, supporting our police, fire and emergency services, or just sharing food with those who are less fortunate around the holidays, I’ve been the first in line to do what I can to help. Never did I anticipate that in the interest of politics, I would be so viciously attacked and have my integrity called into question.
Gillen has done nothing to improve residents’ lives. She’s done nothing to reduce taxes or support small businesses, improved no roadways or other vital government functions, and her grandstanding often brought Town Hall to a halt.
Naturally, when asking themselves, “Am I better off today than I was two years ago?” residents said no. Because of this, Gillen tried to use me and my business as a diversion tactic, with ruthless slander and baseless claims to distract people from her empty resume.
Fortunately, it didn’t work.
People became very upset when they saw the supervisor attack my business and me. Thousands of community leaders, firefighters, police officers, union workers — even Democratic leaders — contacted me, offering their help. I asked them to use their voice at the ballot box, and vote Gillen out of office. They listened, and the proof was in the hundreds of messages I received — and, of course, in the election results. I believe wholeheartedly that the path of the town’s history was changed by those who supported my company and me at the ballot box.
Hempstead residents aren’t naïve, and won’t fall for political tricks. They expect quality services and know hard work when they see it. While Gillen and her administration apparently believed that distractions would influence voters at their polling places, they were obviously mistaken. I guess most voters are old school like me, and want government to work for them.
Gillen’s attacks on me will go down as one of the biggest political miscalculations in Hempstead history. As she packs her bags, it’s time for me to get back to catering and let officials get back to governing. The people have spoken. Thanks to all my friends and family for turning out to help.
Butch Yamali is president and CEO of the Dover Group.