Take a walk on Hempstead Avenue, the main road in West Hempstead, and if the upcoming general election would be determined by lawn signs and banners, the Republicans would have a landslide. Their headliner is Bruce Blakeman, a County Legislator from Atlantic Beach running for County Executive against incumbent Laura Curran.
Aside from the lawn signs and a couple of texts from polling firms, I have not encountered any campaign workers knocking on my door, or candidates pounding the pavement outside synagogues and supermarkets. The political culture of West Hempstead is very relaxed in comparison to Queens, where elected officials subscribe to the newsletters of every civic association, religious group, and school, making sure to show up or at least to send a staffer for visibility.
As neither Blakeman nor Curran have been seen recently in West Hempstead, my best effort at understanding their strengths and weaknesses was on the screen as they debated each other on News 12 Long Island and again in a forum organized by Newsday.
“We have been ranked for two years in a row as the safest community in America and I’m the only candidate in this race with the law enforcement endorsements, the number one vaccinated county in the state,” Curran said in her introduction. “I have turned chronic deficits and mismanagement into consecutive deficits.” Nobody would mistake her for a Democratic Socialist in the mold of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Tiffany Cabán. She is the suburban moderate who speaks of her neighbors’ concerns about crime and taxes, and she highlights the endorsement of police unions.
Blakeman began his introduction with a narrative of financial insecurity. “In the next few weeks, you’ll be receiving your school tax bills and you’re going to be shocked, frustrated, angry, and frightened as to whether or not you’ll be able to make ends meet. Laura Curran’s reassessment is broken. Your taxes went up and I’ll fix it.”
He then added that he would “restore respect for our law enforcement. Crime is out of control in Nassau County and I will make it a safe county to live in.” Perhaps he expects former city residents to be spooked by the school taxes, if they are not aware that it is the school districts that levy the amounts, not the county government. But when looking at a pie chart, schools receive the lion’s share of the proceeds from taxes collected by the towns and cities in the county.
Continuing on his theme of finance, Blakeman noted that after spending money towards addressing the pandemic, Curran has surplus money and is using it to pay political appointees for extra time at work. She responded that the money is being spent on grants to small businesses and nonprofits, while maintaining a balanced budget.
Blakeman also noted that over 200,000 property owners across the county have grieved their tax bills, with most of them successful. Curran agreed that the county had “absurd inaccuracies” in determining property taxes, but her efforts have been validated in studies by Newsday and an independent state panel. “I am not afraid of taking on tough fights. It is politically challenging and difficult, and logistically difficult. I took on the reassessments.”
Concerning law enforcement, Curran spoke of increasing funding, reopening two precincts, and a new police academy. “Four police unions support me,” she added. “I have always been against bail reforms. Even if it means going against my party.”
Earlier this month, my colleague Moshe Hill made the case for the Republican slate that includes Blakeman, Anne Donnelly for District Attorney, reelecting Donald Clavin as Hempstead Town Supervisor, among others on that party line. I agree with Hill that Todd Kaminsky’s vote in favor of bail reforms in 2019 is a gift to Republican candidates. The system was broken before the reforms made it worse, but Kaminsky can make up for that vote as he was among those who negotiated a set of rollbacks last year that restored the power of discretion to judges in certain situations.
Perhaps it is because I am a recent transplant from the city that I expect more visibility from local elected officials, more services from public agencies, expansion of recycling programs, recreation, transportation, and information available to the public. I also expect our elected officials to represent all walks of life in reflecting the needs of a diverse populace.
So far, there was one Nassau County candidate in my party who personally asked for my vote, whose last name I can easily pronounce as she is the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. Floral Park resident Nadia Holubnyczyj [that’s ho-lub-ny-chee], who would be the first woman and person with disabilities to sit in the County Legislature. Having a colleague who is confined to a wheelchair would give legislators a firsthand perspective on the needs of people who cannot simply drive or walk to their work, school, and errands.
Her activism includes the fight to install elevators at train stations, opposing a casino at Belmont Park, providing food to frontline workers, and simply being more responsive to constituent concerns.
“For the last 20 years, I have been in the trenches, doing the work that my community needs done,” she said in her pitch. “Whether it is in the PTA, my local civic association, various village committees such as the Citizens with Disabilities Committee, and starting Nassau County Chapter of Frontline Foods for our frontline workers and food insecure families. I have served this community.”
With the exception of Nadia Holobnyczyj, I do not expect most suburban candidates to be as proactive in retail campaigning as I’ve experienced in city races. It is up to our readers in Nassau County to do their own research, not to rely merely on the prevalence of lawn signs, or party lines, in determining the future of their local government.
By Sergey Kadinsky