Political redemption on Long Island is the story of losses and comebacks. With four-term Rep. Kathleen Rice stepping down at the end of the year, former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, 52, announced her run for the Fourth Congressional District last week. “The people of this town know me. I’m a moderate Democrat who will deliver for the residents,” she said.
A lifelong resident of Nassau County, the Rockville Centre attorney first ran for public office in 2013, losing in the contest for county clerk. But in 2017, she made history as the first Democrat to run the Town of Hempstead in more than a century. “It was the Republicans who constantly raised taxes and I did not. There was no fiscal responsibility; we needed to refinance the debt,” she said. “I held the line as a fiscal conservative.”
Gillen refinanced the town’s debt and promoted transparency by requiring all town contracts, budgets, and other audited financial documents to be visible online. Gillen campaigned as a fiscal watchdog but lost narrowly two years later to Republican Donald Clavin, the longtime town tax receiver. Since then, she has been teaching as an adjunct at the Hofstra Law School.
Last November, Clavin was easily reelected, and his party also defeated the Democratic incumbent in the race for County Executive in an election where concerns about crime resonated among voters. “I had nothing to do with bail reform; crime is a serious issue,” Gillen said. “Illegal guns must be taken off our streets and I’ll stand up to the gun lobby in Congress.”
Along with tougher gun laws, Gillen also spoke of increasing funding for mental health treatment and support as a response to concerns about crime. Noting that the pandemic exacerbated mental health problems in criminal justice and schools, she spoke of her experience as Town Supervisor. “I invited all school supervisors to the Town Hall. As a Congresswoman, I’ll re-establish this panel to understand their needs.”
Concerning anti-Semitism, Gillen spoke of providing protection to synagogues and continuing to do so as Congresswoman. “I completely support the State of Israel. I’ll be a staunch ally for the Iron Dome and against BDS.” Noting the war in Ukraine, she recognized Israel’s humanitarian role, describing it as a “good neighbor to the world.”
For the June 28 Democratic primary, Gillen will be facing Hempstead Town Councilwoman Siela Bynoe, a Westbury resident who was elected to her present office in 2014.
Among Republicans so far, their only candidate is Marine Corps veteran and former PropertyShark CEO Bill Staniford. More candidates in both parties could appear in this race. This congressional seat covers the Five Towns, Long Beach, and West Hempstead, which has the largest Jewish constituency on Long Island. Historically, it has been regarded as a safe seat for Democrats, but recent gains by Republicans in local races and their popularity among Orthodox voters gives them a fighting chance in flipping the seat.
By Sergey Kadinsky