Every major candidate for a town or county-level political office with jurisdiction over some part of the Town of North Hempstead was on hand at the League of Women Voters (LOWV) Candidates Night event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset on Thursday, Oct. 17.
Incumbent politicians and their would-be replacements spent the night answering questions the League asked audience members to submit at the onset of the event. Politicians were divided based on the type of office they sought, and each group running for that office was brought up to speak at the same time. Speaking order was determined by drawing lots, and opening statements were given in the same order as closing statements.
“League members recognize that a democracy needs to be tended in order to thrive,” LOWV of Port Washington-Manhasset President Julie Harnick said at the start of the night. “Voters need information and access to participate actively in government. That’s what this is all about.”
Town Receiver of Taxes
Democratic incumbent Charles Berman and Republican challenger Ron Rochester kicked off the forum by answering questions about the nature of the receiver of taxes position, how to make the tax code easier and what could be done to lower property taxes for North Hempstead residents.
Rochester, a forensic accountant who spent 25 years as an investigator with the Internal Revenue Service, suggested shifting Nassau County to a municipality-based assessment system in line with most counties in New York.
“One of the things we need to look at is taking our tax assessment in house, taking it away from the county,” Rochester said. “Many other states have their local towns do that, I don’t see why we can’t. If we had the proper people within the Town of North Hempstead, we could assess our own taxes. I think it would be much more efficient.”
Berman said the question has been the main focus of his nine-year tenure in the office, and he’s focused on informing as many people as possible about the tax exemptions they’re eligible to receive.
“When I came in in 2010, the very first thing I did was to see how many of our seniors had the Enhanced STAR exemption,” Berman said. “Over about four or five years we increased that number from about 5,000 to about 7,000. We expanded the exemption seminar program to make sure that every resident knows about the exemptions.”
Nassau County Legislature
Republican and Democratic candidates for the 9th, 10th and 11th districts of the county legislature were invited to the stage at the same time to take their turns speaking on issues raised by inquisitive attendees.
When asked what her first priority would be should she win, District 10 challenger and Thomaston resident Helene Sherman spoke about the need to better manage county finances through cutting services she thinks are redundant or overpaid for.
“My priority is to try to be a fiscal conservative, try to cut expenses and try to cut people’s taxes as a result,” Sherman said. “One of the first things that I would do would be look at budgets that the county legislature directly controls or that the county legislature can impact. I find it difficult to believe that everybody in government does a completely separate job that takes at least 40 hours a week to do.”
Incumbent District 10 legislator Ellen Birnbaum voiced her desire to increase government transparency.
“Fiscal management is of top priority, but to talk about something different I’ll mention transparency in government,” Birnbaum said. “We are on the right track, we have a new Inspector General at the county, we have a piece of legislation that I was proud to be the sponsor of that says when there is an appointment by the county executive, that person has to come before the legislature and have confirmation within six months so we have qualified people in our departments. I believe we need a better technological way of airing our meetings so that people could live stream them and watch them.”
Many of the statements and commentary from county legislative candidates touched on the county’s ongoing reassessment process, which Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello spoke about during his closing statement while highlighting bipartisan cooperation between county legislators.
“Everyone agrees that the assessment system was unfair, the values were off, they needed to be adjusted,” Nicolello said. “We have disagreed on how the process has gone forward, but even there we had a debate the other day where we weren’t able to override the county executive veto, but we were back to business a few minutes later. The gridlock that you see in Washington does not exist in the county.”
The audience at the event for the portion of the night where Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and challenger David Redmond fielded audience questions swelled to fill every open seat and the standing room in the back, well over 300 people.
The Mineola-based challenger spoke first on what the town could do to combat the effects of climate change predicted for the coming decades.
“Obviously North Hempstead’s not going to solve climate change on its own, but the big key for the town level is the erosion,” Redmond said. “Even if we have excellent environmental policy on every level of government, we’re still going to have erosion. As far as budgeting for that solution, we need better project management skills.”
Bosworth, in turn, responded that the town’s recent projects have all been designed with environmental resilience in mind before mentioning the town will simply allow the frequently-flooded portion of the parking lot for North Hempstead Beach Park to return to its natural state.
Both candidates were also asked about what they would do to further develop the town, a question raised in light of developmental success in villages like Port Washington and opposition in places like Roslyn and Great Neck.
“At the town level we are looking to see what could be done to revitalize our downtowns,” Bosworth said. “We want to find ways to bring synergy between all the different things that are happening in the town.”
Redmond emphasized the need for the town to be business friendly to encourage companies to migrate to the area, and called for what he termed “smart development.”
“Government can’t micromanage everything,” Redmond said. “We can’t force them to come here, they have to want to come here.”
Councilors and challengers for the Town of North Hempstead’s 2nd, 4th and 6th Town Council districts, like their county-level counterparts, were asked what they believe are the most serious issues facing their district. District 4 councilwoman Veronica Lurvey touched further on the need to revitalize North Hempstead’s downtown areas, and the areas of improvement needed to make that happen.
“This is a multi-layered task which requires working with many constituencies,” Lurvey said. “Making sure the downtowns are vibrant requires speaking and talking with the mayors and the trustees and commissioners to determine how to make them destinations. We need to talk about the parking issues, addressing delays in the permitting process, pedestrian safety and beautification efforts.”
Lurvey’s District 4 challenger, Munsey Park resident David Chiang, noted many of his counterparts on the panel had brought up taxes, but lacked the financial experience he developed as a research analyst.
“My background in the financial industry, I think, gives me an advantage,” Chiang said. “None of these people are from the financial industry. If you elect me I will go through the financial papers line by line and see where the money is coming from and where the money’s going. I want to make sure that the town is running the most efficiently with the least amount of bureaucracy.”