Hu, Sassouni, Sontag and Pizer triumphant
Almost 10 times as many voters cast ballots in this year’s Oct. 29 Great Neck Library election compared to last October. On Monday, 2,369 residents came out to help determine who would fill four Board of Trustees and three Nominating Committee seats, while only 249 voters showed up last year.
The polls closed at 10 p.m., but the libraries were still filled with voters who patiently waited on line for approximately two hours, with the last of them finally casting their ballot at around 11:30 p.m. Since the library ran out of preprinted ballots, the emergency supply had to be counted by hand.
Liman Mimi Hu, Chelsea Sassouni, Scott J. Sontag and Josie Pizer were overwhelming winners for seats on the board, and all nominating committee races were uncontested.
For the four-year term to fill Robert Schaufeld’s seat, Nominating Committee Candidate Hu won with 1,389 votes over write-in candidate Qiping Zhang’s 761 votes.
To fill the seat for the four-year term held by Joel Marcus, Independent Candidate Sassouni earned 1,195 votes, beating Nominating Committee Candidate David Zielenziger, who lost with 681 votes.
The most uneventful race was to fill the remaining two-year term of Douglas Hwee in which Nominating Committee Candidate Pizer was unopposed and garnered 1,117 votes.
For the remaining one-year term of Francine Ferrante Krupski, Nominating Committee Candidate Sontag received 1,011 votes, while Independent Candidate and current library board president Schaufeld received just 559 votes.
In the Nominating Committee races, Krupski received 1,098 votes to fill the three-year seat held by Howard Esterces, William Gens earned 1,032 votes to fill the three-year seat held by Donald Panetta and Siu Long “Alex” Au garnered 1,094 votes for Samuel Gottlieb’s two-year term.
One of the most interesting aspects of this election were the undervotes, or the number of people who voted in the election but did not vote for some of the seats. In the trustee contests, anywhere from around 200 to 1,100 voters did not select a candidate. So, while the outcome of two races inspired passion, one uncontested race shows relative disinterest.
“Half of all those voters stood in long lines late into the night because they had a focused reason for voting,” remarked resident Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar.
Behind-the-scenes drama ensued in Hu’s uncontested trustee race when Zhang launched a very aggressive write-in campaign in response to Hu’s defending LGBTQ rights during a conversation on the social media platform WeChat, where local residents discuss various topics in Chinese. This particular issue fractured the Chinese community as Zhang, who admitted she was not selected by the Nominating Committee and did not collect the required verified signatures to become an Independent Candidate, promoted herself as someone who would bring “family values” to the library.
Just before the election, “sample ballots” including her name as a write-in candidate were sent from firstname.lastname@example.org, confusing many voters who thought the ballots were sent from the library. Zhang also promoted herself at tables with large banners outside the libraries on Election Day, which many voters found “confusing,” were “annoyed by the harassing” and thought “it was not proper.”
One voter complained, “The write-in candidate set up tables near the library voting place and asked people who passed by to stop and handed them the instructions on doing write-in. I think this is highly improper.”
During the heated election, the write-in and other community members accused Zielenziger of being anti-Iranian and anti-Semitic.
On Election Day, Nassau County police were summoned to the library after an argument ensued between a resident and Mersedeh Rofeim, the woman who was videotaped making racist and homophobic remarks to Hu while she was with her 6-year-old son at the Street Festival and AutoFest in Great Neck Plaza on Oct. 21.
“Let’s grow out of this campaign, put all the negativity to the end and create the unity at an elevated level,” said Zhang in her concession speech.
Now that the election is behind them, the trustees-elect are looking forward to focusing on the library that they love.
“I am truly honored that our community has chosen me to serve them,” said Hu. “I look forward to working with six other board members to make our library even better.”
Sontag added, “I am excited. I have a lot of thoughts, but I want input. I plan to suggest appointing a community advocate to help facilitate this. We need to keep the community engaged, especially now. Also, I want to partner with the schools and parks to build better programming, especially for children.”
Sassouni shared her thoughts on winning and what she hopes to accomplish.
“I am so honored by the support I’ve received throughout the election process, and I hope to channel our community’s dedication to the institution—as evidenced by the voter turnout—into ensuring that the library excels in its role as dynamic community anchor,” she said. “I hope to dedicate myself to the successful rollout of our new STEM Lab, because as technology and our community’s needs evolve, so will our library’s services and operations. It’s amazing that our library will be able to provide patrons with something they can’t get or do at home, and I hope this means we see a lot of new faces at the library.”