Twenty years after it was first settled in 1644, the officials of Hempstead Town—then called Heemstede out of deference to its Dutch first settlers—adopted a set of laws for their English and Dutch colonists. These laws, which were first known as the “Duke’s Laws” and shortly later were coined the “Blue Laws,” became the model for the jurisprudence of several of the first 13 colonies.
The majority of these laws governed everyday matters, including the designated payment for such civic responsibilities as serving on jury duty and such livestock protection services as killing wolves—seemingly trivial stuff.
However, there are lessons to be learned from the Blue Laws, according to Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino, the nominee for Republican, Conservative, Independence, Tax Revolt, and Reform Parties running against former town board member Democrat Rita Kestenbaum to become Hempstead’s 15th supervisor. The modern form of the supervisor position was created in 1918.
“It is important to understand that going back to the earliest times in Hempstead Town, both the municipality’s leaders and its citizens understood the necessity for their new society to encourage basic civic responsibilities,” Santino stated when I interviewed him in his office last week.
It could be argued that Santino, 54, who was elected to his first four-year term as a council member of the Hempstead Town Board in November 1993, and has since won re-election six times, each time with total vote counts ranging from the high 60s to the low 70s, possesses a good understanding of what civic responsibility entails. Such might explain his inclination to blend programs often associated with Democrats—he sponsored programs that dramatically expanded library services throughout Hempstead, for example—with positions that are almost always identified with Republicans. He has during his 22-year tenure in the town board accumulated the record as the most consistent supporter of tax cut legislation.
Santino sees no contradiction in pushing for expanding services for Hempstead while at the same time fighting against tax hikes and promises to do more of the same if elected as supervisor this November.
“There is nothing contradictory in providing the best services at the lowest possible cost. It allows America’s largest township [Hempstead], to put forth top-notch municipal services for pennies on the dollar. This is what responsible, good government is all about. I’ve worked throughout my career in government to achieve this balance and pledge to continue to do so if elected supervisor,” he stated. The fact that the Republican Party overwhelmingly dominates Hempstead’s local politics probably softens the meaning of the conjunction “if.”
Despite Democrats currently outnumbering Republicans by 56 percent to 44 percent in registered voters, and despite Hempstead for decades leaning Democratic in state and national elections, every one of the 14 Hempstead town supervisors has been a Republican—going back to the first, Hiram Smith elected in 1918, to the 14th, present six term incumbent Town Supervisor Kate Murray, the outgoing supervisor seeking election as Nassau District Attorney this fall. In addition, Republicans have dominated town board elections and, currently, of the six town board council members, five are Republican.
Beyond these apparent historical advantages, there are other factors weighing in Santino’s favor. One is that, by winning the nominations of the Independence, Tax Revolt, and Reform Parties, he has placed himself in a position to possibly garner the votes of some in the Hempstead electorate who would be strongly disinclined to pull the Republican or Conservative levers. A second is that he has won the endorsements of a host of unions, including the Nassau County Patrolman Benevolent Association (PBA) and the New York State and Hempstead Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), both of which have a significant number of their membership residing and voting in Hempstead.
Santino—who heads the ticket that includes incumbents Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad, Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin, and council members Ed Ambrosino, Bruce Blakeman, and Erin King Sweeney—told me, however, that while he understands the advantages he enjoys in this election, he is running as if the race could be easily lost. “In every election in which I have ever been involved, I have always run as if I were behind … I present my policies and in this election the policies of my entire Santino team to the voters in the clearest way I can as I ask them for their vote … And I remind them to go to the polls on election day. And this is exactly what I am doing now.”
If elected, Santino, will be moving from a legislative position with which he has more than two decades of experience to the new challenges of an executive office. In Hempstead, those challenges can prove daunting.
Covering over 142 square miles within the southwest portion of Nassau County, Hempstead has a population of approximately 777,000 people, making it, were it a city and not a town, the second largest city in the state, behind only New York City. The town is divided throughout those 142 miles into 34 unincorporated and 22 incorporated villages. All of these in small, or in large, part receive from the town such vital services as police, fire, water, and street and road repair. It is the responsibility of the town supervisor in conjunction with the town board to plan and implement a yearly budget (which in this current calendar year was $431.8 million), allocating the funds to pay for such services.
Santino told me that the experience he gained during his long tenure on the town board will enable him to successfully perform all of the tasks charged to the town supervisor. “Throughout my years on the town board,” he stated, “I have become well acquainted with how Hempstead is governed. More importantly, I have gotten to know the good, hardworking citizens of the township, and I know what they want, which is an efficient and honest government, that will focus, not on petty party politics, but on providing the governmental services they require and deserve at the lowest possible costs. I promise to accomplish that, if elected.”
Unless there is a major shift in the political winds in Hempstead, Santino will be given the opportunity to make good on that promise.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.