HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s been a proving ground for Republican leaders like Alfonse D’Amato, but America’s largest township is no longer in GOP hands.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, there was a break with the party in Hempstead.
If Hempstead was incorporated as a city, it would be the second largest in the state behind New York.
Settled in 1644, Hempstead became a town a century ago and has existed under Republican rule.
“I am so thrilled and honored to be the first Democrat in 100 years,” Laura Gillen said.
Gillen an unknown attorney from Rockville Centre has shaken and stirred the pot.
“It is completely unheard of for there to be a Democrat town supervisor in Hempstead. This is a huge story,” Long Island political consultant Michael Dawidziak said.
Dawidziak said no one in their wildest dreams predicted this upset of the entrenched GOP machine.
He calls it far bigger than Laura Curran becoming Long Island’s first female county executive.
Gillen had no campaign staff, and no one wanted to write her a check. She raised $200,000 to her opponent’s $1.5-million.
So, what worked?
“I just think a lot of grass roots effort,” she said.
It started with Gillen’s husband and four children, and an aggressive social media campaign on a platform of ethics and finance reform.
“Everybody’s family was on the payroll. You had to know someone to get a job. That’s going to change now,” she said.
Voters wanted more.
“I need to have a job because I’m qualified for it, not because I know someone,” one resident said.
“Hoping for change, big change,” another added.
Gillen is a graduate of Georgetown and NYU Law. She’s already reached across the aisle, and said her Catholic faith has kept her grounded.
“I hope to make the Town of Hempstead a model of effective bi-partisan government,” she said.
Will the web of party controlled jobs be blown to bits?
“If you have an appointed position in politics you got your job by climbing over somebody else’s corpse, so you can’t really complain when it becomes your time,” Dawidziak said.
Overcoming the odds meant voters had to buy and believe in her message to end nepotism and cronyism.
The outgoing Republican Town Supervisor Anthony Santino said he looks forward to working cooperatively with Gillen to ensure a smooth transition.