When Erin King Sweeney announced last month that she would not seek re-election to a second four-year term on Hempstead’s Town Board, it was as if the bottom had dropped out of the 5th district’s political bucket. Popular and virtually assured of re-election, she left a void that many felt would be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
Now, the Nassau County Republican leadership has selected Christopher Carini, an energetic presence in Seaford politics, to step up.
Carini, a former police officer, is not simply a King Sweeney clone. Thoughtful but eager, he is surprisingly well prepared to face paralympian Lora Webster in the upcoming election.
The Herald conducted a Q&A to provide the public with where each candidate stands on the issues.
Herald: When Moody’s Investors Service raised the town credit rating at the end of Supervisor Gillen’s first year, one of the positive features cited was that the town was beginning to rebuild its reserves, which could lead to further rating upgrades. How do you plan to continue this trend?
Christopher Carini: Moody’s Investors Service raised the Town of Hempstead’s credit rating in November of 2018. It is important to note that the ratings upgrade was specifically based upon the 2017 budget, which was developed and adopted by the previous administration, not the current supervisor. Indeed, the 2017 budget did positively adjust fund balance or reserves. Moving forward, the bipartisan 2019 tax-cut budget, which was adopted with the approval of the entire town board, except the Supervisor, further added to the township’s fund balance. And, the council members’ 2020 budget proposal increases fund balance yet again, by almost $5 million. Moreover, the Hempstead Town council members are producing sound and sensible budgets, which have cut taxes while increasing reserves. I am eager to join the council members in crafting budgets that will earn the respect of credit rating agencies on Wall Street and the trust of neighbors on Main Street.
Lora Webster: Truly putting taxpayers first means running a balanced and efficient budget. Laura Gillen has done a fantastic job of cleaning up the mistakes of previous administrations – cutting waste and rebuilding the town’s rainy day fund. By the end of 2020, the town is anticipated to have returned to the legally required fund balance, which is looked upon more favorably by credit rating agencies. We’re only going to be able to continue this trend if we begin to work with each other, rather than fighting for quick political victories. Laura Gillen and I are like-minded: We both believe that having a good credit rating gives our local government more flexibility to deliver services to its people as efficiently as possible. I want to be another voice on the town board that will forcefully advocate for a smart strategy concerning our credit rating. That means that we need to take advantage of every opportunity to refinance our debt if it will save taxpayer dollars. Every dollar not spent on a job for a political insider or an overpriced contract connected to a party leader’s son will go directly towards the fiscal viability of our town for years to come.
Herald: How do you plan to curb the degree of polarization and partisanship in town politics?
Carini: My campaign credo has been “putting people ahead of politics.” I am enthusiastic about working with people, regardless of political affiliation. My No. 1 goal is to help the neighbors who live in the councilmanic district that I will serve. As the vice president of the Wantagh-Seaford Homeowners’ Association, I have worked with a dynamic group of people from diverse backgrounds. We work well together in a collaborative manner. I know residents want tax relief, well-maintained parks and roads that are in good condition. Further, neighbors want their quality of life enhanced. I have successfully addressed many quality-of-life issues locally as part of the association, including graffiti, litter, vandalism and potholes, among others. I am ready to work alongside all of the Town Board members for the residents of Hempstead Town.
Webster: I don’t like our current political climate. No one talks to each other and we’ve become deeply divided. That’s part of the reason why I’m not registered with any political party. I think that our ideas should be judged based on their merits, not on which party you represent. As legislators, it’s our job to reach across the aisle to produce results for our constituents. Regardless of party, we should always be in constant communication with our colleagues on the Town Board. Good government happens when everyone has a seat at the table. By reaching across the aisle and at every level of government, Laura Gillen secured $10 million for Baldwin’s downtown revitalization. Whenever elected officials place party before people, we’re left with a dysfunctional local government. I’m going to work with our town supervisor — Democrat or Republican — to secure the resources that our district needs. I don’t care which side of the aisle an idea comes from; I’ll support any legislation that will benefit my constituents.
Herald: Do you agree with Supervisor Gillen’s approach for reining in the town’s spending? Why or why not?
Carini: I don’t think that the Supervisor has adequately addressed the issue of government spending. The Supervisor has a $2 million patronage payroll. I will vote to slash it in half when I serve on the Town Board. In fact, the Supervisor’s 2020 proposed budget contains $42,000 that the Supervisor budgeted for “publicity.” It also includes a “contingency” budget of $300,000, which is also known as a “slush fund.” Finally, the Supervisor added $58,000 for a new, unprecedented staff of seasonal and part-time workers dedicated to her office. This is perhaps the worst example of reining in spending. I support the council members’ budget, which takes aim at these areas of wasteful spending.
Webster: The more that our government raises our taxes, the less livable our town becomes. Our high taxes are a product of the out-of-control spending of the previous Republican administrations. Every dollar wasted on patronage jobs or contracts for corrupt political interests is passed right along to taxpayers. Supervisor Gillen has started to do a fantastic job of modernizing our local government to reduce administrative waste, shrinking our out-of-control mailer budget and passing substantial ethics reform. Cutting out-of-control spending and improving transparency shouldn’t be partisan issues, but our Town Board keeps putting party before taxpayers and stonewalling our Supervisor at every turn. I’ll work with our Supervisor to slash my own mailer budget significantly by going paperless. In addition, I’ll spearhead more significant ethics reforms and continue our push to modernize our town government.
Herald: What is your vision for the Town of Hempstead?
Carini: I am committed to providing the best municipal services at the lowest possible cost. I will be attentive and responsive when it comes to serving the residents of the 5th Councilmanic District. Reducing taxes and restoring crumbling roadways are at the top of my priority list. Working with governmental leaders at all levels to revitalize downtowns and to protect our neighborhoods from future storm damage is also on my agenda for our communities. Finally, increasing openness and transparency in government is an area where I will devote sincere attention.
Webster: I’m running for Town Council to keep Long Island livable for everyday working families like my own. We pay a lot in taxes every year, and right now we’re not getting a good enough bang for our buck because our town council often places partisan political interests before people. If our town government is going to change, we need a substantial culture shift, beginning with our elected officials. We need to set the standard for communication and collaboration — working across the aisle to deliver resources to the people we represent. That’s why on Day One, I want to sit down with every member of the Town Board — Democrat or Republican — to create a concrete path forward. Our local government needs to jettison its ties to connected political insiders who exchange favors for personal gain. I don’t have any ties to big political insiders, and if elected, I don’t plan to.