Longtime teacher and West Hempstead resident Barbara Hafner said that when she ambled through the teachers’ section at Dollar Tree last month, she got teary-eyed. She realized that after 25 years of teaching fifth and sixth grade in the West Hempstead School District, she would no longer need to buy supplies for a classroom. She was moving on to a new chapter in her life.
Whether it was a result of her career as a sales supervisor or her years as an educator, Hafner said, she long had a passion for helping others. Now retired, she hopes to continue to do so: She is gearing up to challenge Republican County Legislator Vincent Muscarella for the Legislature’s 8th District seat in November. The district encompasses West Hempstead, Franklin Square, Floral Park, Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, and portions of Elmont, New Hyde Park and Stewart Manor.
Calls to Muscarella’s office requesting comment were not returned by press time.
“My number one job was always what I did in my classroom,” said Hafner, a West Hempstead resident for 38 years. “I loved teaching, but now that it’s behind me, I can focus on representing the people in the 8th L.D.”
Hafner, who declined to give her age, has held several leadership roles during her career. She is the director of the New York State United Teachers union for the 18th Election District, and was president of the West Hempstead Education Association for 19 years.
“Ever since I started, it was all about helping people,” she said. “It was all about focusing on how we can make things better for our school district and make things better for the employees in the school district. Every step of the way, I wanted to do something to help the people that I worked with.”
One of the biggest issues she would like to address if elected, Hafner said, is the county’s tax-assessment system. She added that while she was happy to see that it has been brought to the forefront, it needs careful examination.
“I definitely want more transparency with the assessment, and I’m hoping that it would iron out the problems that we have,” she said. “Every community member, and every resident of Nassau County, needs to be very clear on how their home is reassessed. If you challenge the assessments, it should be with the town itself.”
As leader of the teachers union, Hafner said, she has a strong understanding of the issues that are important to employees in Nassau County. “We have to make it so that everyone is paid fairly, everybody’s getting the benefits and the pensions that they kept in reserve,” she said, “because I think public employees are very important to the help of our community, county and state.”
Asked about running against Muscarella, she said she understands that winning this race won’t be easy. Muscarella, who also lives in West Hempstead, has led District 8 since 1995. “I know this is a very tough district to win,” Hafner said, “but when I make a decision to do something, I stick with it.”
She met Muscarella in 1995, when he visited her fifth-grade American history class as a guest speaker. At one point, they lived on the same block in West Hempstead. The last time she saw him, at the West Hempstead Community Scholarship Fund’s annual dinner in May, she said they agreed that their race would be more a matter of politics than one-against-another.
“It wasn’t about being against Vinny,” Hafner said. “It was about, what can I do to make this area better? When I go up to people and ask them who their county legislator is and they say they don’t know, I tell them, ‘Well now you know me.’”