North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said no progress has been made in keeping partisan politics out of the town since a highly contentious public meeting last week.
DeSena, who spoke at the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations on Wednesday night, said a shift that moved board members from a shared room into “wings” separated by political parties remains in effect.
She said, to her understanding, the town board has occupied the shared room for more than 50 years prior to the switch.
The newly elected supervisor also said she visited the town hall on Dec. 30, prior to her inauguration and saw the offices being shifted around and asked for it to be stopped. Desena, a registered Democrat who ran on the Republican line this past November, said her request was denied.
Having elected officials hear from their constituents, she said, may be the most effective way to end the examples of partisan politics she outlined.
“We can’t afford to let this turn into Washington,” DeSena said. “I don’t know how we’re going to make progress, but I really think that the town council members have to hear from their constituents that they want to get back to work.”
Various town residents expressed that sentiment during the town’s last public meeting on Jan. 6.
Former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, expressed similar sentiments, arguing that the previous supervisor, Judi Bosworth, a Democrat, would not have stood for what took place.
“What changed between the administration of Jennifer DeSena now and the administration of Judi Bosworth a week ago, where something like this could actually be done?” Martins asked. “Judi would never have done it. And I am surprised that it would have been done in the way that it was by members of this board.”
Tom McDonough, the safety coordinator for North Hempstead’s Civil Service Employees Association Unit 7555, said: “I’m very disappointed this week. As I thought I worked for and with professionals, I’d find that I was very mistaken. I witnessed the most partisan politics that I’ve ever seen. No transparency, no conversations or plans on how things should be run.
Dina De Giorgio, a Republican who previously served on the Town Board, said what happened was not right.
“We all occupied that Town Board suite, and while all didn’t agree on everything and had maybe some spirited disputes, we always kept it professional, civil and bipartisan,” De Giorgio said. “I never felt disrespected, I never felt that my colleagues on the Town Board, although they didn’t agree with me, were being disrespectful.”
Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, a Democrat, said after a meeting filled with controversy surrounding various staff appointments, “We’re all going to be one big happy family.”
Councilwoman Veronica Lurvery, a Democrat, also previously stated she hopes that the newly elected and incumbent council members can work together so they can effectively serve the North Hempstead residents and to keep Washington out of the town governance. Lurvey also said she has reached out to DeSena several times to try and meet to discuss how to effectively serve the town, not hearing any response back.
“We on the town board are moving forward on the substantive initiatives for residents, it is the supervisor that is wasting time,” Lurvey said in a phone interview. “Bipartisanship is not a catchphrase, it means working together and reaching out and responding for requests to meet and talk about things. We have been and remain focused on being collaborative and moving forward.”
Richard Bentley, the president of the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, encouraged DeSena to continue speaking to the press to increase the transparency and avoid the town having governance similar to what occurs on the national level.
Andrew Schwenk, the president of the South Strathmore Civic Association, who was in attendance at the Jan. 6 meeting, said he was “very upset” at how the meeting was conducted, saying board members became confrontational with one another.
“I’m a little bit worried about what’s going to be going on around here moving forward,” Schwenk said. “There’s going to be some conflicts we need resolutions for and we want to make sure that the town is working together like it has in years past to do everything that it can for all of North Hempstead.”
Schwenk also touted the work of Dalimonte and Lurvey throughout their tenures and reiterated that he and others present on the Zoom call were not looking to instigate anything, rather remedy tensions that have been escalated.
DeSena said she would also prefer to have in-person meetings as long as it remains safe to do so, but also have the live-streamed aspect convert to Zoom so that individuals not physically present can ask live questions.