Gillen, Cabana take oaths in Hempstead
In Nassau County, it’s more than a slogan these days. The county and two of its three towns are now led by women.
Political heavyweights were on hand on a cold New Year’s Day to celebrate a pair of novice female politicians who broke electoral barriers.
“Today we make history. Tomorrow begins the hard work.”
With those words, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer summed up the significance of the occasion as well as the challenges facing the Town of Hempstead’s newest elected officials, Supervisor Laura Gillen and Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana.
The John Cranford Adams Playhouse at Hofstra University was filled with hundreds of supporters to witness a swearing-in that culminated a surprising election season.
Gillen was the first Democrat—much less woman—in more than 100 years to win the chief executive’s spot in the Republican-dominated town. Cabana is the first Democratic woman of Latin heritage to hold the clerk’s position.
“Laura Gillen, you know what you’ve gotten yourself into?” lightly asked Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to laughter.
The state’s second-highest elected official noted that she had chaired a committee commemorating the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote via the 17th Amendment.
“They were bold, brave and audacious women to against their families and their institutions to win the right to vote,” Hochul said of the suffragists, going on to wonder how those pioneers would judge the progress made in our time.
“I can’t tell you how excited I was on Election Night 2017 to see the sweep of women here in Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead,” she declared. “And I know the legacy we’re taking on is electing more women for office. And that is long overdue, ladies and gentlemen. It’s about time!”
Cheers and applause greeted her words.
With women in power, Hochul suggested, “You’ll get collaboration, not conflict. You’re going to see accomplishments, not acrimony. And you’re going to get integrity, not infighting. And you’re certainly not going to get indictments.”
Hochul praised the women on stage who were leading the fight in what she called a seismic societal shift.
They included Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran (to be sworn in by Governor Cuomo later that day), the first woman to lead the county, District Attorney Madeline Singas, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (who had been the county’s first woman district attorney) and Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.
“By their courage, they are spreading hope and inspiration to women…all over this nation,” Hochul affirmed. “History is being made right here and I want the photo of this swearing-in to be seen all over to inspire—not just women of my age and time—but the next generation. The young women. I want them to see that it can be done.”
Hochul, Rice, Singas and Bosworth joined Gillen in a circle as she recited her oath of office. Among those looking on were Congressman Tom Suozzi and Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who crossed party lines to endorse Gillen.
Representing the next generation of leaders was Arielle Isedenu of Gillen’s alma mater. Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, who read a long list of elected officials in attendance. Gillen, in fact, had held the same position as Isedenu, president of the Catholic prep school’s student council.
Both Schumer and Hochul praised Gillen’s family, singling out her husband, Chris Finegan. The self-proclaimed “First Dude” of the town related the message he and his children wrote on the Mother’s Day card last year, expressing their confidence and support: “This will be your last Mother’s Day as a civilian. Enjoy it. We love you and are really proud of you. Keep inspiring us.”
Finegan talked about Gillen’s service with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, memorialized with a picture of the volunteer and the future saint hanging on the kitchen wall. Visitors ask all the time how that picture came to be taken.
“Laura’s answer always is, ‘Show up.’ If you want to show up in the slums of Calcutta and do the Lord’s work…She showed up for us, for her law firm and certainly for the people of the Town of Hempstead,” said Finegan. “Laura Gillen will continue to show up for the people of this great town. She’s humbled and thankful for the great responsibility entrusted to her.”
In her speech, Gillen made note of the great challenge she faced in taking on the town’s entrenched Republican machine and an incumbent, Anthony Santino, who had won with nearly 60 percent of the vote in the 2015 supervisor’s race. Santino’s campaign chest dwarfed Gillen’s, and he had an army of campaign workers at his disposal while at first she relied on a small circle of family and friends.
Gillen said that her family, and especially her husband, never lost their faith in her conviction that she could win. Among the many she singled out was county Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs.
She observed, “Today isn’t really just about my victory, it’s our victory. It’s a victory for the taxpayers of our town and, on a much broader scale, it’s a victory for good government….This election has been called transformational. And it is. But not for the reasons you might think. It’s not just a transformation of parties or power. It’s a transformation of how people think about government.”
She called for a government that offers its services more efficiently and operates more transparently.
“Starting today, we are replacing a heartless political machine with a government that puts the people of the Town of Hempstead over politics,” she said.
In looking back over her life, she related, “my greatest happiness is often found in looking out for others. Of watching over people. Of taking care of them. And that’s what I’m going to do. In this new role, I promise to look out for all the people who live in Town of Hempstead…no matter what party you belong to, no matter which village you live in. And I promise to watch over this town that we all love, to be the honest steward you trusted me to be.”
If education was important for Gillen (Georgetown, NYU Law School), it was crucial for Cabana, daughter of an Argentinian father and Cuban mother.
The clerk-elect was introduced by daughter Julianne Smith and mother, Sylvia Torres De Cabana. The senior Cabana related that Sylvia had run for office both in high school and college, and was not surprised last year when her daughter called to tell her about her latest race.
Sylvia noted that her parents sacrificed to buy a handyman’s house in Garden City in the early ’70s because they wanted her and her two siblings to attend good schools.
Later, when all three Cabana siblings were in college at the same time, the parents took out a home equity loan to finance their schooling. Sylvia studied at Columbia University’s Barnard College—and here she pointed to fellow alumna, DA Singas—and Hofstra Law School.
She was proud of her work as an immigration attorney, “helping people obtain their legal status and pursue the American dream.”
“The voters have spoken. They want a government that is good, an is open and honest and accessible to all residents. And Laura and I intend to give them all that,” Cabana pronounced.
Cabana singled out husband David Smith, whom she called “my great supporter. He never doubted that I could win.”
“I know that with these two women at the helm, the best is yet to come,” summed up Schumer.