Sunday, October 16, 2005

New York Times Endorses Levinson for Hempstead Town Supervisor

FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES ~ Sunday, October 16, 2005
Endorsements in Town Races
Harvey Levinson For Hempstead Supervisor

This year's elections on Long Island have a momentous air about them, a sense that huge changes may be forthcoming. This is especially true of the races for town supervisor in Hempstead and Brookhaven, where well-financed, aggressive Democrats are posing the most serious challenges to Republican control in decades.

Make that about 100 years in the case of Hempstead, the last redoubt of G.O.P. power and patronage in Nassau County. The current supervisor is Kate Murray, the latest in an unbroken string of Republicans who have run Hempstead down the decades, like partisan popes. She is being challenged by Harvey Levinson, the Nassau County assessor, a Democrat from Garden City and the former chief deputy to Denis Dillon, Nassau's district attorney.

Ms. Murray, an energetic native of Levittown, exudes somewhat more crisp efficiency and professionalism than the old-time machine pols from whose lineage she directly springs. She boasts of streamlining town government and adopting innovative ideas, like diesel-electric hybrid garbage trucks, while keeping taxes low and the town's bond rating high. It is to her credit that she can credibly make such claims - the Nassau G.O.P. is not known for its grounding in fiscal reality - and her affable manner is a welcome break from the cutthroat wiliness of, say, former Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who was Hempstead supervisor in the 1970's.

Mr. Levinson is a thoughtful, well-qualified candidate who is campaigning with an underdog's tenacity and inventiveness. He tells voters that the ruling party has overburdened taxpayers through patronage and wasteful spending, particularly in the strange and obscure special taxing districts that flourish in these parts. He argues that poorly planned growth has made parts of Hempstead unbearably ugly. He has stolen a page from Republicans by railing against unsafe illegal housing, though without the anti-immigrant subtext; his push to punish unscrupulous landlords by taxing illegally subdivided houses at commercial rates was an unorthodox use of his powers that focused blame in the right places.

A lot has changed since Mr. D'Amato's day, when Hempstead was an enormous political clubhouse and town employees kicked back 1 percent of their salaries to the G.O.P. But old habits die hard, and it will take more than the likable Ms. Murray to change the culture of cronyism in a one-party town. For example, Mr. D'Amato's wife, Katuria, now sits on Hempstead's zoning board of appeals, even though her previous experience in land-use issues was the two months she spent fighting the town over plans to build a hulking chateau for herself and her husband in Lido Beach.

Who appointed Mrs. D'Amato? Ms. Murray. Her suggestion that it was a nonpolitical choice is as credible as her insistence that her lavish use of town mailings is merely a nonpolitical exercise in constituent service. A glossy town publication that is called - no joke - Supervisor Kate Murray's Public Policy Review offers not her views on nuclear proliferation or sugar tariffs, but rather the usual mix of incumbent puffery, and sometimes worse, like blatantly political attacks on Mr. Levinson.

It is not a criticism of Ms. Murray's abilities to conclude that Mr. Levinson would be a better supervisor for Hempstead. Long Island desperately needs a two-party system, and the Democrats' recent gains here, by shaking up the fossilized status quo and forcing the Republicans to be more responsive, have been good for voters of all parties. The Democrats should keep the revolution going, straight into the heart of Nassau. We endorse Harvey Levinson for Hempstead supervisor.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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