Garden City resident and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin is no stranger to public service. Before being sworn in to office two weeks ago, he acted as Hempstead’s Receiver of Taxes for 18 years, helping residents reduce their property taxes in efficient and innovative ways. Still getting used to his new digs, he spoke to Garden City Life about how that acumen will continue to pay dividends, the importance of bipartisan collaboration and hopes for his first campaign.
Q: What was the election and post-election whirlwind like for you, your team and your family?
A: Election night was a long night. There were a lot of ups and downs, it was a close race. We were eager to get the transition moving on, and that’s what we’ve been doing through December, and I was there on Jan. 1 at 7:30 a.m. with my wife and kids and got right to work. It’s a big responsibility; the taxpayers have given me the honor of serving in this capacity, and I want to be here day one.
Q: Why do you think you’re the best person for the job?
A: I just think that residents have known me since 2001 as the [Hempstead] Receiver of Taxes, and it’s not just simply collecting money—I tried to incorporate a lot of different changes in that office. Look at customer service: we extended office hours, we did satellite locations, we did drive-thrus. We have 55,000 residents per year who came to that office, and we made it easier and more convenient [for them]. We were the first town on Long Island to actually revamp bills, and last year, we were the very first township on Long Island to do e-billing to residents, and I went to Albany to lobby for this…I’m a firm believer in, if you can do it yourself, why are you hiring these firms? Day one, I slashed and saved residents $1 million, and the previous administration had a lot of patronage filled in the Supervisor’s office. I made it a pledge and followed through with it, and now that’s money we can put into the roads, into the parks, into technology. We’re going to re-evaluate take-home vehicles and ask ‘who really needs a car?’ And lastly, I did call for the resignation of every deputy commissioner, and I’ve received all of them, I’m happy to say. And now I’m going to sit with my colleagues and town board members and see if we want to retain that person or not. I have a great relationship with all my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, and I said at the swear-in [ceremony]: people are tired of fighting. Look, I’m in politics, and I can’t stand Washington D.C. I turn off the TV when I see the fighting, and I think that’s something that’s even been trickling down to the local level, and people don’t want to see that. That’s a change that I pledge: I’m going to work with [my colleagues] regardless of party affiliation; it shouldn’t matter.
Q: When did you know you wanted to get into politics?
A: My dad was a judge, my mom was the very first female trustee in Valley Stream, so my family has been a big proponent of public service. My father was a prosecutor at the Nassau County DA’s office in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and my mother also bought housing for AHRC in New York State at a time when people didn’t understand the need for this. My sister Virginia was a former prosecutor and she’s the first female Village Justice in Valley Stream. It’s an honor to give back to the community, and I’ve been a proponent of it. I’m lucky, and it comes down to core values.
Q: How will you succeed in areas where you think your predecessors fell short?
A: I’ve already had one success with the cutting of the budget. With the other things, it’s working with people. The building department needs to be overhauled, and it’s not going to happen overnight. We are going to sit with our colleagues and we’re going to come up with a plan. We want to look at the technology aspect and look into putting stuff online so residents don’t have to come down here—it’s 2020. Nobody wants to come to a town board meeting and see all the board members fighting amongst each other, because at the end of the day, what happens? People leave with a bad taste in their mouths and say, ‘if these people can’t get it together, how is the government going to function?’
Q: What else have you done in the infancy of this campaign?
A: In the first ten days, we’ve had some significant accomplishments, and we’re going to do more. This morning, I talked with county executives about the HUB and downtown Baldwin. These are real opportunities, and not just town issues, but Long Island issues. We have a responsibility to see success at the HUB, and that success will only be accomplished with the town working with the county, working with the developer. I think that the construction team there is doing it in a way that it’s going to be successful. They’ve brought in the stakeholders, they’ve reached out to the community, they’ve gotten them on board to be real fans of the development there, and you’re already starting to see some of the rewards of it. When it comes to Baldwin, I was talking to the governor and his staff about what’s going on there. We’re having a meeting next week with members of the governor’s office and a number of staffers will be coming down here, and I’m grateful for that, because I think that it’s a real sign that the governor wants to help me.
Q: Any other overarching points of emphasis?
A: I want to lead by example. We need to invest more in our roads; our roads are in poor shape here. Also, everybody knows that I have an affinity to find areas for free space. I think there’s a real opportunity to work with state representatives on green technology to enhance services. Residents should want representatives from every level to work together.
Q: You’re a Garden City resident. What’s your favorite place to eat in town?
A: That’s a little tough, because as a father of three, I spend so much time at St. Paul’s, or I’m over at the village pool. But I frequent everything in town: from Walk Street to Leo’s, there are so many great spots. But right now, The Burger Spot’s a hot one in the Clavin family, or Garden City Pizza, which has a wonderful sausage roll. If you haven’t ordered it, take it home, it’s a special one.