The Village of Flower Hill had one of the more interesting and unique village elections on Long Island. The ongoing pandemic was obviously a wrench thrown in the way, but a heated campaign pitted colleagues against each other and an unexpected death to the mayor and trustee candidate created a race that is not often scene in village politics.
The election itself was postponed twice by Governor Andrew Cuomo due to concerns brought by the pandemic, but it finally took place on Tuesday, Sept. 15 after it was originally slated for March.
The Flower Hill Party ended up sweeping the upstart Liberty Party, winning every position on the board of trustees and village justice, which was uncontested. Acting Mayor Brian Herrington will officially become the elected mayor after beating trustee Kate Hirsch, 596 to 233.
Herrington, who at the time was deputy mayor, unexpectedly became acting mayor after Mayor Robert McNamara, 76, died on April 15. McNamara had decided not to run for mayor again, but was still on the ballot to be a trustee for the village.
“Serving [Flower Hill] through the pandemic, through the tropical storm and the power outage, it’s something that I never want our community to go through, but those are the days where you really enjoy to do because you’re helping people and you’re helping people in a time of need,” Herrington said. “I think when Bob passed away, it just strengthened that resolve because Bob was a mentor and showed us how to serve a community.”
McNamara would still stay on the ballot for the election despite being deceased, the application deadline to run had already passed. Herrington announced that if McNamara won his seat, he would appoint Claire Dorfman to the trustee position. Sure enough, McNamara did win the seat on the board and Dorfman is expected to be appointed to the position at the next board meeting.
Turnout for this election was exceedingly high, compared to past village elections, with more than 800 residents voting.
“We had over 800 people vote, which is unheard of as far as anybody can remember,” Herrington said. “It is the largest turnout in village history and to win with over 70 percent of the vote, was very telling of the hard work from the Flower Hill Party team and staff.”
The high turnout was partly due to this being a contested election, uncontested elections are very common in village politics. Hirsch left the Flower Hill Party to start the Liberty Party and ran against her colleagues. She recruited three residents to run for trustee on the Liberty Party ticket and decided to take on Herrington for mayor.
“For me, the way I saw Flower Hill was that it was clubby and seats on the board are handed down to people,” Hirsch said. “You don’t often see someone strike out and try and run for an open seat. Someone will give up their seat mid-term so that then the incumbent runs again. There’s rarely a challenge. There’s rarely an examination of the political process where two candidates square off and you have a choice. And we gave that this time even though it didn’t work out my way.”
While Hirsch most likely could have kept her trustee seat on the board if she did not run for mayor and stayed with the Flower Hill Party, she does not regret running. She is hoping that others in the community will look at her campaign and maybe decide to run for a seat or look more into what their village board is doing.
“I had really good supporters and I have to say the whole experience as a whole was overwhelmingly positive,” Hirsch said.
However, this campaign season also got ugly at times.
“There were some serious downsides to it, for sure,” Hirsch said. “I think my eyes were really opened up to the political process quite frankly.”
Two village employees filed harassment complaints against Hirsch during the campaign, an internal investigation ensued. She was later admonished by the board of trustees per the findings from the investigation in early September.
Hirsch called the admonishment, “a solely political move,” by Herington and the Flower Hill Party trustees on the board.
Early in the campaign, Hirsch called out the Flower Hill Party for having improper signatures on their petition needed to get on the ballot. She believed that the signatures should be removed and the Flower Hill Party removed from the ballot. The Nassau County Board of Elections disagreed, and the Flower Hill Party remained on the ballot with their signatures intact.
“The experience run against her was frustrating and sad,” Herrington said. “This is a person we saw as a colleague, I saw as a colleague and to see the tone of the campaign go the way that it did was disappointing.”
Officially elected as mayor, Herrington has new problems to deal as he runs a village in unprecedented times. That includes creating a budget during an economic downturn.
“Number one is continuing to fight for the community and protecting us,” Herrington said. “We’re still managing through COVID. It is nice that the economy has started to reopen in a safe way. We’re starting to see real estate deals happen within the village, so we’re starting to see our revenues bounce back. We’re going to continue to keep an eye on the budget, make sure we can hold taxes in check, moving forward. That’s number one, keeping the finances under control.”