On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in the Hempstead Village elections, Mayor Wayne J. Hall, Sr., mayor for three terms (12 years), was not re-elected; more votes went to Don Ryan. A commentator in Long Island Newsday attributed Hall's loss to villager anger over potholes, as if all Hempstead residents -- at least, the ones who voted for Ryan -- are village idiots who would give up a good mayor over a few potholes.
The reality is that more villagers believed it was time for a change of leadership than for a continuation of leadership, not for some potholes, but for a number of long-term and complex reasons. But those reasons are not the focus of my article. Rather, the focus is on the symbiotic relationship between Hempstead's difficulties and its reputation.
The Newsday columnist's demeaning comments show what many outsiders seem to believe: most of Hempstead is kind of stupid; or overrun with criminals; or drunk. "Oh, Hempstead," said a Latina student I was coaching in the Writing Center who lives in Freeport, "yeah, Hempstead has a lot of bars." Unfortunately, the State Liquor Authority and the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Association did indeed force Hempstead Village to absorb a quite abnormal number of establishments selling alcohol. How? By looking at how many such establishments there were in Nassau County as a whole, and allowing new ones in our village when other municipalities refused them, instead of seeing that our village was overloaded with liquor, thus subjecting us to heightened crime. Finally, several years ago, Mayor Hall convinced the State Liquor Authority to stop allowing this treatment. Three very troublesome bars near Hofstra University were permanently closed and new establishments allowed at a much slower rate, with restrictions such as not being allowed to cover their front windows and closing no later than 2:00 a.m.
In my opinion, once Hempstead Village had established a reputation for having a lot of bars, it became vulnerable to use by opportunistic bar entrepreneurs. The county used Hempstead Village to gain profit from liquor sellers without bothering the municipalities who didn't want those businesses. Now the reputation for many barsremains with us, despite the changes muscled into place by the mayor and the board of trustees.
The same with crime: for example, once it was understood that the El Dorado Apartments built on Terrace Avenue in the 1970s and early 1980s were never more than two-thirds occupied, vagrants and squatters moved into the empty spaces and set up their own underground. By 1978, Terrace Avenue had to be taken over by federal authorities, cleaned up of petty criminals, and established as affordable housing. But its reputation had already become entrenched. Then 100 Terrace Avenue was added in 1983 -- I can't believe it was erected after what had just happened to the apartments across the street in the 1970s -- and by 1985, the crime reports in Newsday repeatedly cited shootings and drug activity at 100 Terrace; it still is a focus of criminal activity, despite a rigorous cleanout by combined federal, county, and village forces in 2008. That cleanout did make the street and apartment complex safer overall, but since the 1970s drug pushers have come from as far as Brooklyn and New Jersey to peddle their criminal wares, and to stop them permanently has proven very difficult.
When outsiders judge village residents by the reputation of troublemakers who have intruded over the years, then support from the surrounding communities of Nassau County lessens. In fact, there have been comments to Newsday articles online that revile Hempstead Village, racist comments, self-superior and demeaning words hurled by people who have never even set foot here.
My part as village historian will be to help turn our village's reputation around. There are more good people than bad people here by far. I have to make it known.