When North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth announced in January that she would not seek a third term, it augured a year of change at the top of the town.
The Town of North Hempstead Democratic Committee soon tabbed Town Clerk Wayne Wink to campaign to succeed Bosworth and Councilwoman Viviana Russell to run for Wink’s seat in November’s elections. Both also earned the backing of the county’s Democratic organization.
“It was a difficult decision to make to give up my seat,” Russell told the Westbury Times. “It comes as a risk for my family in giving up my seat and running for another. But I think it’s a great transition. It’s something different. It’s a different way of serving town residents and businesses. I’m looking forward to it. It diversifies the town-wide ticket and sets in motion a legacy for people who come after me.”
Russell already made history as the first African-American woman to win an elected seat in North Hempstead, in 2009. She has represented the 1st District, consisting of Westbury, New Cassel, Carle Place, and Old Westbury. Should she win the clerk’s position, she will be the first African-American woman to hold town-wide office.
According to a press release, the department she hopes to lead “is responsible for all town records, issuance of permits, processing of license applications, and many other key administrative and management functions. The clerk is the designated records access officer for the town and coordinates requests for vital documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In addition, the clerk is registrar of vital statistics for the town itself, as well as for about 20 incorporated villages within the town.”
Russell said she is ready to step into the administrative position from her legislative one, noting, “I would say you need management skills and knowing the processes of how the town works and operates.”
It’s something different. It’s a different way of serving town residents and businesses. I’m looking forward to it. It diversifies the town-wide ticket and sets in motion a legacy for people who come after me.
She has consulted with Wink, she said, and noted that “I work very closely with the clerk’s office on many of the things that they do. A large part of what I do is administrative and of course, I know the inner workings of how the town works in the different areas, different departments and different roles.”
The council post is classified as part-time, but Russell believes it’s more of a full-time job when the duties and responsibilities are added up.
“I’m very excited about it and look forward to serving our residents in a different capacity,” she said. “I’ll miss the work of town council brings, but I’m looking forward to the new challenges that are coming about. I’m excited and the party is excited. I’m looking forward to a vigorous campaign.”
In a statement, Russell said that as clerk, “I will continue the office’s focus on outreach to residents, the business community, and civic groups, to ensure the most positive interactions possible between the office and the public. Building on innovations in technology championed by our current Town Clerk Wayne Wink, I will look to develop additional online training resources, tutorials, and enhanced technological tools to serve the town even better. To maintain openness and transparency in town government, I will work to ensure quick and efficient response times for vital document FOIL requests. In addition, I will seek practical and innovative ways to help reduce the town’s carbon footprint.”
Asked about her proudest moments during her public life, Russell pointed to “all of the workforce and affordable housing that I’ve been able to bring to the town. Also, working on the Long Island Rail Road Expansion Project and bringing to fruition the ‘Yes We Can’ Community Center.”
In addition, “I have some legislation pending dealing with environmental concerns in our industrial area, which has been a long time waiting and overdue.”
Asked what she what wanted in that area of New Cassel, she replied, “I would love to see the businesses work some performance standards where they’re not creating dust and odor that is impacting the residential community as well as the business community around them. Currently, there is heavy industrial use there and there are businesses that create dust—I would say that’s the biggest complaint that I get. The other thing is the odor. So I would say changing the code but the other thing is to make sure that they are not operating in a manner that is deleterious to our residents.”
Among her affiliations are the NAACP, First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury, SUNY Old Westbury Foundation (trustee), Espoir Youth Program, Unity Circle Million Women Movement, Westbury Community-wide Partnership, Project Independence Advisory Council and the Westbury Industry Advisory Committee.
According to a press release, Russell “is the daughter of Cuban and American parents. Her father emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. in the 1950s and married her mother, who was a native of South Carolina. They raised Viviana and her five older siblings in East Elmhurst, Queens. Viviana attended parochial school through the eighth grade, New York City public high school, and received a B.A. in social science from The College of New Rochelle.” She and husband Gary Russell Sr. have been married for 27 years and have lived in New Cassel for 22 years. Their children are Gary Jr., Imani, and Malachi, and they are grandparents of twins, Amirah and Josiah, age 2½. She works in real estate.
Russell concluded, “I am a wife, mother, grandmother, sibling, primary caregiver to my elderly mother-in-law, and an individual committed to leaving this world a better place than it was when I entered it. Commitment to family, friends, faith, and community defines who I am. As I seek this new opportunity to work on behalf of all the residents of our great town, I am taking nothing for granted and I humbly ask for their support of my candidacy for town clerk.”
Public officials endorsed Russell’s candidacy with the following statements:
Bosworth: “As a town board member, Viviana Russell has demonstrated her strong commitment to the residents of her district and to the entire Town of North Hempstead. She will be an outstanding town clerk in whom the people of our community can place their confidence and trust.”
Wink: “I am proud to endorse Viviana Russell. She has been an exceptionally able and effective colleague, and I know she will be a great town clerk. As the leader of this year’s North Hempstead Democratic team, I look forward to running with her.”
Robert Troiano of Westbury, Russell’s predecessor on the town board, who is running to succeed her: “Viviana Russell is an authentic leader. She leads by quiet example, strength of character, work ethic, and personal integrity. Her humility, intelligence, and unyielding commitment to serving the residents of the town will serve her well in this new challenge. Her transition to a town-wide position of leadership stands as an important message that our elected representatives at all levels of government should and must reflect the diversity of our communities.”
County Legislator Siela Bynoe (D–Westbury): “My friend and sister-in-government, Councilwoman Viviana Russell, excels in all that she does. Her outstanding record and unmatched dedication to good government will prove a benefit to all the residents of North Hempstead. I am proud to support Viviana in her campaign for town-wide office.”