Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray runs a tight fiscal ship. In a time of falling sales- and mortgage-tax revenues, her 2012 budget is balanced without a property tax increase. By reducing the workforce through attrition, she doesn't have to make layoffs or cut services now that hard times are here.

What Murray, 49, of Levittown, hasn't been able to do in her four terms is cut the many layers of patronage that the Republican Party demands of elected officials in its historic base, a town Republicans have run for 110 years. That flaw has led to the greatest embarrassment of Murray's tenure: poor conditions at the town's animal shelter, which has a budget of $7 million a year. High salaries for thaose with political connections but not the proper work credentials have led to continued protests by animal-rights activists, a criminal investigation by the county district attorney and a financial audit by the state comptroller. Murray, whose weak excuse is that no one told her of any problems, seems to have put a skilled staff in place at last.

Democratic challenger Gary Port, 49, a lawyer from West Hempstead, says he would work to modernize the zoning laws to jump-start the economy and fill vacant storefronts. Port, a local business leader, scoutmaster and youth baseball coach, has served 25 years in the military. A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, Port is the legal adviser to the 78th Division commander. Port has made the animal shelter a key issue, but he doesn't offer any transformative ideas for the town or have the executive experience to manage such a large local government. Newsday endorses Murray. hN

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