Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
On paper, Jack Martins, the Republican candidate for Nassau County Executive, would appear the stronger, more experienced candidate than the Democrat, Laura Curran. But you have to probe deeper to examine that experience and more significantly, the record that is attached both in policy, in connections, and the philosophy that the candidate would bring to his office.
On closer inspection, Curran’s resume suits the function well: she’s smart, open-minded, learns fast and has actually has the inside track on county government, as a four-year County Legislator, and before that, a member and president of a school board (overseeing $127 million budget versus $21 million for village of Mineola; school taxes are 65% of property tax, versus county which is about 10%). That tells me she not only knows how to gather facts, use facts, organize facts, but knows local issues closest and dearest to residents and the county. While Martins has been in village and state government, Curran has had a ringside seat to how a county shouldn’t be run.
“I had a front row seat to dysfunction, mismanagement in county,” Curran said at the candidate debate at Temple Israel of Great Neck.
I also like her overarching theme and approach: getting “buy-in” from communities on everything from transit-oriented development in downtowns, affordable housing, and IDA tax incentives.
“We need more transparency in the IDA [Industrial Development Agency]– open up the meetings to the public, let the public give input. When I talk about getting community buy-in for projects, that’s the way. You can’t force things on communities,” she said at the recent New York League of Conservation Voters forum.
“We have to use space we have more wisely – in-fill. You sometimes see suburban sprawl – there is already concrete – you can in-fill with transit oriented development with the buy-in of the community,” she said in response to a question about preserving open space in Nassau County.
“How do we grow the tax base, promote economic development? You have to get buy in from municipalities.. [and] most important [for that is restoring] trust in government,” she said at the debate at Temple Israel of Great Neck.
Martins has a record too.
Martins was a mayor before becoming State Senator. With the exception of breaking with Republican dogma on gun control, he has been a party stalwart, a good ol’ boy in the Republican machine that has dominated Nassau County for all but a few years – basically Tom Suozzi’s administration. Democrats believe in revitalization, in sustainable economic development, in lifting all boats. He literally had the one vote that killed Fair Elections legislation in the state.
His stand on supporting term limits – a dodge for avoiding a position on an independent commission to set voting districts and end the obscenely partisan gerrymandering – that he “voluntarily” stepped down from positions as mayor, state senator – is disingenuous. He “stepped down” in order to step up to higher office. He stepped down from mayor to become state senator. He did not run for reelection as state senator because he thought he would become a US Congressman, and when that didn’t work, set his sights on the Nassau County executive. It is opportunism, not nobility.
He also likes to take credit for “working across the aisle” with his Assemblymembers who happen to be Democrats (Michelle Schimel) and a Democratic Governor (Cuomo). Why should that be something that scores points, as opposed to being obvious, as it was when Michael Balboni was the State Senator. But he also cites as his own successes the very policies and programs that were advanced by the Democratic majority.
“When I went to the state senate,” he said, “the state was not in good shape. In 2010, the challenges were significant, but working across the aisle, with the Democratic Governor, colleagues like Michelle Schimel, I got things done. I had a front row seat to fixing things. This state is better off than 6 or 7 years ago because we were able to proactively work to make things better.”
Martins also affirms “I have zero tolerance ot violating public trust” and understandably tries to distance himself from Ed Mangano, but never fails to spread blame. “The culture of corruption infects both parties and has affected this county disproportionately. Anyone who claims a monopoly on virtue is lying.” Mangano, he says “has been an utter failure, he violated public trust – I called on him to step down a year ago …We’ve had a lameduck county executive for over a year who hasn’t been able to deal with issues, because he was more concerned with himself than his job, and no one to blame than himself. On day one, we need to change that – change the perception of government …. We need someone with experience.”
During their debates they both showed understanding of complex issues and remarkably similar solutions – at least during a campaign.
On many issues they offer similar solutions, both support reopening the 6th Precinct here on East Shore Road, both oppose the referendum for a Constitutional Convention (fearing the Pandora’s Box that would be unleashed), both vow to put the county’s finances on track to be rid of NIFA control but with important differences, especially as I re-read my detailed notes of their remarks.
For example, Curran would put the county’s fiscal house in order through greater efficiency, professionalism, reining in outside contracts (the source of so much corruption and waste) and doing more in-house, and economic development; Martins uses the dog-whistle “courage of our convictions” to mean cutting spending, which to Republicans invariably means social programs.
“We are the only county in entire state that has a babysitter. One of wealthiest counties, we have had an overseer for 17 years because Democrats, Republicans haven’t had the courage to deal with problems head on…This county has to do better than it has – a commitment to balanced budgets, making sure we make ends meet, efficiencies in the budget,” Martins stated. For example, he says he would end the $100 million in overtime that the police department budgets. Really?
“I will balance the budget, refinance debt, show NIFA we can govern ourselves, make investments in our own future.”
That sounds great, but how? On whose backs will you balance the budget? Where do you get the funds to “make investments” in our own future?
Curran has offered a sketch of a plan to put the county’s finances on stronger footing. This begins (but doesn’t end) with fixing the ever-broken assessment system – 70% of property owners have grieved during the past 8 years and of those, 80% won reduction, which has to be made up for by every taxpayer, and costs the county about $100 million a year. Every candidate in history (Mangano and Maragos included) has proposed to fix the system – Martins suggests moving the responsibility for assessment from the county (which then has to pay the refunds) to the villages or towns (which makes them responsible for paying out the tax certs).
Curran proposes hiring a credentialed assessor (as the charter requires but Mangano ignored), staffing the assessment office correctly, and somehow bringing the court into alignment on what is fair, so it doesn’t hand out reductions 80% of the time.
Fair taxes are key, and here Curran has good ideas for balancing the need for economic development with the need to pull back on unnecessary tax incentives granted by the IDA. Who pays for those tax giveaways? Residential propertyowners.
“I truly believe with my every fiber that revitalizing downtown will save us as a region,” Curran said. “It solves so many problems: it keeps young people, empty nesters – and young people attracts businesses. Gone are the days when people go to jobs, now jobs go to where people want to be.”
She used as a model the mixed-use development and traffic calming project in Baldwin, offered strategies to develop more public transit (complete streets, app-based on-demand busing, assessing a fee on ride-sharing to generate revenue for buses, and finally, tackling The Hub.
“Ideas and developments have been planned which include housing, retail, but because of bickering, ego, nothing has happened for 10 years. We can do so much better. It will take diplomacy, working across municipal lines, rebranding Nassau to make sure we live up to expectations of people who live here. It comes back to restoring trust. You can’t have government that is an embarrassment, but government we can be proud of.”
Over the years, I have found Martins a political master at phrasing things the way to score points with his audience. It is insidious to me how he claims credit for the popular reforms and improvements that Democrats have led. On the other hand, he has taken a bold position in contrast to Republican dogma in support of the SAFE Act tightening gun control, and on immigration, seemed to take a position in support of DACA while saying nothing about whether he would be as strong as Curran said she would be in protecting undocumented immigrants from being terrorized.
But on a couple of issues, he could not be more clear: he opposes a woman’s right to self-determination and rejects election reform (including opposing the creation of an independent commission for redistricting to end the egregious partisan gerrymandering and public financing of campaigns) that would shift advantage away from those with the means and therefore access to political power; he also supports expansion of charter schools, while Curran opposes the diversion of public funding from public schools into the largely unregulated, for-profit charter schools.
These differences are deal-breakers in my book.
Curran does offer solutions and more importantly, has the right philosophical underpinnings: sustainable economic development based on the considerable advantages the county holds in health care, medical devices and treatments and scientific research and technology (why doesn’t Nassau County get more of the New York State grants that have been flowing upstate and to Suffolk?), promoting off-shore wind that will bring down electricity costs (good for new business development) and also incubate a new renewable energy industry in wind turbines, batteries, and distribution systems. Why shouldn’t Nassau County be a hub of a renewable energy industry, as it once was a center for aeronautics and defense?
Nassau County needs a bold leader with vision and commitment: Laura Curran.
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