Nassau County and Suffolk Counties are expected to meet the state’s metrics to reopen by next week, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said, even as the counties, and New York State move forward with reopening beaches, parks, golf courses, tennis and marinas this Memorial Day weekend, and will honor the fallen on Memorial Day with car parades and a televised wreath laying ceremony.
State beaches, including Jones Beach, are open, while Nassau County beaches will reopen to residents. Beaches are limiting capacity to 50 percent, through limiting parking, and social distancing and rules regarding wearing a mask in public and when 6-feet separation cannot be maintained, are in place.
The Bethpage Memorial Day Air Show that traditionally takes place at Jones Beach State Park will go on “virtually” on the airshow’s web page. Nassau County will conduct an auto parade and a small wreath-laying ceremony at the Veterans Memorial within Eisenhower Park; the Memorial Day events will be televised beginning at 9:30 am.
Meanwhile, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran encouraged residents to take advantage of the county’s expanded biking/walking/recreational trails. Speaking at Eisenhower Park, showcased the newly completed 1.4 mile expansion of the Motor Parkway Trail, a multi-use trail that currently spans from Hofstra University, to Museum Row, to Eisenhower Park. The expansion was completed in time for National Bike Month, which runs through the month of May. The trail serves as a recreational connection of 11 continuous miles through Nassau County for hikers and bicyclists, directly serving the Nassau Hub area. Curran said that ultimately, the county’s Department of Public Works in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land, will extend the trail to connect with Bethpage State Park, where there is a stunning 15-mile long bikeway, and will eventually reach to the Nassau-Suffolk line. The bike paths offer an alternative to using an automobile.
Indeed, the Motor Parkway was built by William Kissam Vanderbilt as the first roadway specifically designed for automobile use only. It hosted the first international automobile race in the United States, 112 years ago. Howard Kroplick, a car collector and historian who owns the 1909 Alco “Black Beast” which twice won the Vanderbilt Cup race.
“It shows government works for the people,” Curran said, adding that the 930acre Eisenhower Park, with its golf courses, mini-golf, tennis, pool, skating rink, actually is larger than New York City’s Central Park.
Nassau County, being contiguous with New York City, has been a hotspot for coronavirus, but the County executive pointed to positive metrics, including the most critical one, the number of deaths falling from peaking at 219 in a single day (April 6) to five; the number of new cases a day went from a peak of 2477 hospitalizations to 564 today; from 592 ICU patients at its peak, April 14, to 178 today.
Residents have “quarantine fatigue” she said, which is why opening outdoor recreation is so important. She said that nonprofit venues, like Old Westbury Gardens, the Planting Fields, the Bailey Arboretum, also can be opened safely, limiting capacity, in order to give people more things to do.
Nassau County’s economy has been decimated by the pandemic and the lockdown. Curran said.
She warned of a collapse of downtowns and the county’s small businesses.
“We see businesses suffering, lay offs,” she said. The county budget, which depends for 40 percent of its revenue on sales taxes, expects a 20 percent decline in those revenues – a loss of $438 million out of a $3.5 billion budget. The county is projecting a $384 million deficit.
She insisted the county has no intention of furloughing workers. “We have the best employees. We have a lean operation. I will stand by (our workers). Think of everything they have done –the DPW, police, health, consumer affairs – all going nonstop, serving residents. We need help from the federal government.”
The county, she said, has so far received $108 million from federal aid, but the county’s payroll is $80 million a month.
Consequently, the state’s new focus on getting funding to small businesses will be a boon to Nassau.
“Small business is a priority,” Governor Cuomo said at his May 22 coronavirus briefing. “The federal government’s small business assistance program has run out of money. Small businesses have taken a beating – they are 90% of New York businesses, and facing the toughest challenges. The economic projections are frightening” – more than 100,000 nationwide are estimated to have shut permanently since the pandemic escalated in March. Minority- and women-owned businesses have been especially disadvantaged by the federal program.
Cuomo announced the state was initiating its own small business relief program which will make available $100 million in New York Forward Loan Fund (NYFLF), with a focus on minority- and women-owned businesses with 20 or fewer employees and less than $3 million in gross revenues, that have not received federal support (https://esd.ny.gov/economic-recovery-covid-19-loans-small-businesses).
The state also is permitting the staging for construction projects in anticipation of the county reopening.
The lag in reopening the county has also hurt real estate sales, Curran said. New Jersey and Connecticut are seeing a boon in New Yorkers looking to escape the city for suburbs. “We don’t want to lose out. We have all price ranges here.”
Meanwhile, Curran announced that the Nickerson Beach cabanas will be open for the summer season on June 21.
“The Cabanas at Nickerson are a beloved tradition of our County’s beach culture and for many it wouldn’t be summer without them. I am glad we are able to return a tiny of bit of normalcy to our residents and allow them to enjoy this amenity along with our beautiful south shore beach. We will have new guidelines in place to ensure that people are able to enjoy the cabanas in a safe way,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.
Nickerson Beach has long offered cabanas for rent during the summer season on the eastern and western ends of the park. Each year, a lottery is held to determine eligibility for available spots. There are 498 cabanas and 147 cabinettes. The County released directives to ensure all renters can utilize the cabanas safely while abiding by social distancing guidelines. The County will be monitoring compliance of these rules.
The County will be implementing a density reduction plan by reducing parking to 50 percent occupancy.
Cabanas may only be used to store food, change clothes and store beach chairs, tables and umbrellas.
Congregation in and around cabanas will not be permitted.
The County will be reaching out to cabana renters to ascertain their interest in voluntarily forgoing their use this season. Those renters who chose to pass on utilization this season will have their renting rights honored with no penalty in the 2021 season. The County will be releasing a fee reduction plan for those who chose to rent this season.
Use of indoor amenities, except for bathrooms, at beach clubs are not permitted at this time. The County is waiting on New York State guidance on opening pools.
Meanwhile, the Governor is looking to allow religious centers to conduct services, limiting participation and requiring social distancing, and is also looking to for a return of professional sports but without fans in arenas.
Cuomo has insisted that testing, tracing and isolation are key to reopening without triggering new spikes in contagion that could force the economy to shut down again. He encouraged anyone to get tested and announced a new pilot program with 52 independent pharmacies to conduct 7000 tests per week.
“New York is doing more testing than any other state, any other nation.” He said that so much testing is available that many of the places are doing thousands fewer tests a day than they can accommodate.
If you have any symptoms or feel you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, he urged, go to coronavirus.health.ny.gov to find out where to go for a test.
The state has mounted the most aggressive contact tracing program, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and developed by Johns Hopkins.
Cuomo said New York would share the software and training program with any state that requests it, through the National Governors Association, at no cost.
Cuomo stressed the importance of wearing a mask as key to preventing a resurgence of coronvirus outbreaks that could once again shut down the economy. As proof, he notes that doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room, first responders and frontline workers have lower rates of the infection than the general population because they wear masks. The state has mounted a video contest for a public service announcement. Five finalists have been selected. To vote (by May 25) go to coronavirus.health.ny.gov/wear-mask. The winner will be unveiled on May 26. In just 2 ½ days, some 92,000 voted.
Bethpage Jones Beach Memorial Day Air Show Virtually
While there won’t be an actual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, you can see photo highlights of past shows here:
Laura Curran made history when she was sworn in as Nassau County’s first woman County Executive. In her inaugural speech, delivered on the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in bone-chilling cold, she reaffirmed her commitment to restoring trust and respect for government.
Governor Andrew Cuomo did the honors of administering the oath of office, noting that since his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, passed away on January 1 two years ago, just a short time after seeing his son give his second inaugural speech, he has preferred to mark the day quietly, but could not resist being part of Curran’s inauguration. “Because this is a special day, and these are no ordinary times and Laura Curran is no ordinary person.”
“On a selfish level,” he said, “I am excited to have a great partner as county executive. We’re doing a lot of great things in Nassau. We’re rebuilding the Long Island Railroad finally, finally, finally. Six-billion-dollar project. We are cleaning up the groundwater with the Grumman plume, we’re going to make that happen this year. We’re fixing our parks. We’re doing a lot together, to have a good partner.
“And we are under assault by a federal government that is very good at doing bad things to the state of New York. Their tax reform plan can really unsettle this state. It’s a real challenge for Nassau with the deductibility of state and local taxes, it’s going to make the finances worse. We’re going to need a leader with real courage, real energy and a leader who understands there is no simple solution.
“I am excited that Laura is not a typical politician because there are no typical solutions to what we’re going through. Laura has the strength, the courage, the leadership, that we need to make a difference and go forward. We are honored and blessed to have her.”
Curran, in her inaugural speech, acknowledged what Cuomo is doing including the Long Island Railroad third track and bringing back the Islanders to Nassau, with the $1 billion Belmont project.
But she emphasized the overarching challenge to her administration: restoring trust and respect for government.
She said that no county official would hold an office in a political party and staff would be barred from donating or participating in fundraising for her campaign.
“We face serious challenges – getting our financial house in order and firing NIFA; making assessments fair; dynamic economic development to grow the tax base, attract good jobs at good wages and keep our young people.”
She focused on her vision for smart development of downtowns, finally moving forward with the transformation of the Hub to economic viability.
“We can meet these challenges if we recognize these are not partisan issues, they are Nassau issues.”
She thanked the County Legislature for voting unanimously to create the Office of Inspector General.
“We must protect our communities, our environment, our diverse population.
“I’m here to make the tough decisions. I have heard your call. Now it is time for action.”
Also on hand with congratulatory remarks were Senator Charles Schumer, who mercifully tore up his speech except to acknowledge Curran’s achievement as Nassau County’s first woman executive, in what has signs of being “The Year of the Woman.”
Also participating in the program were Mayor Francis Murray of the Village of Rockville Centre; Pastor Stephen Lewis of Bethel AME Church, Monsignor Steven R. Camp of the Church of St. Patrick, Imam Mufti Farhan of the Islamic Center of Long Island, and Rabbi Anchelle Perl of the Chabad of Mineola.
Congresswoman Katherine Rice, NYS Assemblyman Tony D’Urso, Hempstead’s newly inaugurated Town Supervision Laura Gillen, Suffolk County Executive Steve Ballone, the incoming Comptroller Jack Schnirman and reelected County Clerk Maureen O’Connell, plus most of the County Legislators were in attendance.
Curran was also supported by Congressman Tom Suozzi, who she acknowledged as having been a predecessor, along with Tom Gulotta, a Republican, who was in the audience. She acknowledged the help that outgoing County Executive Ed Mangano provided during the transition.
Despite the frigid cold (hand warmers were provided), the inauguration was well attended.
In the wake of the calamitous failure of federal government, we are increasingly dependent on the policies and programs that come from state and local government – everything from environmental and consumer protection to public health, education, safety and infrastructure. And that means we are more reliant than ever before on the competence, intelligence and yes compassion of those we elect to leadership, from our villages and school boards, to our towns and county. These are positions of tremendous responsibility and impact on the quality of our daily lives, and even future opportunities, which are more complicated and demanding than initially appears because inevitably they involve resolving demands of competing constituencies.
Judi Bosworth, seeking reelection for North Hempstead Supervisor, has been tested and come out with flying color as the supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, responsible for 226,000 people (that is just about half the population of Wyoming) and a budget of $129 million.
“I don’t take the responsibility lightly,” Bosworth said at the League of Women Voters debate. “I’m running for a third term to continue progress – a more open, transparent government, making it easier to get information from the website about the budget, improved fiscal budgeting process.” An indication of solid management is that she can point to the town’s finances rated Triple A by Moody’s –the highest rating a municipality can get, raised up from Double A1 when she entered office. “Now we are Triple A – that didn’t just happen. It’s because of the fiscally conservative way we budget.”
Bosworth’s opponent is Stephen Nasta, whose sole experience to lead the North Hempstead is having headed a New York City Detectives Investigators Unit –that dealt with political corruption and drug dealing in the Bronx. “Two of my role models are Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani – they got the job done – if I’m elected, I will get the job done.” What job would that be, exactly? North Hempstead doesn’t have a police force (that is a county function) and doesn’t need the militarized policing of the Bronx – but what experience does he have with snow removal, street repaving, sanitation contracts, bonding for infrastructure, overseeing special districts budgets, zoning and real estate development proposals and working with local governments on revitalization projects?
North Hempstead is a complicated town,“ Bosworth reflected. “31 villages, where downtowns are, which control zoning. The town is involved in projects in Port Washington and the area around Carle Place. We are always looking to see what we can do to encourage development. Our building department is doing very well – having seminars to encourage people to open businesses in downtown.” Indeed, the town has pro-active entities, including a Business & Tourism Development Commission which works to inspire, incentivize and promote new businesses; Project Independence; recycling center, 311, an intermunicipal cooperation office.
Bosworth brings long-and-strong intimate knowledge of vital and complex issues, such as the ongoing effort to remediate drinking water from the plume of pollution that emanates from the former Sperry Rand (Lockheed Martin) site, going back to her years as Great Neck School Board president. When a truckload of dirt excavated from where Northwell Hospital is building showed contamination, the town immediately summoned the state DEC, which is responsible for oversight.
“We can’t be a shadow DEC but we let the people in the area – New Hyde Park and Great Neck – understand this was happening and what DEC would be doing. It’s important to be on top of things, to get the agencies responsible to do what they are supposed to.”
The pot-shots leveled against every incumbent Town official go back 10 or more years, but Bosworth has a record to prove her mettle. In North Hempstead, the target is the Building Department, but as Bosworth notes, even the Long Island Building Institute has lauded the substantial improvement.
“Now the Building Department in North Hempstead is running the way it should – honest, process and procedure and code. If someone is having difficulty getting a CFO it is most likely because they are not in compliance…We want anything built in the town to be code-compliant. That’s not just for the person living in the house, but neighbors –if there is something wrong with wiring, plumbing, some mishap, we don’t want anyone’s life in danger.” In 2016, the Building Department issued 5720 CFOs. There is “a changed culture. ..People are advocates, not adversaries.” She pointed to adding evening hours, mobile hours and town halls at libraries to inform people how to navigate the permit process.
To listen to Nasta, who has no platform, program or policy, he is only learning about what ails residents by walking around the town for the campaign. He would be a more credible candidate if he actually had any involvement or role in town governance before deciding he was the man to lead it.
Town Clerk Wayne Wink, Jr. is one of the most capable, smart, genuine people ever to serve in elected office. He could fulfill any function. He was brilliant when he was on the Town Council and then the Nassau County Legislature, and now a superbly competent Town Clerk who is responsible for managing vital records. Here, too, people don’t realize what goes into this function – least of all his challenger.
“When the town clerk’s office was brought into the town’s 311 system,” Wink said at the League debate, “we were asked to prepare frequently asked questions [FAQs] for all the various functions. We had to cut off at two dozen different sets of FAQs – that’s how extensive and how pervasive the town clerk’s office is in everyday function of government. The three single most important are dealing with most sensitive documents that make us who we are – birth, marriage, death records where we are a functionary not just of town law but state.” The town clerk’s office is also engaged in providing nontax revenue for the town – issuing film permits, taxi and tow truck licenses. A third area is transparency and making sure records are archival.
Every public official looks to do “more with less” and Wink has done that – his 2018 budget for the town clerk’s office is 10% less than four years ago. “We are doing more services, better, more efficiently, and more transparently than ever – our town clerk’s office is cheaper and better than ever.”
It is certainly a stamp of approval that in the last four years, Wink went from being a newbie town clerk to being unanimously elected president of the Nassau County Town Clerk Association (13 clerks) and elected by the town clerks from 932 towns from New York State, to serve as director of the state association, serving as an advocate on behalf of town clerks statewide in terms of legislation and policy consideration. “Yesterday, the New York State Department of Health wanted my opinion about genealogical research for old records.”
Wink’s opponent, David Redmond, though earnest about being elected to office (any office, it seems), doesn’t seem to know what a town Clerk’s responsibilities are (being the Freedom of Information Officer is not one of them), but says he will use his tech skills to bring the office into the 21st century. Apparently, he is behind the times.
Ellen Birnbaum for Nassau County Legislator, 10th District: Birnbaum has served for the past four years with an overriding sense of public service – and that is not just a slogan because she has been in the role for four years – but has been hamstrung by a Republican majority on the Legislature that, just as in Congress, shuts out Democrats from decision-making and rams things through. Birnbaum has advocated reopening the 6th Precinct (as does Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate for County Executive), and has worked to get the county to fulfill its responsibility in preserving the Saddle Rock Grist Mill.
Her opponent, David Adhami, seems to have a single answer for every problem: tax incentives, which would just happen to benefit his own family’s real estate development company. He doesn’t seem to understand a most basic principle: if you cut taxes for one entity, that money is made up from residential property owners, and property taxes are the most regressive of all, with the result that retirees who want to stay in the homes they had raised their families in are most aggrieved. As simple as that.
Jack Schnirman for Nassau County Comptroller. When I first realized that Schnirman was the manager of the city of Long Beach for six years, I was bowled over. Have you seen Long Beach lately? Especially after being devastated by Superstorm Sandy? That city has been utterly transformed for the better. Devastated by Superstorm Sandy, Schnirman presided over the rebuilding its iconic boardwalk in just one year, on time and under budget. A graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, he brings an impressive resume to this significant role, so essential to helping Nassau County finally get its fiscal house in order.
“I stepped in when the city was on brink of bankruptcy and turned it around put it back in the black, with nine straight favorable credit reviews,” he said. “As Nassau County Comptroller, I’ll lead the charge for a regional resiliency plan and residency audits that will protect our county’s critical infrastructure and ensure there are proper emergency personnel and resources in place for residents.”
Dean Bennett for County Clerk: A Long Island native who came to embrace public service from his father, a WWII vet, a teamster and a union leader, and his mother who was a nurse at the VA hospital in Northport. Bennett earned a Masters in Human Resources from Hofstra, and a BA in management and economics so he knows organization. He has county and state office experience, having served as Director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Deputy Director of Minority Affairs under County Executive Tom Suozzi, and at the state level, as Executive Director of Minority and Women-Owned Business for the entire state.
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.
The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund hosted the 2017 Nassau County Executive Candidate Forum on Environment & Sustainability at Adelphi University in Garden City on October 15. The format was a panel of three posing questions to the candidates individually and separately, first to Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate, then, in a second session, posing the same questions to the Republican candidate, Jack Martins. With the Trump Administration and Republican Congress pulling back on environmental protection and climate action, the stand that localities take becomes more significant. What follows is a loosely edited transcription, putting the candidates’ replies together after each question—Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Laura Curran: I never planned to get involved in politics. I wanted to help my schools, my community, succeed. That sparked my interest to step up and serve the community in a bigger way – I have been in the Nassau County Legislature for four years, I am proud to have worked across the aisle when it was the right thing to do for the people I represent –For example, I was able to restore 10 bus routes that were cut.
As a legislator, I have had a front row seat to the corruption, the mismanagement [of county government]. I know how hard people work, the high taxes we pay. I believe we deserve a government that lives up to us. When I hear about indictments, it’s clear that the machine is breaking down, is not accountable to the people.
Jack Martins: I believe strongly in the Kenyan proverb, we don’t inherit the land from our parents we borrow it from our children. That is motivating. It hasn’t always been the case – water quality, the way we have treated sole-source aquifer historically, the lack of comprehensive sewering, nitrogen outflow to bays and and Sound, have significant environmental issues that is our responsibility to take care of and not simply kick the can down the road. Options for us – priorities, investments in infrastructure – I have had a history of working across the aisle – with Schimel in Assembly – But if there is a critical issue for us here in Long Island it’s water. Environmental sensitivity, wind energy, opportunities for our economy, need to expand bus service.
Addressing Nitrogen Loading
Adrienne Esposito, Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment: You know the first question: nitrogen. The Bay Park sewage treatment plant is responsible for 85% of the nitrogen loading into the western bays and the western bays are dying – depleted fish, closed shellfish beds, wetlands degrading. The solution is to combine Long Beach with Bay Park, take treated effluent, use the water viaduct currently in place, and discharge out the Cedar Creek ocean outfall pipe. Will you expedite the process of hooking up Long Beach to Bay Park to the existing pipe to the ocean outflow pipe – so bays can be restored and thrive?
Curran: This is a very exciting project. The county was trying to get outflow pipe for bay…. It’s expensive. The county wasn’t able to get (funding?) from the state, federal government. [But] this is an example of how government works well: smart guys had a eureka moment: they realized there is a viaduct under Sunrise Highway,100 years old from an old waterworks, so big, a grown man could stand up in it .What if we bring water up to the viaduct, out to Cedar Creek, 6-7 miles, then there is 2 mile outflow pipe already in Cedar Creek? Altogether it would be half the cost. A viability study showed the plan is viable – they would put a polymer sleeve inside.
The key is expediting [the plan]. We have to work closely with towns and villages because we’ve got to get the treated effluent from Bay Park up the viaduct and back down. We’ve got to work with communities on either side, so we have to make sure they understand and have buy in –we don’t want to shove it down people’s throats. It will reduce the amount of nitrogen into the bays immediately, restore the shellfish. It doesn’t take long before nature will rebound. It would be good for economy, too. A win- win.
Jack Martins: There is a critical need on Long Island, how we discharge effluent into South Bay. Right now, both Long Beach and Bay Park go to Reynolds Channel and we know the effect. Someone came up with the ingenious proposal to connect via existing viaduct – the most complicated part is how to connect from Bay Park to the water viaduct…The viaduct is viable, we can move forward immediately…There are a couple of different options. The sooner we close Long Beach sewer treatment plant …Connect Cedar Creek – lateral to plant to outflow – and discharged 3 miles out. It’s important because of nitrogen loading [which] killed the shellfish industry, killed coastal wetlands. We realized after Sandy that those coastal wetlands protect against tidal surge during these 100-year storms. That’s my commitment, that’s what we will do.
Eric Alexander, Vision Long Island: This issue is on human level: Nassau County has some of most dangerous roads in NYS for pedestrian, bikers, – restaurants, downtowns, growing 55-plus population, growing number of young people who don’t want to drive – what will you do to encourage walkability, ‘Complete Streets’.
Curran – I often talk about how transit oriented development [TOD] will be what saves us as a region – it keeps young people, empty nesters, creates a tax base, jobs. But [existing] infrastructure doesn’t quite support TOD. There are places where we have to reengineer what already have.
I live in Baldwin in the town of Hempstead. We won $5 million in funding for a Complete Streets project to redo our main road, Grand Ave, to make it more navigable for bikers, walkers, cars and buses. This is called a “road diet“: taking two lanes in each direction and turning them into one lane in each for the part of the road that’s in the plan. There is [often] a lot of resistance because people are concerned about change, that it will take longer. But [delays are mitigated by] engineering traffic lights, making turn lanes that fan out so drivers can get to lights in time – that will make it more navigable. But when people can walk around, ride bikes, have alternatives to using a car, people tend to spend more money – they want to stop, shop – which is good for economic development. We’re built up in Nassau County, so we need to reengineer what we already have. That’s what we are doing in Baldwin. I am looking forward to working with zoning municipalities.
Martins: As we consider the next generation of downtown residents, transit oriented development, how we get around safely. I supported Safe Streets legislation in Albany – it made a requirement that when we reengineer streets, we do so in a way that is safe for cars but also pedestrians and cyclists. For us, it’s a question of who we are as a county. We have to have every option for transit – bicycles, pedestrians. We need to make sure we keep roads safe. I represented one of the most dangerous areas in New York State – Hempstead Turnpike – more fatalities – Complete Streets have to be integral to what we do. The county has hundreds of miles of county roads, some of the most heavily traveled in the country. As roads are redesigned, maintained, [we need to be] using Complete Streets [strategies]. That is my commitment. As we stress the need for transit-oriented development, Complete Streets are more important [including] connectivity to train stations.
Improving Public Transportation
Nick Sifuentes, Tri-State Transportation Campaign: Transit oriented development requires good transit – something that is slipping. Governor Cuomo announced an advisory council to address dual crises: congestion in/out of New York City, and lack of funding for MTA (including Long Island Railroad). As the future leader of Nassau County what are the policies and proposals you would like to see?
Curran: I would make sure we have strong advocate on the council – Suffolk has a strong guy, Nassau, we don’t even know who it is. I am happy that the third track is on track, because we need to ease getting on/off the island – how trains operate. I would also look to buses and encourage more people to ride the bus even if they don’t have to [instead of driving]. The more choice bus riders, the better we will be. There are interesting examples all over the country: ideas include creating smaller, more flexible routes, more app-based routes to make an appointment to catch a bus. I am excited to pursue these: for every $1 spent on bus transit generates many more dollars in economic activity. It’s not just poor people who need to use buses. It is obviously important for people to take buses to doctors appointments, university, jobs. That’s economic development… Also ride-sharing –I’m glad it’s [now] legal in Nassau County – young people aren’t driving as much.
Martins: Make mass transit more affordable. Use it to make LIRR more affordable, encourage people to leave their cars. As a parent, when I take my children into the city, I have to take out a loan to pay the roundtrip fare. We shouldn’t have that consideration instead of taking car. [Transit] has to be affordable . if they do something with congestion pricing, make it affordable for Nassau County.
Climate Change & Sustainable Development
Adrienne Esposito: Climate change is real. There is no debate. And Long Island is at the forefront of impacts. New York State set a goal of 50% renewals by 2030 but we can’t get there unless offshore wind is part of the [energy] portfolio. Will you support offshore wind (with site-specific environmental assessment)?
Curran: Absolutely. We have to look for renewable energy. Wind is a gift and we should be harnessing it and anything we can do to harness wind. Also renewables are a growing industry, and I don’t want to be on the losing end. I fought against the LNG [Liquified Natural Gas] port off Long Beach.
Solar panels have a really hard time with permitting – people have to deal with towns, villages, all with different permits that expire differently. We have to work hard with partners –because that is right to do for the environment and the economy.
Climate change. I am concerned with the rhetoric of the president that [the US] will be getting out of the Paris Climate Accord– especially being a coastal community, we see the ravages [of superstorms, sealevel rise]. I am heartened that governors and mayors around the country say they will stick to the Paris Agreement, and I have vowed as county executive to do the same.
Trump has said it is no longer necessary to [require that tax money used for infrastructure must take climate change resiliency into account]. I would insure that every penny would be used [would take] climate change [into account, that is, sustainable development].
Martins: Absolutely. Curious at [the goal of] 50% [renewable] by 2030. I visited Portugal a couple of years ago – toured their renewable portfolio. Portugal gets 60% of their energy from renewable – hydro, wind, solar, voltaics. We should too. I’m a big believer in offshore wind, a great resource for us – the corridor for offshore wind runs from Block Island to south Jersey. We’re in a great position to benefit from cheap energy from wind. I also understand great strides are being made in developing battery technology to store energy at Brookhaven National Labs. That would be an economic boost for us. Right now, the largest project in New York, the east end off Long Island is being staged from Rhode Island. That means jobs are in Rhode Island, economic development is in Rhode Island. It needs to be here on Long Island. If we make a commitment to offshore wind as energy, we should make a commitment to have those jobs here. We live on an island, we have a maritime history. Embrace it, make offshore wind industry here -manufacturing blades, turbines, opportunities for engineering next generation of offshore wind.
IDA Tax Incentives
Eric Alexander: Sustainability and smart growth, but also economic development. To focus growth in downtowns, the Nassau County IDA over the last 7 years provided tax incentives to thousands of units of affordable housing, mixed-use development by train stations… In an election year, attacking IDA incentives is politically popular but they have been anchors of revitalization efforts such as in Farmingdale’s affordable housing component. Will you continue that policy?
Curran: Farmingdale is a perfect example of transit oriented development.. The biggest problem now is you can’t get parking on a Saturday night. IDAs play a serious role, but are subject to attack because if you have nine self-storage facilities getting tax breaks, they aren’t economic drivers that create jobs. But when done right, [IDA tax incentives] can be real motivator, bring the right kind of development into Nassau County. That involves land use planning, that when we do a deal with a developer or business, that real jobs are being created or real taxes being generated from an enterprise, so the investment of taxpayers is returned. We need more transparency in the IDA – open up 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.
IDA is a real asset but must be used properly and if a developer or business doesn’t do what was promised, that there be a muscular way of addressing that.
Martins: My experience as mayor of Mineola, master plan, transit oriented development, overlay district –I see the effects when a community comes together – the commitment it has to expand housing stock, providing affordability for senior, next generation housing. The role for county government: it needs to work with local communities to identify areas where TOD makes sense – Hicksville, Farmingdale, Westbury, Glen Cove …. We as a county could expedite and incentivize. What I would do differently would be to make sure developers who are seeking tax (rebates) make sure they tell communities. Communities feel let down. Developers come before zoning boards and say they need greater density, etc, and then will have the ability to build this, and the community makes a decision to support that request, gives a variance they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. [The community] expects a revenue stream and a tax base that comes back to community. But the first thing is [the developer] goes to the IDA and gets tax credits which undermines what the community expects. So there needs to be transparency, part of the discussion before the decision, not after, that causes so much friction we see.
Generating Revenue for NICE Bus
Nick Sifuentes: How would you create additional revenue for the NICE bus?
Curran: I have suggested pots where money could come from: there is money that was borrowed 8 and 10 years ago that hasn’t been spent (that is a one-shot); the fund balance has way more than needs to be (also a one-shot). You are talking about recurring revenue. I propose that a small piece of ride-sharing money, Uber or Lyft – say 25 cents or 50 cents a ride – to go to buses. It makes sense because all are part of transportation. We could use a small portion of MTA tax and put that toward buses. And red light cameras are $12 million over budget – use some of that for buses. That’s also within the theme of transportation.
Martins: One of the first things I did in in the senate in 2010 and 2011 – I was identified as one of 50 most influential people on Long Island – my efforts to secure funding for Long Island bus was underpinning – NICE bus has a $130 million budget, $66 million from New York State, $45-50 from the fare box, the county puts in $6 million and the rest from ancillary fees, etc. – unbelievable the County only provides $6 million for a system that is so critical to the economy, when years ago, the county paid $20 million. Our responsibility is to put money in place because most who take bus have no other option – we want them to leave the car home – going to work, school, doctors appointments, that they have access to vibrant bus service. I suggested that for ride hailing, we have a surcharge – Uber, Lyft – that surcharge go toward bus. 10-11 million rides a year, 50c surcharge, would put $5-6 million directly into buses. A 50c surcharge is not only appropriate, but would provide a dedicated, steady revenue for buses.
Protecting Drinking Water
Audience Question: What is the most Important environmental issue facing the county and how would you address it?
Curran: The aquifer. We get our drinking water from one place: underground. I am concerned New York City is looking to open 70 wells in Queens. We don’t get another source of water but the city does [upstate reservoirs]. They are concerned about flooding basements so they want to bring down the watertable, but the consequences for us could be disastrous: saltwater intrusion, and could cause Grumman and Lake Success plumes [of contamination] to shift [direction. The Grumman plume is 4 miles by 2 miles and 800 feet deep, almost reaching Massapequa. I am glad to see Cngressmen King and Suozzi working together to [get the federal government] to clean it up. The fact this has gone on this long and the Navy and Grumman are not held accountable for decades….
Martins: The most critical issue facing us as a region, Nassau County, is water supply, making sure we protect our sole-source aquifer against all comers. We live on an island, and the aquifer is tied to Suffolk, Queens & Brooklyn. Our responsibility is to protect it. New York City has other options to get water from upstate reservoirs. Our only plan, A to Z is the sole-source aquifer. We haven’t treated it well over the years, with industrial and manufacturing years post World War II, a lot of damage done – Lake Success, Bethpage. We’ve seen the water supply under constant attack. We have great water providers – we do a good job in maintaining water supply –it is as clean as you get from bottled water- but we have a responsibility to do more – responsibility to surface water – protect our coastal waterways, make sure we enhance sewer systems, sewer treatment plants, make sure that years and decades of nitrogen charging, loading into bays are a thing of the past.
Preserving Open Space
Audience Question: How would you preserve open space in Nassau County from development?
Curran: A Great question because pretty much [all of Nassau] is developed. We have to keep what we have green – that is good to recharge the aquifer. 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. There is a lot of new technology now. For example, the boat basin parking lot was redone with permeable pavement – that’s expensive, so you can only do it in small places but I hope it will become less expensive down the road. But in this way, it also keeps water coming into the aquifer.
Something I am excited about – with all the potential – is to look to a resiliency officer [for the county] to coordinate all these things, work with Public Works, the IDA, and other departments to coordinate efforts for environment.
Martins: The good news in Nassau County: we don’t have farms any more. We don’t have the kinds of open space issues that perhaps they have out east. We do have open space, it has to be preserved. Most of our development going forward – transit oriented – is reusing space already used, and taking and reassembling parcels. We have seen it in communities with TOD has been predicated on assembling parcels downtown – see it in Westbury, Farmingdale – we are mature communities. That development will take place not on existing open space but existing used space that is being recalibrated and brought into 21st century – to meet energy, parking, density requirements – so we have a more robust selection of housing than we have currently. Nassau County doesn’t have the housing stock, the variety, it needs – a lot will take place in downtowns around train stations to be most effective. Protect open space that exists, protect parks, invest in them, make sure are as good as ever have been.
Future of Renewables in Nassau County
Audience Question: What do see as the future of Nassau County when it comes to solar, wind, charging stations for electric vehicles?
Curran: We should have charging stations for electric cars. We have a county employee who plugs in and was written a letter to ‘cease and desist’ from the county attorney for ‘stealing county property’. We should start by the county using electric vehicles.
Martins: Charging stations, infrastructure wise, is easy. If we made a commitment to have more readily available – we can see best practices in other states, countries, where they have taken the initiative so we have more robust use because people trust infrastructure to be there to recharge. We haven’t done it. There is need need for a full array of renewable energy resources. We should look at the entire portfolio and see where it makes sense – voltaic cells as car canopies in parking lots – why aren’t we? Acres and acres of asphalt we can use to create energy and electricity now through EV. We have a corridor of offshore wind east of Long Island. I spoke to Deepwater Wind, no one better positioned than Long Island to build, maintain, develop that offshore wind corridor. Shame on us, New York State, if they aren’t going to prioritize those turbines, and those blades aren’t built here on Long Island. If we are going to spend billions of dollars for commitment to offshore wind, I want to make sure it is here in Nassau County economy.
Communities Impacted by Climate Change
Do you support legislation to provide for equitable distribution of resources to communities impacted by climate change specifically communities of color often left out?
Curran: We have to make sure all communities treated fairly. See the effects of climate change. The south shore still has zombie houses because of Sandy. They didn’t have an adequate advocate to help them rebuild. As legislator, I helped them connect to NY Rising, get small business funds, to get resources to rebuild.
Martins: Tax money, investment. We have to look at how dealing with county that is predominantly viewed as affluent while understanding we have areas of significant poverty – in places you wouldn’t necessarily think of – people have a home but are struggling to pay mortgage, taxes, raise families because the high cost of living isn’t an accident. We have among highest costs, so we have people relatively wealthy given their home, but still living with challenges. How we take resources, distribute, whether having to do with infrastructure improvements, access to cheap renewable energy, water safety quality, we have that synergy. I have never seen in my experience certain areas cut out of resources that way, but we have to be sensitive to it.
Recycle Treated Effluent
Why not recycle sewage and turn into drinkable rather than dispose into the ocean?
Curran: That’s not so crazy – people who run sewage treatment plants are working on a project – try to explain in not-boring way –to treat sewage so it looks like water – Sewage treatment plants use hundreds thousands gallons of water a day to do the work of cooling, etc. – Now, they draw that out of the aquifer. Wouldn’t it be better to take treated effluent, treat a little more and use that to do the work of sewage treatment plant, instead of drawing water out of aquifer? We are close to make this happen.
Martins: It’s an interesting point. I was happy to participate in Great Neck Water Pollution Control District – state of art facility – where they treat to a level where potable. I said, ‘You first.’
I had an opportunity to deal with different groups, where sewage can be treated and used for irrigation, plant maintenance and different things where not wasting potable water, can be reused for different purposes – not quite ‘there’ for drinking water… But if we send [effluent out to ocean] 3 miles – dilution rate for effluent – it will have negligible effect on ocean – it is coastal wetlands that are impacted if released right there – like Reynolds Channel. I would like to see part reused – whether for irrigation. We have to focus on continuing the current process of getting it as far from shore as possible so not to impact coastal wetlands, coastal environment, coastal economy.
Curran: I want to make Long Island environmentally sound, safe, healthy. I moved to Nassau County 20 years ago before we had kids. I came for the Long Island dream: single family house, great school down the block, parks, beaches. We knew we would pay high taxes, but that was part of the deal. As a taxpayer, resident, it is frustrating to see money spent on nepotism, bloated contracts when it could be used to develop technology. Your money is being wasted. I’m in this race because want to restore trust in government, make sure I hire people based on what they know, not who they know, that your money is not part of my reelection campaign. I am eager to get to work. Elect me to give Nassau County the fresh start it so richly deserves.
Martins: There are a lot of issues at play in this year’s election . I encourage you to do your homework, read up on candidates. Whether challenges are environment,t economy – up to county to pay for own budget. For 17 years, we have been under NIFA, not elected – make decisions, affects ability for us to make decisions for ourselves. We need to take control of own finances, pay bills, balance budget – get rid of NIFA so we can commit resources ourselves – whether environment, infrastructure, TOD, creating jobs we all want – so our children have the ability to come home, find jobs, rent apartment and stay here. The best years for the county are ahead, but contingent upon us making decisions about taking control of own county – an idea we haven’t been able to do, so should be shameful to all of us, myself included. Write that check and make that commitment going forward.