Hold debate before September 12 Democratic Primary
This Tuesday’s Democratic primary will decide who will face Republican Jack Martins in November’s election. Though the outcome was unknown as this article went to press, one thing is certain: the Ed Mangano era will be over come Jan. 1, 2018. The two-time county executive faces federal corruption charges and opted not to run for a third term, a decision probably clinched when the county GOP declined to endorse him and instead opted for Martins.
On the Democratic side, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos declared his candidacy for the county’s top position last September. At the same time, he announced his switch in affiliation from Republican to Democrat. He had twice being elected to his post, his terms running at the same time as Mangano’s.
In November 2016, Democratic County Legislature Laura Curran declared her intent to enter the race and quickly secured the backing of Chairman Jay Jacobs and the county’s Democratic Committee.
On Thursday, Sept. 8, the two stood on stage at Molloy College’s Madison Theatre in a debate sponsored by the Nassau County League of Women Voters and faced questions from an audience that on occasion expressed its enthusiasm for its favorites.
Curran immediately declared, “I am not a career politician,” and related how she ran successfully for school board, and discovered that she loved dealing with policy and budgets “and it really sparked my interest to serve my community and a better way. In my 3½ years as a legislator, I am very proud of the reputation I have carved out as someone who puts her constituents first. I’m here to serve the public. But I don’t want to sugarcoat it. I’ve had a front row seat to the corruption and mismanagement that’s really become an embarrassment.”
She added, “And I think about who lives in this county. You got smart people. You got hard-working people. We have a lot going for us. But we just don’t have a government that lives up to us. And as I am campaigning all over the county, there’s a common denominator I hear wherever I go. And that is a feeling of deep distrust and it’s no wonder. You pick up the newspaper and you turn on the local news and you see an endless stream of corruption charges. And the list seems endless…. I know we could do better. I’m in this race because I know when I’m county executive I’ll make sure we have safeguards in place to stop corruption before it starts to make sure every penny of taxpayers money is spent appropriately, and finally, that we create a vision of how to do real economic development and live up to our potential.
Maragos said, “I believe that I have been served honorably and with distinction. When we took over the county, when I became county comptroller, the county was almost bankrupt. We had a structural deficit of $250 million, Our cash balance was depleted to less than $10 million, and our long-term debt was skyrocketing. Plus there was a 3.9 percent property tax increase that had been enacted every year toward the distant future. Eight years later the county is in a much stronger financial position—our debt has actually been reduced by $100 million, those 3.9 percent tax increases every gear were terminated, our cash reserves have grown from $10 million to $170 million.”
Maragos admitted that there were challenges ahead, but argued that the county is in a much stronger financial position.
“The property tax burden would’ve been 30 percent higher today if I had not become comptroller eight years ago,” he boasted, adding that he stood up to corruption by not approving almost $300 million in contracts in his first year in office. “I’m proud of the accomplishments, And I believe I’m the best qualified person to move ahead put this county on the right fiscal road fix the many challenges facing us.”
Curran took issue with Maragos’ picture of the county’s fiscal fitness, noting that the county was still under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) and added, “We are in a control period, which means we have very little say over our budget. That happened under the Maragos-Mangano administration. NIFA was not in a control before that. We have to get our budget in order. We have to go line by line in the budget to make sure that every penny is being spent appropriately. Right now this administration is spending millions and millions of dollars on outside contracts to connected legal firms and other people who do work with the county We could do a lot of that work in-house and save millions every year. We pay of corruption tax every year for those bloated patronage positions and bloated contracts. Guess who pays for it? We do.”
Maragos pushed back against Curran’s attempts to link him with the lame duck county executive.
“The most important characteristic of a leader and the next county executive is going to be integrity and honesty. And when you hear my opponent here say that I’m part of the Mangano administration when the comptroller is elected by the people and it’s actually a watchdog on the executive and the legislature, so she isn’t speaking the truth and that’s not a good start for someone who wants to be county executive.”
Curran rejoined, “I just remind you that four years ago, when he was running [for a second term as] comptroller, he ran a TV ad [touting] the Mangano-Maragos team. He was very proud of that.”
Maragos responded that, even as he was standing side by side with a then fellow Republican in a campaign, he was still calling out the county executive when he felt it was appropriate.
Policing The Budget
One questioner wanted to know what the candidates would do about the police budget, which has grown in recent years after some retrenchment during the Great Recession.
Curran noted that 87 percent of a resident’s county tax bill goes to the police and law enforcement costs are very high.
“It’s going to be up to the next county executive to negotiate with all with the police union and all the municipal unions,” she said. “All municipal contracts are up at the end of this year and it’s highly unlikely that this present administration will be negotiating them. We have to make sure that we negotiate fairly. We have to make sure that our people remain safe, but I think we’re going to have to have some serious conversations. And it’s going to take a lot of diplomacy.”
Maragos and then Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter had some public disputes over the comptroller’s report on the high overtime costs in the police department.
“I’ve already mentioned that we have police officers earning over $200,000 in overtime,” Maragos stated. “They’re abusing the system.”
Under current rules, he suggested, we are not utilizing officers effectively.
“It’s not the salaries of the police officers, it’s the waste and mismanagement that is allowed to persist. And it need requires someone with knowledge insights and experience to be able to fairly tackle this issue,” Maragos concluded.
With President Trump’s decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law in the news, the candidates were asked how they would respond.
Maragos called the decision heartless and cruel, “to deny young people hope that they were given.” He also spoke out against the president’s aggressive immigration policy.
He said that he had highlighted in a report issued by his office the fact that there are weaknesses in the current system. One of these is that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department “is permitted to operate in our jail. They can detain people on administrative warrants and deny them due right, which is a fundamental right that exists in the Constitution—and that should not be happening here in Nassau County.”
Maragos added, “As a community we need to speak out loudly against terminating DACA. And certainly [for] moving to have a path to citizenship for these innocent people who are an asset to our community.”
Curran said the decision disenfranchises 800,000 young people, many of whom live on Long Island.
“These are people who are working, are paying taxes, are serving in the military,” she added. “You’re not only disrupting their lives, you’re disrupting their families’ lives and spreading fear. It has also a real economic impact. It is estimated that $280 billion will be lost [by the U.S. economy] in the next decade if they are not allowed to work.”
As far as the so-called “Sanctuary City” movement, in which local law enforcement decline to operate with federal authorities, Curran reveled that current Nassau County Police Department policy is not to ask for one’s immigration status after an arrest or during an investigation, “and that is an important policy, and one as a county executive that I will make sure to strengthen.”
She believed this policy builds trust between the police and the communities they serve and protect.
“If someone is the victim of domestic violence, or has information about a gang and is afraid to come forward [for fear of arrest by ICE], those problems will get worst. However, if you are [here illegally] and are a violent criminal, all bets are off.”
Maragos pointed out that “my opponent does not recognize—as I have highlighted—that our police and correction officers can arrest people on administrative warrants from ICE and retain people without cause. I called on the county executive and legislature to [implement] a friendly and welcoming immigration policy. That we should not be honoring administrative warrants without judicial review. She has not spoken up, and that still persists today.”
Curran wants to work with the various industrial development agencies (IDAs) “in a smart way to do real affordable housing. There are a lot of mechanisms now to fund affordable housing…We can do a much better job at the county level of making it happen.”
Having affordable housing, she noted, helps retain young people and also is a magnet for firms looking to move to the county.
Maragos would like to see an end to the IDAs granting tax breaks and municipalities granting zoning variances to developers without any requirement that they put aside a certain percentage—he cited NYC’s figure of at least 25 percent—”of units build to be affordable to the average family income in the immediate community.”
He also criticized the “perplexing zoning issue, in that we have 80 or more zoning jurisdictions in Nassau County. Nobody wants development. It takes an average of two years to build anything.”
He suggested a master plan such as the one used in NYC to facilitate and expedite housing development.
Jobs And Youth
One attendee asked, “Many people are leaving Nassau County due to high taxes and lack of economic opportunity. What is your vision for bringing jobs and opportunities back to the county?”
Maragos referred to a report he had issued that noted that the county’s population is aging, and young people are leaving for college and not coming back because “we are not creating those high paying economic opportunities here.
“So I articulated a vision that we invest on creating an economy built around health care, wellness, biotech and biosciences—and become the best in the world,” he said, adding the county could be a destination where people could come to get the best possible treatment and were “the next generation of miracle drugs and miracle treatments will be found.”
To Curran, retaining young people involves “maximizing our potential. We have to develop the [Coliseum] hub in a smart way. We’ve got to do good transit-oriented development where it makes sense. We have to invest in robust public transportation for people to get around. And we also need to create a vision of how we do it. We have to work across municipal lines.”
She added, “We’ve got great potential here. We’ve got good schools. We’ve got smart people. We’re right near New York City. Let’s get it together and live up to our potential.”
Maragos said the most important value in the next county executive is integrity and experience. He touted the fact that he’s self funding his campaign and accepting no contributions. He slammed Curran for taking money “from the same Republican donors that corrupted Mangano.” He called himself independent of the party machine that picked Curran and partly bankrolled her campaign. The contributions to his opponent, he charged, “are investments these corrupting influences are making—and they want something in return for that investment.”
Maragos claimed that is his party “cannot present a candidate who has integrity and experience and has already been corrupted, then we can present no difference with the Republican nominee and Republican party. And the Democratic party will not win the next general election for county executive.”
Curran countered that when she announced her candidacy from the living room of her Baldwin home, “I did not ask for anyone’s permission. I got into this race because I have a front row seat to what is not working. And the status quo is not working. That’s what’s inspired my run. I have ruffled feathers in my party and have made people angry at me for things I have done. But every single vote I’ve taken—and yes, sometimes I have reached across the aisle when I thought it was the right thing to do for my constituents. And I’m very proud of that, and i would do it again.”
In a dig at Maragos, she stated, “My opponent had no trouble taking money from the same guys he’s talking about now when he was Ed Mangano’s two-time running mate.”
Moderator Lisa Scott of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters, in introducing the closing argument, said, “Voters their choice because they want to vote for someone. I encouraged you both to think about why people should vote for you, incorporate your vision and make it as positive as you can so that people we’ll go when I look at your name at the polling place and say, ‘Yes that’s the one I want to vote for.’”
Curran said, “I bring a message of positivity and what we can achieve and what we can do. And I believe my candidacy is gaining momentum, gaining endorsements and gaining support. I’m the right messenger and I got the right message. I love traveling around the county. I love talking to people about their concerns. I love debates. I love debates like this. And I know that we could do so much better.”
Curran said she was very proud to have been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, Congressman Tom Suozzi, Senator Kirsten Gillebrand and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Because that to me validates that I am the right candidate,” she concluded. “I will be the strong one to win and take back our county in November, so that we finally could live up to our potential. And finally live up to the greatness of the people who live here. Because right now under this current administration it’s an embarrassment. It’s an embarrassment that we are under NIFA control. An embarrassment that we’re losing our young people.”
Maragos said, “The status quo is not working. My opponent represents the continuation of the status quo and the corruption that we have. The inability to have a vision that would create a new economy to fix our infrastructure. On the other hand I’m beholden to nobody, but the people. You. I’ve taken no contributions, I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m committed to this county. So if we want change, if we want a clean break with the past to build a new Nassau County that’s vibrant and is going to provide exciting new job opportunities, affordable housing, lower taxation [I’m your candidate]. I’ve articulated a vision that’s been tested with various experts. I know how to bring people together and that’s what government should be…about giving hope to people that have not had hope.”