With recent primary elections deciding the political party players in the upcoming November election, Hofstra University gave the public an early taste of the ballot as the school’s Department of Political Science, along with the League of Women Voters of Nassau County, hosted a debate among three candidates vying for the County Executive seat—Democrat Laura Curran, a former newspaper reporter and current District 5 Nassau County Legislator; Republican Jack Martins, former State Senator and Mayor of Mineola; and Green Party member Cassandra Lems, who previously ran for a state Senate seat in 2014.
Held in the campus’ Monroe Lecture Center, the event saw each candidate begin with an opening statement before fielding questions submitted by audience members.
“People are concerned about finances here in the county—high taxes, crumbling infrastructure, protecting the environment. Issues that affect the future of our county, because we all want the same thing,” said Martins in his opening statement. “We live here because we choose to live here and we want our children to have the same opportunities that we have. So whoever is elected in November, those challenges are going to be here, and I feel that the experience I have as someone that has tackled some of these same issues as a mayor and as a state senator enables me to serve our county.”
“As a school board member, I love dealing with budgets and fiscal policies and being able to engage with my community. It really sparked my interest to step up and serve my community in a bigger way as a Nassau County legislator,” Curran said during her introduction. “As a legislator, I’m very proud to have a reputation as someone who works across party lines to get things done. For the past four years I’ve had a front-row seat to the corruption, mismanagement and dysfunction, and in talking to people in different communities, there’s a deep feeling of mistrust. The system is broken and I’m running for county executive because I believe we deserve a government that lives up to us.”
“The League of Women Voters is one of the very few organizations that always invites all of the candidates—even third-party candidates. Green Party candidates are routinely ignored by the press and excluded from candidate forums,” noted Lems, taking a different tack from her competitors with her opening statement. “Elections are all about money and my competitors say that the system isn’t working, but what they don’t seem to realize is that they are part of that system. I’m not accusing my opponents of corruption, but they are part of a system that corrupts. Things are not going to improve until we make a radical change and I have some fresh new ideas.”
The first question from the audience asked each candidate what they felt was the most important issue facing Nassau County and why they think that is the case. Curran led the responses, noting that the most important aspect of her job, if elected, will be restoring the public’s trust in government.
“If we want to create a vision of how we grow and how we do true economic development, we have got to be trustworthy,” she said. “The other issue I think that is incredibly important is getting our finances in order. One way to do that is to make sure that we grow the tax base. Forty percent of the revenue for the county comes from sales tax, so we need to do everything we can to make businesses viable and to attract more business and to create more transit-oriented development and walkable downtown areas.”
Martins echoed the sentiments of his Democratic rival, saying that corruption isn’t an issue that is simply limited to one party.
“The primary issue is restoring public trust in government. Elected official after elected official has been arrested and indicted—both sides have a lot to be ashamed of when it comes to public corruption in Nassau County,” he said. “Fixing the county’s finances is certainly important as well—to fix our problems and not leave them for our children. That’s our responsibility and my commitment if elected.”
Lems, however, while acknowledging their viewpoints, again differed from her competitors on what the Green Party believes to be the direst issues currently facing Nassau County.
“I think the candidates think that corruption is our number one problem, and while that’s very important, I think the taxpayers think the most important problem is the high cost of living, the taxes and balancing the budget,” she said. “But I personally think the most important issue that we need to keep in mind is to protect our island, to protect our planet, from global warming and the intrusion of chemicals. I think it’s very short-sighted just to focus on corruption and balancing the budget.”
Another question dealt with health care and how the candidates would deal with proposed measures that would cut funding in that respect for some of Long Island’s neediest families. In response, Martins stated that you don’t balance budgets on the backs of those who are most in need.
“Within the context of Nassau County’s $3 billion annual budget, there’s usually approximately $125 million and overtime pay. The idea of finding a few million dollars to service those who are most in need is frankly not that difficult,” he said. “With leadership, there’s certainly a way of finding a few million dollars certainly against the $125 million in overtime pay in this budget.”
Again, despite the differences in party, Curran proved that certain rights—including that of health care—are something not to be denied to Nassau County residents who desperately need it, are viewed as equally important by Republican and Democrat alike.
“The county often looks to balance the budget on the most vulnerable and I think that’s inhuman in that people don’t get the services that they expect. I also think it’s just bad economic development. When you cut essential services, you pay a much further cost down the road,” she said. “I think it’s important to take care of our most vulnerable, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s good for our communities and our overall county.”
In this instance, Lems agreed, noting that she is working hard on establishing a permanent solution to health care in New York State.
“The government is supposed to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. It would be outrageous to cut services to the most needy,” she said. “Whether or not I win this election, I’m working to help pass the New York Health Care Act, which would provide universal single-payer health care to every citizen of the state. This would not only guarantee health care to everyone, but it would save the county about half a billion dollars.”