Column: Curran the better of 2 good candidates

The Island Now

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 political ties 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, having served four years as a county legislator, and before that, a member and president of a school board (overseeing $127 million budget versus $21 million for village of Mineola, Martin’s executive experience as mayor; school taxes are 65 percent of property tax, versus county which is about 10 percent).

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, the dysfunction, the mismanagement and how a county shouldn’t be run.

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.

“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 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.

“I had a front row seat to fixing things,” he said. “This state is better off than 6 or 7 years ago because we were able to proactively work to make things better….. On day one, we need to change the perception of government …. We need someone with experience.”

On several issues they offer similar solutions: both support reopening the 6th Precinct on East Shore Road and local policing; 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.

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,” Martins said. “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..I will balance the budget, refinance debt, show NIFA we can govern ourselves, 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.

Curran proposes hiring a credentialed assessor (as the charter requires but Mangano ignored), staffing the assessment office correctly and giving the tax court less reason to grant 80 percebt of the tax certs, costing all of us $100 million a year.

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 downtowns will save us as a region,” Curran said.

She points to the mixed-use development and traffic calming project in Baldwin, offers 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.

Over the years, I have found Martins a political master at phrasing things the way to score points with his audience (you have to re-read what he says to realize it). 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.