Democratic County Legislator Laura Curran said that it was never her plan to get into politics. Nevertheless, on Jan. 1, in below-freezing weather, Curran took to the steps of the legislative building in Mineola and was sworn in by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as Nassau’s first female county executive.
Curran brings with her years of frustrations — and hopes — that were expressed by voters in the Nov. 7 election, in which she was chosen over Republican Jack Martins. She now assumes power after nearly a decade of rule by County Executive Ed Mangano, whose administration was marred by corruption scandals that led voters to lose confidence in Nassau’s executive branch.
Vowing to repair the property assessment system and to retake control of the county's finances from the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, Curran declared that “these are not partisan political issues — they are Nassau issues.”
Cuomo, along with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer — who tore up his prepared speech after acknowledging the frigid temperature — expressed their confidence in Curran as a leader who would get results for the county's middle class.
“This is a special day, and these are not ordinary times, and Laura Curran is no ordinary person,” Cuomo said.
A former newspaper reporter and school board member, Curran was elected to the Legislature in 2014, and made restoring funding for the NICE bus system, as well as pushing for downtown revitalization and transit-oriented development in Baldwin and Freeport, focuses of her advocacy.
In October 2016, Curran was banned from attending minority caucus meetings after breaking rank to vote for $50 million in borrowing for capital projects. When she declared her candidacy a month later at a news conference at her home in Baldwin, she framed the move as a strength.
“My devotion to our residents has sometimes made me a maverick,” she said, “but I am proud of my reputation as someone who delivers real results.”
Curran won the party’s nomination, and State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine quickly withdrew from the primary race and backed Curran, declaring that a continuing primary would “only serve to artificially enhance the power of the Nassau County Republican Party.”
George Maragos, the county comptroller, and a former Republican, remained in the primary race, running with his own team of candidates he touted as “independent,” but he was defeated by Curran, 23,093 to 6,265 ,in the September primary.
For much of the campaign, Curran and Martins refrained from attacking each other, with both stressing the need for ethics reforms in county government and mainly disagreeing on how to best implement the changes. Martins, for example, said that the county should strengthen the office of compliance, while Curran insisted — and her Democratic colleagues agreed — that an independent inspector general’s office was needed to root out corruption.
As the race wound down, however, Curran went on the attack, zeroing in on Martins’s relationship with disgraced former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Martins, meanwhile, tried to frame Curran as weak on crime and himself as the candidate who could best protect Nassau residents from the El Salvadoran street gang MS-13.
Just days before the election, Martins sent out a widely criticized, racially charged mailer depicting three menacing, tattooed Latino men and bearing the message that Curran was “MS-13’s choice for county executive.”
The mailer — which was denounced in editorials both in Herald Community Newspapers and The New York Times — may have done Martins more harm than good in the long run, according to political analyst Larry Levy, of Hofstra University.
“There was backlash there that hurt Martins,” he said. “These kind of ads used to be used by Republicans to make voters feel that Democrats, if elected, would make Long Island look like the city … It would either look black and Latino or look high-rise and urban.”
On Nov. 7, Curran took 51 percent of the vote to Martins’s 48 percent. In total, she garnered 147,102 votes to Martins’ 139,204 — a roughly 8,000-vote margin.
“Tonight, Nassau voted to end the culture of corruption,” Curran said in her victory speech, “and to give our county the fresh start we deserve.”
Curran took power the same day as Democrat Laura Gillen, who ousted Republican Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino on Nov. 7 and made history by being sworn in as the town’s first Democratic supervisor in more than 100 years, in an election similarly fueled by voters angered by corruption.
The incoming county executive has assembled much of her administration, retaining few of Mangano’s appointees. She also is bringing in a deputy county executive of compliance, with military and federal court experience, who is expected to work with an independent inspector general to clean up the county’s contracting process and root out waste, fraud and nepotism.
Curran praised the County Legislature's recent unanimous bipartisan vote to create the independent inspector general post, and told those in attendance that solving the county's issues “will take all of us working together.”
Quoting John F. Kennedy, Curran implored residents “not to despair, but to act.”
“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer,” she continued, “but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past — let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
- Daine Taylor contributed to this report.