Former state Sen. Jack Martins announced his Republican campaign for Nassau County executive on Wednesday, pledging to restore the county to its former glory after years of scandal and instability.
In a news conference at Mineola Village Hall, Martins said he would bring financial strength, transparency and safeguards against public corruption to Nassau County, as he did in the village he led as mayor for eight years.
“We have the ability to rewrite our history and to make sure that we take this county and make it the pre-eminent county that it was for its first hundred years,” Martins told a crowd of about 50 village officials, community leaders and other supporters.
Martins, an Old Westbury resident who lost a bid for Congress last year, is the Nassau County Republican Committee’s choice to replace the current Republican county executive, Edward Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.
The GOP’s executive committee is set to vote to endorse Martins on Thursday, according to two party sources who are both members of the executive committee. No senior party officials were present at Wednesday’s news conference.
In an interview Tuesday, Martins said the decision to run was not an easy one, given the county’s political and fiscal problems. But if elected, he would push to create a procedure to recall corrupt elected officials from office and impose stricter limits on political donations and gifts, he said.
“You have to take the issue head on and resolve it,” Martins said in the interview. “If someone’s in a position of public trust it is their responsibility to make sure that they uphold the public trust and that there are consequences when they do not.”
Martins, who represented the North Shore in the state Senate for six years, has been floated for months as a possible GOP nominee for the county’s top office. He appeared at a Mineola Kiwanis Club meeting on Monday and said he was considering a run.
Martins led a group of Republican state senators and state Senate candidates in calling for Mangano’s resignation on the day he was charged in an alleged bribe and kickback scheme.
On Tuesday, he said it is “a disgrace” that Mangano still has not stepped down more than six months later.
Martins said he would fix the county’s woes with the same strategies he used as mayor of Mineola from 2003 to 2010. In that time, he restructured the village’s finances, debt and property tax assessment system, and improved government transparency by broadcasting meetings on TV and publishing information online, he said.
Martins said he wants to get Nassau out from “under the thumb” of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state oversight board that has monitored the county’s finances since 2000. He would seek to implement annual adjustments to the values of “similarly situated” properties across the county to reduce the amount of tax refunds paid for inaccurate assessments, he said.
“The challenges in Nassau County are just that — they’re challenges, but they’re not insurmountable,” Martins said Wednesday.
Martins’ campaign announcement came nearly three months after the Nassau Democratic Committee endorsed county Legislator Laura Curran of Baldwin in a three-way primary for that party’s nomination against state Assemblyman Charles Lavine and county Comptroller George Maragos.
Republicans took so long to finalize Martins as their choice because they were thoroughly vetting each possible candidate, but he is ideal because he is relatively independent, runs strong campaigns and is well liked, said the two GOP sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“He’s got all the attributes and he’s corruption-free,” one of the sources said.
Other Republicans considered for the nomination included county Legislator Laura Schaefer, Hempstead town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin, town Councilman Bruce Blakeman and county Clerk Maureen O’Connell, who has since announced she will run for another term as clerk.
Joseph Mondello, the Nassau GOP chairman, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
While Martins has never been dogged by corruption allegations, Democrats have criticized him for defending Dean Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader from Rockville Centre who was convicted of federal corruption crimes in 2015.
Democrats launched that attack again Tuesday, saying Martins is part of a Republican machine that has a systemic corruption problem.
Even Mangano, a fellow Republican, asked how Martins will “explain his support for an indicted Albany colleague.” Mangano also criticized Martins for not pushing for state action to fix the county’s property tax assessment woes.
“Jack Martins came from, worked for it and supported each of those now indicted as he benefited from that same Republican Machine,” Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, said in a statement. “He loses all credibility as a corruption fighter when, once again, he accepts their nomination for high office.”
Immediately following Skelos’ indictment, Martins said Skelos should be allowed to keep his leadership post. Skelos stepped down a week later.
Martins rejected any claims of guilt by association and called the Democrats’ attacks hypocritical “petty politics,” citing their previous defenses of county Legislator David Denenberg and former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both Democrats who were indicted for public corruption offenses.
But Martins expressed some regret on Tuesday that Skelos was not removed from his leadership post sooner.
“Should it have been done more quickly? Probably, in retrospect, and frankly you learn your lessons as you move forward,” he said.
Max Zahn contributed reporting.