Laura Curran wins Nassau County executive primary

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County Legislator Laura Curran declares victory in the Democratic primary for Nassau County executive on Tuesday. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Laura Curran won the Democratic nomination for Nassau County executive on Tuesday, handily defeating a former Republican and turning her attention to that party’s current standard-bearer.

Curran, a county legislator from Baldwin, beat Nassau Comptroller George Maragos 23,093 votes to 6,265, or 78.5 percent to 21.3 percent. About 7.8 percent of registered Democrats voted Tuesday, a smaller turnout than the 2013 Democratic primary for county executive.

Jay Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic chairman, said that Curran had won just after 10 p.m., well before the Nassau Board of Elections published any returns. The declaration was based on results at several election precincts around the county, Curran’s campaign said.

Curran must now run a two-month campaign against Jack Martins, the Republican former state senator from Old Westbury, as the Democrats try to take control of the county seat following the indictment last year of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.

“We are facing a political machine that has proven it knows how to win,” Curran told about 150 supporters Tuesday night at a restaurant on the Nautical Mile in Freeport. “But we know all too well what the reality of those victories have been: corruption scandal after corruption scandal.”

Curran’s victory makes her the first woman to ever win a major party nomination for County executive, a year after Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination.

Her running mates, Jack Schnirman for comptroller and Dean Bennett for county clerk, also defeated their respective Maragos-backed challengers, Ama Yawson and Carl DeHaney.

But Yawson and DeHaney both got more votes than Maragos. Schnirman, the Long Beach city manager, defeated Yawson, a Freeport entrepreneur, 15,751 votes to 11,945, or 56.7 percent to 43 percent. Bennett had a larger margin of victory over DeHaney, winning with 17,075 votes to 9,239, or 65 percent to 35 percent.

Maragos ran an unrelenting anti-establishment campaign after switching parties a year ago and winning two elections alongside Mangano as a Republican. But ultimately the primary was not the “historic” rebuke of local party rule that he promised.

Maragos conceded the race about 90 minutes after Curran declared victory. He pledged to support her in the general election.

“I think she’s committed to ending corruption and pay-to-play, and to that extent I will be very supportive,” Maragos said, flanked by supporters at a Garden City restaurant.

Jacobs endorsed Curran in January. State Assemblyman Charles Lavine was also a Democratic candidate at the time, but he later dropped out and endorsed Curran.

Curran ran as the primary’s “real Democrat,” touting an anti-corruption message and tying Maragos to Mangano’s scandal-scarred administration. Maragos countered that Curran was a “puppet” of the Nassau Democratic machine, and that only he, a wealthy former finance executive who funded his own campaign, would be free from the influence of special interests.

The candidates agreed on most issues — such as an independent inspector general to oversee county contracts — but had substantive differences on others. Maragos, for example, reassessing property values yearly based on market values. Curran said that would be too expensive and instead proposed a three-to-five-year cycle and more staff for the Assessment Department.

Curran called Maragos a “Tea Party conservative” who once opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act. But Maragos said he “evolved” on those issues and left the Nassau GOP because it was ignoring the needs of minority communities.

Maragos campaigned heavily in those communities and won the support of African-American pastors and other leaders. Most of those cheering him at a debate last week were people of color.

Curran, a two-term county legislator, now leads the Nassau Democrats’ bid to seize on public frustration with corruption, nepotism and high taxes and take the county’s top office from Republicans for only the third time in history. Once a little-known lawmaker who broke ranks with her party caucus, she now has the support of officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and more than 40 labor unions.

“Laura Curran made the case to the public what this election is all about, and it is about changing the culture of corruption that is so pervasive in Nassau County and is costing the taxpayers money each and every year,” Jacobs said Tuesday.

Mangano is not seeking his third term this year following his not-guilty plea last fall to charges stemming from an alleged bribery and kickback scheme involving county contracts. His wife and the former Republican Oyster Bay town supervisor, John Venditto, was indicted alongside him. And his chief deputy, Rob Walker, is reportedly under federal investigation related to another county contract.

Curran is a political neophyte compared to Martins, who served for six years in the state Senate after eight years as mayor of Mineola.

It’s an identity Curran has embraced — she often says on the stump that she is “not a career politician.” But she now faces a candidate who has stayed largely above the fray of corruption scandals, and GOP machine that has shown no resignation in the wake of the indictments.

Martins was among the first Republicans to call for Mangano’s resignation. He has proposed his own anti-corruption reforms, including a measure to remove a sitting county executive from office.

“This election is about the future of Nassau County, and electing someone with the experience and qualifications to deal with the challenges that face us,” Martins said in a statement. “Laura Curran wants to make this about the past, but we must look ahead.”

The GOP had a rare primary on Tuesday in the 15th Legislative District that quickly turned dramatic.

Party-backed candidate John R. Ferretti Jr., the chief deputy county clerk, defeated challenger James Coll, an NYPD cop, 626 votes to 273.

Ferretti’s campaign got Coll knocked off the ballot when a Republican judge threw out his nominating petition because it said he was running for “15th District Nassau County Legislature” rather than for county “legislator.”

A state appellate court overturned that ruling Monday, and the Board of Elections distributed paper ballots in the district. But Coll alleged that some sample ballots suggested voting for Ferretti by showing the circle next to his name filled in.

The Nassau district attorney’s office is reviewing a complaint about the incident, a spokeswoman said.

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