Before appointing a senior officer to command troops, Napoleon Bonaparte would ask his confreres, “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?” The lucky officers, he believed, seized unexpected opportunities in battles that would lead to victory.
In a similar vein, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has been pretty lucky on the political battlefield these past four years.
When Curran sought the county executive post in 2017, she was lucky that Republican incumbent Ed Mangano, was under federal indictment for 13 counts of fraud and bribery. Mangano’s top deputy, Rob Walker, was also under investigation. (Later, both were convicted of various crimes.)
In the September 2017 Democratic primary, Curran had the good fortune to run against the hapless County Comptroller, George Maragos. The wealthy Maragos had switched from the Republican Party believing he could buy the Democratic nomination. Maragos proved the adage that one cannot “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
In a hotly contested fall election, voters, weary of GOP corruption, narrowly elected Curran with 51 percent of the vote.
Curran inherited a government that was under the thumb of the state control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, due to Mangano’s fiscal incompetence.
NIFA declared a control period in 2011 because Mangano’s fiscal policies—that included borrowing to balance operating budgets—were leading the county to financial insolvency.
Unlike Mangano, Curran seized the opportunity to work with NIFA to solve the county’s fiscal woes.
Curran’s luck held. Thanks to Republican federal tax cuts and the subsequent roaring economy, Nassau’s operating deficits, based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, began to decline.
In fact, Curran’s 2019 budget incurred for the first time in years a GAAP operating surplus of $76.8 million.
Curran weathered the COVID pandemic in 2020 by effectively controlling expenses, particularly the payroll. And she was lucky; federal COVID relief money—albeit one-shot revenues of $102.9 million—helped the county incur a GAAP surplus for the second year in a row.
So far this year, the county’s finances are in pretty good shape. Sales tax revenue is way ahead of projections and the County, NIFA reported, has received “$397.7 million in new federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, which will be split equally between fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022.”
NIFA is projecting a budget surplus for the third year in a row. And it is possible NIFA will be able to lift the control period.
Curran is also lucky because the Republicans have put up against her an awful candidate, Bruce Blakeman—the Harold Stassen of the Nassau GOP.
Who was Stassen you ask?
Stassen (1907-2001), a Republican, was elected to one term as Minnesota’s governor and went on to lose a record-breaking number of elections.
He unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for president eight times, lost elections for governor three times, U.S. Senate two times, and Congress once.
Like Stassen, Blakeman has lost a slew of elections. In 1999, voters booted Blakeman out of the county Legislature after voting to raise taxes 16 percent and for supporting budgets that were funded with hundreds of millions of borrowed dollars.
Blakeman also lost a race for state comptroller in 1998, receiving only 32 percent of the vote.
In 2010, he never got to the starting gate to run against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. He was soundly rejected by both the Republican and Conservative parties.
And in the 2014 election, Kathleen Rice easily beat Blakeman in the 4th Congressional District.
The lucky Curran should easily beat the ill-fated Blakeman.
But will Laura Curran’s luck hold out?
During a second Curran term, the economy will eventually slow down, consumer spending will decline and inflated residential real estate values will spiral downward.
To prepare for the economic turndown, Curran should have abandoned the election year $375 homeowner rebate gimmick. She should have dedicated those one-shot dollars to pay off tax certiorari claims and to flood rainy-day funds.
By failing to seize the opportunity to effectively utilize the county’s financial windfall, my guess is Curran’s luck will run out during the next four years.