By Rebecca Melnitsky
With the election for Nassau County executive less than a month away, candidates Laura Curran and Jack Martins faced off in a debate at Temple Israel in Great Neck on Sunday, focusing on issues of corruption, county finances and the economy.
About 120 people came to the debate on Sunday morning, which was sponsored by the temple’s Men’s Club. Moderators Steven Markowitz and Marc Katz, the presidents of the Great Neck Democratic and Republican clubs, read questions on cards submitted by the audience.
Each candidate had two minutes to answer questions and one minute for a rebuttal if desired. Curran and Martins were also allowed to make opening and closing statements.
“We really need to work hard to create an environment that welcomes business,” said Curran, a Democratic county legislator. “You see these empty storefronts in so many of our communities … Before we can truly tackle and solve these problems, we’ve got to restore trust in county government.”
“I understand the issues that are facing the county,” said Martins, a Republican former state senator. “I understand how to fix them. I have a history of not only doing that very thing but working with others on both sides of the aisle to make sure that we build the consensus we need to move this county forward.”
One attendee asked about nepotism in local government, specifically the recent Newsday report that showed Martins’ running mate for county comptroller, Steve Labriola, has relatives who work in the Nassau Board of Elections and Police Department.
Martins stated there has to be “zero tolerance” for patronage positions, pointed to his own record of holding only elected positions and said that no one in his family has ever worked in government outside of elected offices.
Curran said she would never hire someone that she is related to.
Martins and Curran agreed on many issues, including reopening the Sixth Precinct of the Nassau County Police Department, appointing an independent commission to draw legislative districts, gun control and voting against holding a constitutional convention for New York State.
Both candidates also agreed that Nassau County should not do business with companies involved in the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel because of its policies on Palestinians.
Curran pointed to the anti-BDS law that the Nassau County Legislature passed last year, which forbids Nassau County from doing business with companies that boycott or divest from Israeli businesses or are otherwise involved with BDS.
Martins said the law should include individuals who support and fund BDS as well.
On county finances, Curran said the keys to balancing the budget are negotiating municipal union contracts fairly, bringing down police overtime, hiring the best and brightest for county government, reducing outside contracts and growing the tax base by attracting businesses. She also spoke of her hopes for the Nassau Hub plan in Uniondale, development in Belmont and restoring NICE bus routes that have been cut.
“The county attorney’s office has been gutted,” she said. “We can hire attorneys for the county attorney’s office, bring that work in house and begin to save money immediately.”
Martins agreed that police overtime should be managed and the budget should be balanced. He said he wants to get rid of financial oversight from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) within two years.
Curran said that getting rid of NIFA will take eight years because it involves paying back $800 million in bonds, but “we can get rid of the control period.”
The candidates were also asked about the issues of immigration, reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.
“Nassau County should not be a sanctuary county,” Curran said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate when we see a growing gang problem in Suffolk – and yes, it’s happening in Nassau as well. We’ve got to make sure that our police can work with the federal partners that they need to work with to deal with violent criminals.”
Curran added that Nassau County police do not ask victims, witnesses, or people with information about crime about their immigration status.
Martins expressed support for immigrants – his parents immigrated from Portugal – and said that the country needs immigration reform, especially for children. “We do not visit the sins of the parents on the children,” he said.
Martins also described himself as “pro-life” when asked about a woman’s right to choose and said he would change his state Senate vote against same-sex marriage if he did it again.
“My concerns that I had in 2011 certainly weren’t realized,” he said.
Curran said she is pro-choice and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. “Same-sex marriage is the law,” she said, “and appropriately so.”