Laura Curran and George Maragos on Thursday charged each other with standing by while Nassau County’s problems with financial instability and public corruption grew.
In the final debate before Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Nassau County executive, Curran, a county legislator, cast Maragos, the formerly Republican county comptroller, as an integral part of indicted County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration, under which she said Nassau has languished.
“We just don’t have a government that lives up to us,” Curran said.
Maragos rejected that and argued Curran was “misleading the public” by claiming she could fix the county’s problems after sitting quietly on the Legislature’s back bench.
“I’m the only person, the only candidate here, that brings a professional background of achievement and experience,” Maragos said.
The arguments continue the lines of attack each candidate has taken in the seven months since the Nassau Democratic Committee endorsed Curran.
But the crowd of about 100 at the Madison Theatre in Rockville Centre seemed to have their minds made up five days before the primary. Both candidates got loud cheers and applause after the 100-minute debate; few in the audience were silent.
Maragos said his eight years in county government and previous business experience make him more qualified than Curran to replace Mangano, his onetime running mate who is not seeking a third term.
Maragos took credit for keeping property taxes largely flat — something Mangano has often touted — and reducing the county’s debt by about $100 million. He has “stood up to corruption” by halting payments on certain county contracts, he said.
“The status quo is not working. My opponent represents the continuation of the status quo,” Maragos said.
Maragos said Curran has not spoken up about inequities in Nassau’s property tax system or suggesting cuts to balance the county budget, criticisms Curran denied.
But Maragos falsely said that Curran voted for last year’s budget, which included cuts to bus services; Curran noted that she voted against it. He also said Curran supported tax breaks for a large development project in Long Beach, even though she has made no public statements about it.
Curran took credit for finding money to restore some bus routes. She defended her vote with Republican legislators to approve borrowing for capital projects in her district, which angered her fellow Democrats.
“I have reached across the aisle when I thought it was the right thing to do for my constituents, and I’m very proud of that,” Curran said. “I would do it again.”
Calling Maragos an “apologist for this current administration,” Curran said the comptroller has been complicit in the problems Mangano has caused. She said the “Mangano and Maragos administration” has lacked a cohesive vision to solve the county’s problems, but she offered few specific policy agreements between the two.
When Maragos criticized her for getting a campaign donation from Amedeo Gabrielli, a county contractor who supported Mangano, Curran said Maragos had no problem taking money from such donors in the past.
Gabrielli has never given directly to Maragos’ campaign, state records show. But he has donated many times to the Nassau Republican Committee, which backed Maragos in 2009 and 2013.
Denying Curran’s attacks, Maragos said he was independently elected and has criticized Mangano on several occasions. Of their 2013 Republican re-election campaign, Maragos said there is “nothing wrong with working with the county executive.”
Both candidates agreed on several issues, including the centrality of economic development and public transit to the county’s growth.
Curran said high-density residential development will grow the tax base and attract young people to the county. The Nassau Industrial Development Agency should be “muscular” and “make really good deals” to incentivize development, but claw back those incentives if developers don’t keep their promises.
Maragos put more emphasis on affordable housing, decrying “corporate welfare” by the IDA and the “gentrification” spurred by complexes with high rents. Developers should not get tax breaks unless they promise more affordable units in return, he said.
Curran did not directly answer a question on congestion pricing, a proposal to impose tolls on cars entering lower Manhattan and reduce tolls on other bridges. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed Curran, supports the proposal.
Curran did not take a position on it, but said she supports fixing public transit and creating more “walkable” neighborhoods to discourage driving.
Maragos said the plan is tantamount to a tax that Nassau residents “definitely don’t need.”
The primary’s winner will face Republican Jack Martins, a former state senator from Old Westbury.