About half a dozen public corruption scandals involving Republican Nassau County officials in the past two years created a political opportunity for Democrats, who are campaigning on an anti-corruption message.
But the arrest last Wednesday of Democratic county Legislator Carrie Solages on domestic violence charges gives the party a harder row to hoe as it tries to retake control of the county government, local politicos said.
“This kind of levels the playing field, so to some degree it takes the moral high ground away from the Democrats,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Sayville political strategist who works mostly with Republicans.
Solages, one of seven Democrats on the 19-seat Legislature, was charged June 21 with misdemeanor assault and endangering the welfare of a child after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend while their child watched, according to court records. He has pleaded not guilty.
Several officials have called for Solages’ resignation, including county Legislator Laura Curran, the Democratic Nassau County executive candidate, and Jack Martins, her Republican opponent.
Solages, a three-term legislator from Valley Stream, is the seventh elected official or political leader from Nassau County to be arrested since 2015.
Five of the other six have been Republicans, including County Executive Edward Mangano and John Venditto, the former Oyster Bay town supervisor, whom federal authorities charged in October in an alleged bribe and kickback scheme. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Democratic candidates, including Curran, have used those arrests as ammunition during an election year in which all 19 legislative seats and three countywide offices are up for grabs, casting GOP administrations as hives of corruption and cronyism in desperate need of change.
But Solages arrest muddies that narrative, giving Republicans a chance to point to allegations that have nothing to do with betrayal of public trust, but are still graphic and likely to stick in voters’ minds, Dawidziak and two top Nassau Democrats said.
“It certainly weakens the position of Democrats,” Steve Markowitz, the president of the Great Neck Democratic Club, said. “People react to acts of personal criminal activity or violence. People react to anything that has salacious details in it, and we see it at the national level. Stuff can be deflected easily. So it’s hard to predict.”
The domestic violence charges could particularly impact Democrats’ standing with women, a constituency on which they rely heavily in Nassau County elections, Dawidziak said.
While he acknowledged that Solages’ arrest “can complicate what is otherwise a very clear story,” Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic Committee chairman, said he has not heard clamoring from women’s groups to oust the legislator.
Jacobs said Nassau voters will distinguish one legislator’s personal misdeeds from the litany of Republican corruption scandals that have increased their tax burdens.
“I think if we’re voting on which party is going to be more inherently honest or trustworthy, I think there’s a legitimate argument that goes to the Democrats,” Markowitz said.
For Republicans, Solages’ arrest brings back into the public spotlight the history of Democratic county legislators breaking the law, said E. O’Brien Murray, the chief political strategist for Martins, a former state senator.
Four Democratic legislators were hit with criminal charges ranging from burglary to bribery between 2001 and 2015, as reported last week in Newsday’s The Point newsletter.
“They buried their head in the sand, and when you have somebody like Laura Curran running and trying to say that her reason for being is primarily what’s going on on the other side, this just reminds the voters that that’s not the case,” Murray said.
Philip Shulman, a Curran campaign spokesman, said the attacks from Martins’ campaign come out of “the same political playbook that gave us Ed Mangano and Dean Skelos,” the former Republican state senator from Rockville Centre who is appealing his 2015 federal corruption conviction.
“Laura Curran will clean up the culture of corruption that has plagued our government and ripped off Nassau County taxpayers,” Shulman said in a statement.
Solages referred a request for comment for this story to his attorney, Brian Griffin, who did not return two phone calls.
But in a Facebook post last Thursday, Solages denied the allegations against him and said he is innocent. Around 200 people commented on the post with words of support.
“I will continue to serve my constituency as I’ve done,” Solages wrote.