If Laura Curran’s election last Tuesday as Nassau County’s first female county executive was seen as an upset, then Laura Gillen’s win as the first Democratic Town of Hempstead supervisor in more than 100 years was an earthquake.
Both women shared a common focus during the campaign of eliminating a political order seen as corrupt, incompetent and unresponsive to the public.
And in Gillen’s case, she received the backing of two prominent Republicans — Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman and former Floral Park Mayor Tom Tweedy.
The breaking point for Blakeman, who had once served as presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, was reached after Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino shut down discussion of a proposal he and Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney made for the town to hire an inspector general.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the appointment of an independent inspector general with subpoena power was one of the main remedies proposed by Curran for a county contract system that was central to the conviction of then state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the indictment of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and an FBI investigation of Nassau County Deputy County Executive Rob Walker — all of whom are Republicans.
The proposal was first made by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat, after conducting an extensive review of county contracting practices in the wake of Skelos’ indictment and a series of reports demonstrating repeated failures by the county Legislature to oversee the process.
Democrats, including Curran, have supported the proposal, while Republicans have opposed it, saying they are concerned about an inspector general operating without limits. They have said a recently created investigations commissioner, who is appointed by the county executive, can perform the same function.
It is worth nothing that the Republicans gave authority to the county executive to pick and oversee the investigation commissioner after Mangano was indicted for political corruption.
If nothing else, the Republican legislators apparently have a sense of humor — if a less than keen interest in good government.
The Republicans’ concerns about an inspector general operating without limits can be addressed in the legislation that would establish the office. Besides, how would an inspector general operating without limits be worse than Mangano operating without limits?
The GOP’s objection has resulted in legislative gridlock as Democrats refuse to provide the votes needed to borrow money for tens of millions of dollars in capital projects, including road resurfacing and sewer fixes.
Both Curran and her opponent, former state Sen. Jack Martins, proposed term limits for county legislators to help curtail corruption in the county — an objective still high on Curran’s list.
We disagree on the value of term limits.
Term limits are undemocratic, depriving voters of the right to choose who they want. They also eliminate highly qualified legislators and possibly replace them with less qualified legislators and offer little in the way of protection to the public. It doesn’t take a legislator 12 years to figure out how to misuse a position for personal gain. Mangano was just in his second term when things hit the fan.
A more meaningful fix would be the appointment of an independent redistricting commission to draw lines for the county Legislature after the 2020 election that give voters a reasonable opportunity to toss out ineffective legislators.
In 2013, county Republicans used their 10-9 advantage to rig the election system to create 12 districts with a majority of Republican registered voters and seven with a majority of Democratic voters — in a county in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.
Let’s give democracy a chance in Nassau.
Republicans have also opposed a redistricting commission, saying the decision should remain in the hands of elected officials.
The fact that those hands are now Republican and they might not be but for their gerrymandering in 2013 surely has nothing to do with this.
In point of fact, the GOP’s opposition is the same reason we need a redistricting commission — elected officials simply cannot be trusted to fairly draw election lines. Whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in the majority.
There have been hopeful signs since Curran’s election that at least some Legislature Republicans are now willing to work with their former colleague in a bipartisan manner when she becomes county executive in January.
“She’s entitled to us working cooperatively with her,” Richard Nicolello, a New Hyde Park Republican who has been talked about as the Legislature’s next presiding officer, was quoted as saying in Newsday.
Nicolello added, “We cannot go on like this.”
This would be a very welcome change at a time when the county faces enormous challenges.