Pulse of the Peninsula: Curran the only Democrat in Nassau exec race

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The Democratic primary for Nassau County Executive is Sept. 12. As far as I am concerned, there is only one Democrat in this race, Laura Curran.

She is challenged by George Maragos, the two-term Nassau County comptroller who ran twice with Republican Ed Mangano and twice for U.S. Senate, challenging Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

He ran as a Tea Party Conservative vowing to overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act, opposing same-sex marriage and positioned himself as a climate change denier.

He has also espoused public education position in line with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and advocated harsh policy against undocumented immigrants, aligned with Trump.

Maragos now says he has “evolved” on these issues and highlights his compassion from his background as an immigrant and self-made, extremely wealthy, businessman (in a financial information services company).

He repeatedly calls Curran “clueless” (a term he uses in his expensive TV attack ads, taken from a strategically edited 2015 interview by PBA President James McDermott with Curran) while he has the experience and insights as the county comptroller, without taking any responsibility for the mess that Mangano has made in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation during an unprecedented economic expansion.

Indeed, Maragos, not Curran as a member of the disempowered minority, was actually in a position to affect the very same assessment problem which is at the heart of the county’s fiscal mess, which he now says he alone can solve, as well as the corrupt contracting and the budget problem mess (which he denies exists, saying “Nassau County finances are not in toilet.”

Does anyone else feel it odd that the county comptroller is criticizing the waste in county government?

“My estimation is that there is $250 to $300 million in waste and mismanagement still in government, whether $80 million in tax cert refunds, $50 million in police overtime and so on — at minimum $250 million in waste and mismanagement we should be able to extract.

With that money, we could fund $10 billion infrastructure investment — put out a referendum — without costing taxpayers a single dollar more, just by extracting inefficiencies and we could get the federal government to chip in,” he said, as if he could sweep away all tax certs and all police overtime pay.

The biggest source of the county’s problems is the tax certioraris – the reductions on property taxes which county residents somehow feel entitled to, but which simply raise taxes for everyone with the added premium of the interest on the refunds which now amount to some $60 million a year (Maragos now says that he said from the start, 2011, that Mangano’s assessment plan wouldn’t work), and are a big part of the county’s long-term debt of (get this) $3.5 billion.

Maragos takes credit for reducing that mind-numbing number by $100 million, and claims that the county’s finances are “healthy” with a fund balance of $170 million.

Curran questions his accounting because the county needs to borrow money to cover operating expenses and apparently NIFA, the overseer of the county’s finances, agrees with Curran.

Maragos proposes to solve the assessment problem by using the computer program that Tom Suozzi acquired to reassess to fair market value every year instead of every few years, so that if the rate is within 15 percent, grievers won’t get their tax certiorari.

But whether the assessment is every one or three years, the real problem is that well connected attorneys hired by wealthier homeowners get automatic reductions from friendly courts.

The result is some $60 million a year in tax refunds the county has to fund or borrow, while raising taxes for everyone.

What else?

Like every Republican who actually despises the very government they seek to lead, he says he would order every department, regardless of how strapped for funding, to cut their budget by 2.5 percent. (Curran says she would revert to zero-based budgeting, where every department has to justify every dollar, a practice that is used to great effect by Great Neck Public Schools.)

Curran, as the Democrat in the race, brings a grass-roots sensitivity – having been a school board trustee and president before becoming a County Legislator and as a journalist.

Her platform focuses a lot on “ending the culture of corruption” and fixing the county’s finances, calls for smart growth — affordable housing, transit-oriented development — and she vows to appoint only skilled professionals to lead departments rather than party stalwarts or donors.

“Smart development is what will save us as a region,” Curran said. “True economic development starts with offering wide range of housing options… That also would attract businesses because they know their employees will have affordable housing, quality of life, walkable downtowns, a  wider range of transit. I worked to restore bus routes and unapologetically supported the LIRR third track – the more we can move on and off the island, the better for the bottom line.”

Maragos, who is smart and a strong manager, presents an attractive and well articulated to-do list, and it is possible that if he could defeat Republican Jack Martins, he would be able to get more support from the Legislature which may remain in Republican control to implement what he envisions.

But his list is essentially the same as what Curran proposes.

The question is who do you trust more to bring that system of values — of economic and social progress for all, environmental protection and sustainable development — to this leadership role. I have to say I would throw my hat in with the candidate who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, National Organization of Women of Nassau County, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Cuomo.

“I am the true Democrat in this race,” Curran said. “My opponent is the two-time running mate of Mangano and candidate against Gillibrand who ran on an extreme Tea Party platform.

You can’t trust him to uphold Democratic values.

“Don’t forget to vote. Turnout is key, make your voice heard on Sept. 12.”

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