With the backing of the Nassau County Democratic Party, County Legislator Laura Curran would ordinarily be expected to win her party’s nomination for county executive and oppose former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, in the fall.
But as those who observed this year’s presidential election already know, these are not ordinary times and a party primary is not an ordinary election.
Only about 9 percent of registered Democrats voted in their 2013 primary for county executive, when Roslyn businessman and school board member Adam Haber unsuccessfully challenged Tom Suozzi.
So anything can happen in the election that will be held Sept. 12 between Curran and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos.
The potential for an upset is increased by the fact that Maragos has higher name recognition and a longer resume than Curran in county government, having served the past eight years as Nassau County comptroller and made two bids for the U.S. Senate.
Though that advantage in name recognition is more than a little offset by how Maragos developed that edge — in four elections in which Maragos ran as a Republican. Running against senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand is not the surest way to a Democrat’s heart in New York State.
Maragos also opposed abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, and in 2011 compared same-sex marriage to people wanting to marry their pets.
Maragos said he apologizes “deeply” for his “inappropriate” comments about same-sex marriage, and that his nieces convinced him he was wrong to oppose abortion rights and has now evolved.
We give a slight edge to Curran in the race based on her political consistency, familiarity with county issues and still — we hope — evolving ideas on how to deal with the county’s problems.
Foremost among those problems is corruption.
Martins’ endorsement by the Republican party can be directly tied to the charges of political corruption filed the U.S. Attorney’s Office against Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano as well as his wife, Linda, and former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Venditto, also a Republican, related to the awarding of town and country contracts. Those indictments followed the conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, on charges of political corruption that also involved contracts with Nassau County — one of several scandals involving county contracts in recent years.
Both Curran and Maragos have endorsed a proposal by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas for an independent inspector general to oversee county contracts — a policy backed by Democratic county legislators and opposed by Republicans legislators.
We appreciate Maragos supporting the independent inspector general, but would feel better if Maragos had done something more address the problem with county contracts as county comptroller these past eight years. As county comptroller, Maragos’ responsibilities have included overseeing all county contracts.
Curran was also first to recommend term limits for the county executive and county legislators to make elections more competitive and reduce corruption. Both Maragos and Martins followed with similar plans.
But we believe all three fall short in backing term limits and ignoring gerrymandering, which pretty much guarantees a Republican majority in the county Legislature, no matter whether the person running is an incumbent or not.
We also give Curran the edge in clearly and unequivocally stating borrowed money cannot be counted in balancing the county’s budget and as a result, the county is again running a deficit — as NIFA, the county’s financial monitor, has consistently stated.
Maragos has said borrowed money should not be used to balance the budget, but muddies the water by saying borrowed money is permissible to balance the county books under normal municipal accounting.
This may be true, but county officials have needed a clear voice on Nassau’s finances and Maragos has not given it to them.
We do prefer Maragos’ approach to the county’s scandalous assessment system — computer-assisted annual reassessments that allows the county to tax property based on its market value.
Curran spokesman Philip Shulman said the comptroller ran with Mangano in 2013 “on a platform of fixing the assessment system and they’ve actually made the problem even worse.”
Curran said annual reassessments would be “ideal,” but too expensive and less realistic than a three- to five-year cycle. She said an assessment system based on homes’ fair market value “makes the most sense.”
We also have been disappointed by Curran’s reluctance to appear at a number of campaign forums.
We realize this is nothing new. Suozzi tried to pretend that Haber was the imaginary friend of reporters when challenged in the primary four years ago. And Martins went to every court in New York except Judge Judy’s to keep his Republican opponent off the ballot when he ran for Congress last year.
Not giving oxygen to an opponent lagging in the polls may seem like a good political strategy, but it is worth noting that both Suozzi and Martins lost their general election campaigns.
Curran, and the public, would have been better served if she used the primary campaign to sharpen her debating skills for the general election, where she’ll face an opponent with much more experience in the arena.