Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) made history this spring when she became the first woman ever to be named a major party nominee in the race for Nassau County executive.
Now that she’s within striking distance of shattering the glass ceiling in the county’s highest elected office, Curran, who also has the Working Families Party nomination, faces a Democratic primary challenge from Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, a former Republican who switched parties last fall. Her general election rival is ex-New York State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), who the GOP nominated over incumbent Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges last fall and has refused to say if he’s seeking a third term. Curran touts her experience as an ex-journalist-turned-lawmaker as giving her the credentials needed to solve what ails cash-strapped and scandal-scarred Nassau.
“There are a lot of similar skills with reporting and with politics,” she recalled of her tenure at the New York Daily News and New York Post before she ran for office. “Finding who the right people are to talk to to get the right information, having sources who can really tell you what the truth is, building relationships with people and then taking two difference sides of an issue and synthesizing them in a way that you form an opinion and you take a stand.”
If elected, the two-term legislator would be only the third Democrat to be elected Nassau County executive since the title was created 79 years ago. A previous anticipated primary challenger, state Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), dropped out of the race and endorsed her, as did the last Democrat to hold the job: U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
Curran, whose family moved around a lot as a child, graduated with a degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville and settled on Long Island nearly 20 years ago when she married her husband. While raising three daughters, she was inspired to run for her local school board in 2011 before winning her legislative seat in ’14.
“I think my candidacy is a little bit outside of the box,” she said. “Part of that is because I’m a woman. Part of that is the fact that I’m not part of the political culture here.
“I like to think of myself as a regular person,” she continued. “I live in a regular neighborhood with a regular family. It was never part of my plan to get into politics.”
She showed her independent streak in October when she broke rank with her Democratic colleagues and gave the county legislature’s 12-7 Republican majority the one vote they needed to approve $50 million in borrowing to fund capital projects. As a result, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) barred her from Democratic caucus meetings—and she had yet to rejoin them as recently as May.
“My guiding principal is the people I represent come first,” she said of the episode. “And that’s what I want to do as county executive. The people have to come first.”
Besides taking care of seemingly small things that improve constituents’ quality of life, such as adding a turning lane on a busy road or helping create a community garden on county land, legislation that Curran said she is most proud of passing was a law making it easier for veteran-owned businesses to do business with the county.
Mangano’s indictment has made ethics reform a top issue in the race. Curran’s proposals to help restore the public’s confidence in Nassau includes enacting term limits for legislators—some of whom have been re-elected to the panel since it was formed two decades ago—limiting campaign donations from county contractors and reviewing how legislative districts are redrawn to ensure incumbents are re-elected, a practice known as gerrymandering. She noted that the lack of trust can hinder other county initiatives.
“If we want to do real economic development, that’s not going to happen if people don’t trust us,” she said while expressing her support for transit-oriented development and walkable downtowns to attract young residents and new companies, thereby increasing the tax base.
“The sense I get as I’m campaigning, as I’m traveling around, is that we have a lot of… people who are really hustling, working hard and there’s a sense that the government doesn’t live up to them,” she said. “The government doesn’t live up to us. And I believe that we deserve a government that lives up to us. That we hire people not for purely political reasons but because they have the merit, because they have the credentials to do the job.”
And for the county’s top job, she believes that person is her.