Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) and ex-New York State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) faced off Tuesday in their latest debate as they race to be the next Nassau County executive.
The candidates largely agreed on what they say are the most pressing issues in the county—better managing Nassau’s $2.9-billion budget, increasing affordable housing and enacting new ethics reforms. But they parted ways on who they believe makes a better candidate.
“I think this election comes down to experience,” Martins said, emphasizing that his tenure as Mineola village mayor gives him a background in executive-level decision making.
Curran touted her crossing party lines to vote with the county legislature’s GOP majority as making her the independent candidate, saying: “I’m running to fix this culture of corruption, to break it up.”
The candidates are running to replace outgoing Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges last year. The debate, held at LIU Post in Brookville and organized by the Nassau County Village Officials Association, was the eighth in which Curran and Martins went toe-to-toe in the race.
Both candidates said they would reopen the Nassau County Police Department’s sixth and eighth precincts that Mangano closed under a controversial initiative that shuttered half of the eight police precinct station houses—a plan that was abandoned halfway through its implementation.
They also agreed that the county needs independent ethics oversight. Nassau’s commissioner of investigations and ethics commission are both staffed by the county executive’s appointees, which the candidates say creates the appearance of a lack of independence required of such responsibilities.
In addition, they agreed that Nassau needs to reduce the amount of money it spends on employee overtime to help close perennial county budget gaps that contributed to the creation of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state-appointed fiscal watchdog agency that has controlled the county’s finances for nearly 20 years. The candidates differed on how to revamp the property tax assessment system’s contribution to the county budget woes.
“There is nothing more important to restoring trust in county government right now than getting this assessment system right,” Martins said, noting that Nassau is one of only two counties in New York State where the county handles property tax assessment instead of the towns.
He proposed transferring the assessment responsibility to the towns. Curran noted that Mangano proposed same idea, but the towns didn’t want to take it over. She said the county needs to get assessments in order before reconsidering the idea of transferring responsibility, but Martins said Nassau needs to act sooner rather than later.
Among the recurring themes of the debate was the need for inter-party cooperation so the county can handle the public’s business without the bickering that is regularly displayed at county legislative meetings.
“There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole,” Curran said.
The candidates are scheduled to debate again at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct 26 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. That event will be run by the Long Island Association. For more information, click here.