Last month, in a frigid outdoor ceremony, Democrat Laura Curran was sworn in as the first female Nassau County executive. During the ceremony, she vowed to “root out the corruption that has plagued our county and give Nassau the fresh start it so desperately needs.”
The former two-term county legislator from Baldwin lives by the mantra: Respect taxpayer dollars and make government work for those it serves. The Press spoke to Curran before her trip to Albany to talk about politics and some of her plans for the county, how she manages it all while raising three daughters, and how she feels about being the first woman in the post. At the end of our interview, she was still humble and even funny.
“It may sound corny, but I am truly honored to be serving as Nassau County Executive,” she says. “We all know we have serious challenges, but we also have incredible opportunities. And my team and I are off to a strong start.”
Long Island Press: How bad is the assessment problem?
Laura Curran: It’s bad. We have a serious financial problem and a serious assessment problem, and they are a bit intertwined. We cannot address one without fixing the other. The assessments were frozen in 2011, and since then we had an unfair shift in the property tax burden, and we’ve got to address that.
LIP: How bad are the county’s finances?
LC: For the first time in its 18 years in existence, [the Nassau Interim Finance Authority] has imposed cuts, cuts to the tune of $18 million, and the county must report back to NIFA on the cuts by mid-March.
LIP: Will you honor that order? How will you achieve those cuts?
LC: Well, we have to do it. NIFA has imposed a deadline by March 15th, so we have to honor that.
LIP: Why did you sign your executive order barring appointees from leadership roles in the party and donating to your campaign?
LC: It was a campaign promise, and I thought it was very important to deliver on that promise as soon as possible because I want there to be no question as to why I am appointing people in government. It is to serve the residents of Nassau County, right? It is the government of the people of Nassau. I want there to be no question as to why they are there.
LIP: What is your economic development vision?
LC: This is something I am very passionate about. I have appointed a deputy county executive for economic development specifically, which we haven’t had for a long time, because I believe we need to have that laser focus. I am committed to transit-oriented developments. I am committed to working with Supervisor [Laura] Gillen in the Town of Hempstead to develop the Hub in a way that makes it a live-work-play destination. The county owns it and the town zones it. It is very important that she and I work together and we are off to a very good start. That and Belmont is a great opportunity right there for real economic development, and we want to make the most of it. We’ve got to keep our young people. We’ve got to have a wide variety of housing options at different price points to keep our young people and attract young people, which will then bring the jobs.
LIP: How important is the third- track project to Nassau?
LC: I am super excited about the third track because it will help foster that kind of transit-oriented development along the main line that we need in places like Westbury. Mineola is off to a strong start, with transit-oriented development. Plus, people will be able to reverse commute. It would help people to get on and off and around the Island, which we need for economic development. Young people don’t want to drive as much, and the more people can get around, the more people are going to want to live here. The other thing I am very excited about is East Side access. We have a few years before it’s done, but this will allow people who live on Long Island to travel into the city and land at Grand Central, so they don’t have to do those three trains to schlep over to the East Side. This would be huge for our real estate market. It will be huge for attracting more people to live here since the commute will be so much easier to the East Side. [Suffolk] County Executive [Steve] Bellone and I did a tour of it my second week in office. We have a few years to go. They said five years. We are just keeping our fingers crossed.
LIP: Are you excited for the return of the Islanders?
LC: Oh yes! That is incredible. Not only does it mean jobs, support for local business, and growing the tax base, it also shows the world that Nassau is the place to be. I’m a huge Islanders fan.
LIP: How does it feel to be the first female Nassau County Executive?
LC: When I was running I did not make a big deal about gender because I did not want that to be the reason people were voting for me. That being said, I have to say I am very proud of that fact.
LIP: As a mother of three, how do you manage to juggle it all?
LC: It’s a juggling act. It’s kind of a problem that any working mother has. It is the same thing. You make it work. In some ways you can never totally solve it. You just do your best.
LIP: Does your day really ever end? It’s not 9 to 5. Do you even sleep?
LC: I just have to make sure in my schedule that I bank in family time because if my home team is not solid, I am not going to be effective at work. Sometimes I have to miss a concert but I try and book that far in advance. Even if it means spending a Saturday at home with the kids, doing nothing, I think that is really valuable when I can get away with it.
LIP: What is for dinner tonight?
LC: That is a great question. I think we are doing a Mexican casserole with chicken. It’s really good.
LIP: Are you making it?
LC: I have to say that I am not making it. It will be ready for me when I get home. I will be eating it … gratefully.
LIP: What do you like to do in your free time?
LC: My favorite thing to do is read a really good book. I like a wide range of books. I love nonfiction, fiction, literary fiction. The last book I read was Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. It was really good. I recommend it to anyone.
LIP: I know you enjoy yoga.
LC: I try and make a little time in the morning to exercise. I don’t always succeed in doing that, but I love it. It is just a good way to stay calm.
LIP: Who are some of your role models?
LC: Someone I admire is Margaret Thatcher, more on style than substance. She was a tough woman, and she made tough choices, and I don’t always agree with the choices she made, but I admire the way she handled herself and got things done.