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Activist accuses Curran was marginalizing Latinos

Melissa Figueroa and other Latino activists outside the

Melissa Figueroa and other Latino activists outside the Nassau County Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola on Friday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The former head of the now dissolved Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board continued her criticism Friday of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran for not having Latino representation in what she called the county's more powerful Office of Minority Affairs.

Melissa Figueroa, a community activist from Hempstead, said Curran was marginalizing Latinos, the county's largest minority group, by not having "equitable" representation in county government.

Standing on the steps of the County Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola with about 30 mostly Latino activists behind her, Figueroa said she wanted "to send a very clear message to our Nassau County official, Laura Curran. The message is that Latinos demand, we demand to end the institutionally racist segregation that is built into our government, that has been established in the structure of this current county administration."

She asked, "Would it be OK if the Office of Minority Affairs of Nassau County was entirely represented by the Latino community? Of course not. ... So nor should it be OK for any other minority group to monopolize the office of Minority Affairs. As we are the largest ... minority group in the county ... how can we possibly accept that we have not one representative in the Office of Minority Affairs?"

In response, Christine Geed, Curran's director of communications, said that the chair of the Office of Hispanic Affairs Advisory Council is a member of the Office of Minority Affairs Advisory Council, by county charter. Geed added that all three offices serving minorities — Minority Affairs, Asian Affairs and Hispanic Affairs — "work collaboratively ... on all topics of importance."

Moreover, Geed said, "County Executive Laura Curran has appointed more Latinos to leadership positions than any previous administration and will work to further diversify Nassau’s workforce to ensure it is representative of our communities." She listed 10 Latinos in various county departments.

Figueroa earlier this year was appointed chairwoman of the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board, a 12-member panel established through executive order in 2017 by former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican. Curran administration officials have said the board served a virtually identical purpose to a board run by the county's Office of Hispanic Affairs, and that the two groups could best serve the community by merging.

But Figueroa criticized Curran during a rally in July for not responding to calls or texts when she headed the now-disbanded advisory board and felt the board was "insulted." Figueroa added yesterday she still has not received a response from Curran, now 60 days after sending an "action letter."

During a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 17, Curran, a Democrat who is running for reelection this November, praised the work of the Office of Hispanic Affairs, and efforts to address the needs of the Latino community.

Figueroa, while praising the work of the Office of Hispanic Affairs, particularly during the pandemic, said the Office of Minority Affairs "is empowered far more than the Office of Hispanic Affairs."

Figueroa would not give her political affiliation, saying, "I'm not affiliating myself with either party, at this point. ... I'd rather not share my affiliation with the public at this point. But I do want the people to know that I'm here to represent Latinos."

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