Jack Martins sat in a diner next to the Mineola Long Island Rail Road station, talking about the nearby multistory apartment buildings he’d helped pave the way for as village mayor.
“We did some pretty positive things,” he said, touting the high-density residences — often opposed in other municipalities — as central to Mineola’s revitalization. “You can see the buildings from here.”
Martins’ ascent in political life is not unlike the construction of those new structures: slow and steady, with a few stops and starts.
Martins, a 50-year-old Republican, is running for Nassau County executive after more than two decades in government. He served on the Mineola library board in the late 1990s, as Mineola Village trustee in 2002 and as mayor from 2003 until he was elected narrowly to the State Senate in 2010.
Martins, who was raised in Mineola and moved to Old Westbury in 2014, also lost two bids for Congress. In 2008, he challenged then-4th District Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), and last year, left the Senate to run for an open 3rd District seat against former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi.
But Martins, who faces Democrat Laura Curran on Nov. 7, says he sees the county executive’s job not as another steppingstone but as a challenge his experience in Mineola and Albany — which the county relies on for funding and legislation — makes him best to tackle.
He said that if elected, he’d push for ethics reform following political corruption scandals and end a state board’s control of county finances. County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, isn’t seeking re-election after pleading not guilty to federal corruption charges.
Martins said he’d push for term limits, pledging to serve no more than eight years himself before returning to his family concrete business. He said he wouldn’t seek higher office afterward.
“Once we’ve fixed it, I’m looking forward to leaving the job,” Martins said in an interview last week at the Station Plaza diner in Mineola. “Public service should be about public service, and not a career.”
Curran, a Nassau County legislator from Baldwin, criticizes Martins as a “career politician” beholden to GOP leaders. She calls him out for ads criticizing Curran for raising property taxes when she was on Baldwin’s school board while not mentioning village tax hikes he backed in Mineola.
“These are more of the tried and failed tactics of the political machine,” Curran said.
Martins, however, said he didn’t “come up through the party,” and says he worked closely with Democrats as a state senator.
“What we need in Nassau is not someone who focuses on hyper-partisanship, but can work with others,” Martins said.
“He understands that government should be community based and not on political ideologies,” said Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, a Democrat who knows Martins through downtown redevelopment efforts.
Pontieri said he respected Curran but noted that he and Martins “both took the gamble on high-density housing in our downtowns. And we have very similar management styles — we live with our decisions and don’t run from them.”
Martins said his family lived the “typical great American immigrant story.”
His parents left their native Portugal in the 1960s. Martins was born in Queens, and the family moved to Mineola when he was 3.
Tony and Gloria Martins came to America “with literally nothing, not speaking the language,” Martins recalled. His mother worked in a factory and his father in construction.
Tony Martins later started J & A Concrete Corp., now based in Bohemia and run by two of Martins’ four siblings.
Jack Martins, J & A’s vice president, graduated from Chaminade High School in Mineola, where he ran track, and American University in Washington, D.C. He received a law degree from St. John’s University in 1991 and was in private legal practice for several years.
In 1997, pledging “less intrusive government,” Martins ran for Mineola trustee and lost. That year, he was appointed to the village library board.
Martins was elected trustee in 2002. A year later, he won the race for mayor — making him the face of a village with a main county commuter hub.
Police initiative defeated
A redevelopment master plan became a blueprint for years of projects, from the apartments to an intermodal transit center.
Mineola hiked property taxes annually under Martins, and trustees once increased their own pay.
Martins doesn’t dispute the facts, but instead chooses to highlight how the village paid down debt.
“The decisions we made 13, 14 years ago have set the tone for the village we have today,” Martins said. “That’s the challenge we have in the county.”
Martins’ most controversial initiative was his 2006 push for Mineola to form its own police force. He said the village could double patrol coverage for the about the same amount of money it was paying Nassau County police to cover the village.
Some trustees warned of steep tax hikes under the plan, which went to voters in December 2006.
After the referendum failed, then-trustee Linda Fairgrieve criticized Martins’ tone.
“There was sarcasm and disrespect during the process, and it still exists,” Fairgrieve said in 2007, when she challenged Martins for mayor and lost.
Fairgrieve declined to comment for this story.
Martins downplays the rancor: “No one is more passionate than when they’re discussing local issues, because it impacts them directly. The idea is building consensus.”
In 2008, Martins tried to unseat McCarthy in the 4th Congressional District.
Martins, who had raised his profile through his opposition to a proposed LIRR 3rd track, called McCarthy complacent.
“He has the fire in the belly,” then-Nassau GOP spokesman Anthony Santino, now Hempstead Town supervisor, said when Martins announced his congressional campaign.
But in the year Democrat Barack Obama was first elected president, Martins was beaten soundly.
In 2010, Martins challenged state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington). Martins won by 451 votes after a recount.
“Certainly not an easy process for a candidate, and yet that 400-vote margin allowed Republicans the majority in the Senate,” Martins said.
Republicans soon repealed the unpopular MTA payroll tax and helped pass Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s property tax cap.
‘Very pragmatic legislator’
In Albany, Martins often worked with then-Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck), sponsoring bills that allowed the Roslyn Water District to build a wastewater treatment facility in a county park and requiring local veterans agencies to be accredited to process benefits claims.
“He was a very pragmatic legislator,” Schimel said. “You had to negotiate to accomplish things. He understood that.”
But Curran is trying to make an issue of another of Martins’ relationships in Albany.
In 2015, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was arrested on federal corruption charges and initially did not step down.
Martins at first backed Skelos, but a short time later Skelos resigned as GOP leader.
Skelos was found guilty in 2015, but his conviction was recently overturned. Prosecutors say they intend to retry him.
“When he had the opportunity to deal with an alleged corrupt official . . . he did nothing,” Curran said of Martins.
Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello dismissed the attack: “If you took any senator, I’m sure they all had relationships with the majority leader.”
Martins’ run last year in the 3rd Congressional District, after Democratic Rep. Steve Israel’s retirement, required him to give up his State Senate seat. Suozzi defeated Martins by seven percentage points.
Martins said he began mulling the county executive’s job several months later. “I was concerned about the direction the county was heading and its ability to do something about it,” Martins said.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said he would have liked Martins to stay in the Senate, but “he wanted to go for it . . . and sometimes we get hit a little, but move forward.” He called Martins “absolutely tenacious” on local issues and said his skills made him “extraordinarily well suited” to be county executive.
Speaks of long experience
On the campaign trail, Martins frequently touts his long experience in public office. Last week, former Gov. George Pataki walked downtown Cedarhurst with him and made the same argument.
“He has a background so much like mine,” said Pataki, 72, a Republican who was mayor of Peekskill before becoming a state legislator and governor. “That executive experience was absolutely critical for me.”
Inside Toddy’s Appetizers, a village mainstay, Pataki — between bites of bagel and lox — announced Martins to staff as “your next county executive.”
“What’s the county executive: all budgeting?” said Toddy’s owner Jay Todtman.
Martins talked about righting county finances: “If you can fix that, you can do anything.”
Later, Todtman, a Republican, said he didn’t know much about Martins, but was impressed that county municipal unions backed him.
He said he’d likely vote for Martins, but is skeptical of county officeholders.
“Local politics really leaves me cold, because nothing ever gets done,” Todtman said.
In the earlier interview, Martins had pledged to change such perceptions.
“The county can’t continue this way and it’s time for someone to step up and provide real solutions,” he said.
Home: Old Westbury
Education/career: Chaminade High School, Mineola, 1985; American University, Bachelor’s degree, 1988; St. John’s University, law degree, 1991. Mineola Village library board, 1997-2002. Elected Mineola Village trustee, 2002; Mineola mayor, 2003-2010. Ran unsuccessfully Congress, 4th District, in 2008. New York State senator, 7th District, 2011-2016. Lost a bid for U.S. Congress, 3rd District, in 2016. Martins, an attorney, has served in private practice and with his family’s contracting company, J&A Concrete Corp., of Bohemia, where he is vice president.
Family: Married, wife Paula; four daughters
Campaign fundraising (through Oct. 23):
Raised (including transfers): $1.5 million
Spent: $1 million
On Hand: $482,228