In the Democratic primary for Nassau County executive, political norms have been turned upside down.
County Comptroller George Maragos, who has held countywide office for eight years, is running as an outsider.
County Legis. Laura Curran, a relative political newcomer, has racked up endorsements and outraised her opponent by a nearly 15-to-1 margin.
The unusual dynamic stems from Maragos’ decision to leave the Republican Party last fall to become a Democrat, and Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs rejecting him in favor of Curran.
“She’s an insider because she has all the money support from all the vendors and special interest groups that perpetuate the ‘pay to play’ culture,” Maragos said in an interview. “Nobody wants me — at least the party bosses don’t.”
Curran says she’s no “career politician.” She criticizes Maragos for his past positions as a Republican against abortion and same-sex marriage and for taking campaign contributions from county vendors when he ran for comptroller.
“I’m actually proud of the reputation I’ve carved out as a legislator who is independent and puts her constituents first,” said Curran, who voted last year with majority Republicans to allow capital borrowing that Democrats had blocked.
Curran’s and Maragos’ attacks on each other belie some of their common positions, including blaming corruption and patronage in part for high property taxes. Two-term Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, isn’t seeking re-election.
Both support term limits for elected officials and limiting or banning campaign contributions by county contractors.
To fix the county’s property assessment system, which they blame for shifting more of the tax burden onto middle-class homeowners who don’t file grievances, Curran and Maragos want more frequent reassessments to better reflect market values.
But it remains unclear how many people will turn out to vote on Tuesday. Only nine percent of eligible voters participated in the high-profile 2013 Democratic primary for Nassau County executive, when former County Executive Thomas Suozzi was seeking to reclaim his old job.
“Ten percent would be a very high turnout,” said Stanley Klein, a Long Island University political science professor.
Curran, 49, of Baldwin, was elected to the county legislature in 2013, after working as a daily newspaper reporter and serving one term on Baldwin’s school board. She has raised $1 million since declaring her candidacy.
Curran is relying on the Nassau Democratic Committee to turn out loyal party voters, who typically have outsized influence in low turnout elections.
Corruption is voters’ top concern, she said: “We pay these high taxes and then see this endless parade of indictments. We can do so much better.”
Curran has released detailed plans to strengthen oversight of county contracts, but she said residents often relate more to a pledge with less financial impact: Leaving her name off county signage. “It’s something they encounter every day,” Curran said. “It’s tangible.”
Maragos, 68, of Glen Cove, worked in finance in Manhattan for 35 years before his election as comptroller in 2009. He has raised $73,000 for his county executive run and loaned his campaign $1.5 million.
Maragos says the fact he’s largely self-funding his campaign, and not taking money from county vendors, means he won’t be beholden to their interests. He also has appealed to potential new voters in minority communities.
“These communities have been neglected by the two-party system we have in government,” Maragos said. “Government needs to reflect all of our communities, especially those with the greatest need.”
As the election approaches, each candidate has been hitting the campaign trail in search for new supporters.
At the Port Washington Long Island Rail Road station last week, Curran chatted with Todd Friedlich, a 39-year-old information technology manager waiting for his wife.
“I support a real Democrat,” Friedlich said of Curran, noting Maragos’ switch from the Republican Party.
Jon and Ambra Blake, both 69, came from Massapequa Park to hear Maragos at an NAACP forum in Hempstead last week. They said they liked that he has had a long private industry career and more time leading a large government department.
“She has no experience,” Ambra Blake said of Curran.
Curran said her four years on the legislature, fighting for contracting reforms and more funding for the NICE bus system, means, “I’ve got the experience that matters.”
Maragos responded to those who criticize his party switch by saying voters “appreciate people who are honest and explain how they evolved.”
NASSAU COUNTY EXECUTIVE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY
Education/Career: Curran received a Bachelor’s degree in humanities from Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County. She began her career as a reporter for the New York Daily News and New York Post. She later worked part time in the press office of former Democratic Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, now a congressman. A Baldwin resident since 1997, Curran has been a yoga instructor and was elected to her local school board in 2010, serving one term. She was first elected to the county legislature in 2013, but will not seek a third two-year term this fall as she runs for county executive.
Family: Married with three children.
Fundraising: Through Aug. 28, Curran had raised $1 million, spent $745,134 and had $369,389 in cash on hand, according to the state Board of Elections.
Hometown: Glen Cove
Education/Career: Maragos received a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and a master’s in business administration from Pace in University in Manhattan. He worked in private industry for more than 35 years, first in management positions at Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Bank before founding SDS Technologies, a developer of data and money transfer networks. Maragos was elected Nassau County Comptroller in 2009 as a Republican, and is completing his second four-year term in that office. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2010 and 2012, and joined the Democratic Party in 2016.
Family: Married with two children.
Fundraising: Through Aug. 28, Maragos had raised $72,697, spent $316,420 and had $1.2 million in cash on hand — largely from money he loaned his campaign, according to the state Board of Elections.
NASSAU COUNTY PRIMARIES
Dean E. Bennett
Carl DeHaney Jr.
County Legislature, 16th District:
Arnold W. Drucker
Glen Cove City Council (vote for 6):
Andrew Bennett, Marcela L. De La Fuente, Anne Phillips, Marsha F. Silverman, Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews, Roderick Watson, Roger C. Williams
Nassau County Court (vote for 2):
Jerald S. Carter, Joseph R. Conway, Christopher G. Quinn, Tammy S. Robbins
1st District Court Judge:
Elizabeth M. Fox-McDonough
Darlene D. Harris
2nd District Court Judge (vote for 3):
Maxine S. Broderick, Gary M. Carlton, Gary F. Knobel, David William McAndrews, Anthony W. Paradiso, Geoffrey N. Prime