As Jack Martins and Laura Curran, the major-party candidates for Nassau County executive, campaign in the final days before Tuesday’s election, they’re barraging voters with television ads saying the other will hike taxes or can’t be trusted to fight political corruption.
The spots are part of total TV spending that is expected to top $2 million over the course the monthslong race for the seat that GOP County Executive Ed Mangano is vacating after pleading not guilty to federal corruption charges.
In 2013, Mangano and Democratic challenger Thomas Suozzi spent a record total of $4 million on TV ads.
Curran, a Democratic county legislator from Baldwin, has released three TV spots. Martins, a former Republican state senator from Old Westbury, has put out six.
Two of Curran’s ads are about Martins’ ties to former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, who was convicted in 2015 of federal corruption charges.
Martins released four ads that either accuse Curran of backing tax and fee hikes or attempt to tie her to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Unfortunately, the ads playbook, even at the local level, has been replaced with ‘go negative early and stay that way throughout the race,’ ” said Mitchell S. McKinney, a political communication professor at the University of Missouri.
The goal, McKinney added, is to “define your opponent before they define themselves and, of course, do so in a negative way. That will drive up your opponent’s negatives [and] might dissuade people from voting for them — even if they’ll not vote for you.”
Green Party candidate Cassandra Lems has not released any TV ads.
Manhattan-based AKPD Message & Media has been paid nearly $781,000 by the Curran campaign since Oct. 23, the end of the latest campaign reporting cycle, state election records show. AKPD has produced ads for de Blasio.
Washington, D.C.-based BrabenderCox, which does work for the New York State GOP, has been paid $710,000 by the Martins campaign for ads during the same period, records show.
Each campaign expects ad spending to exceed $1 million.
Martins said Curran has “run a campaign based on innuendo and loose associations. He added that “it’s important that people know who she is.”
Curran said her ads “stick to the facts” of the race. “He’s having a hard time finding a message,” she said of Martins.
One of Curran’s ads hits Martins for his ties to Skelos, including a conversation between the two officials on a wiretapped call released by federal authorities in 2015. Skelos’ conviction on charges he used his power to pressure businesses into giving no-show jobs to his son, Adam, was overturned in September. Dean and Adam Skelos are scheduled to be retried in June.
“Ever heard of career politician Jack Martins? The FBI has,” says the ad’s narrator.
Recordings of the conversations show they don’t relate to Skelos’ case. In the recordings, Martins and Skelos criticize Mangano for an aborted campaign to erect electronic billboards along the Long Island Expressway. Martins also asks Skelos how to claim political credit for county environmental initiatives.
“The fact they would insinuate criminality just takes it to an entirely new level,” Martins said of Curran’s ad, “and frankly I didn’t expect even they would stoop to this level.”
A Martins ad attacks Curran for hiring Manhattan campaign consultants BerlinRosen, who were subpoenaed in a federal probe of de Blasio’s fundraising that closed without charges.
“Voting for Curran is like voting to put de Blasio’s corrupt team in charge of Nassau County,” the ad states.
Curran’s campaign said she has no affiliation with de Blasio.
Another Curran ad cites “Martins’ secret plan to raise our taxes.” The reference is to an audio tape of Civil Service Employees Association President Jerry Laricchiuta telling union members about candidate endorsement interviews in the county executive race.
The ad omits that Laricchiuta says in the audio that he gave the candidates an either/or choice: If they were faced with imposing a small tax hike or layoffs of county workers, which would they pick?
Martins, according to Laricchiuta, said he would raise taxes under those circumstances. Curran said in that situation she wouldn’t raise taxes and indicated she’d back layoffs of county union employees, Laricchiuta said.
Martins and Curran said during the campaign they have no plans to raise taxes.
Martins, who voted to raise taxes while serving as mayor of Mineola Village, has ads that cite “$50 million” in county fee hikes Curran voted for, and Curran’s vote to double county legislators’ salaries.
In November 2015, all but one county legislator voted for $46 million in increased real estate and traffic fees as part of a deal to stave off cuts to youth programs and bus service.
The next month, the part-time lawmakers voted unanimously to increase their salaries from $39,500, the level in effect since 1996, to $75,000 beginning in 2018. Curran is giving up her seat to run for county executive, so will not benefit.