ALBANY — The mailer depicts three shirtless, dark-skinned men covered in tattoos sternly staring at the viewer with the headline: “Meet your new neighbors!” and warns that Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive, “Will roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13!”
The ad referring to the violent gang is from the Republican candidate for Nassau executive, Jack Martins, and is paid for by the New York Republican State Committee. On the flip side of the mailer is a traditional ad for Martins with a woman voter and the headline: “Jack Martins: Protecting our families. Protecting our tax dollars.”
Martins stood by the message, while Curran said it misrepented her position. And Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) decried it as “fearmongering.”
A Newsday poll released this week showed that Martins and Curran were locked in an extremely tight race.
“I approve of the message, I do,” Martins said on Thursday’s “Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC. “This is the face of MS-13. People may feel shocked about it, but this is what is preying on our communities.”
He faulted Curran for accepting the support of liberal Democratic groups and leaders who support sanctuary cities to protect immigrants from deportation and other hard-line policies on immigration from Donald Trump and Congress.
Later in a statement, Martins said, “We are in a public safety crisis. Nassau County families do not feel safe. This is a time to lead, not a time to put political correctness above public safety.”
Jessica Proud, spokeswoman for the state Republican Committee, said, “Laura Curran has aligned herself with Bill de Blasio and the New York City liberals who support sanctuary policies that protect dangerous criminals like MS-13 gang members who are terrorizing Long Island.”
Curran responded that the mailer criticizes her for positions she doesn’t hold, noting that she doesn’t support sanctuary cities.
“We’ve got to make sure the cops have the resources they need,” Curran said on WNYC. “We also need to strengthen the partnership with our schools . . . so that we can stop these problems before they start . . . so they are not preyed upon by these gangs, so they are not seduced by these gangs.”
And Rice said, “I don’t know who to be more disgusted by — the candidate who endorsed this racist ad or the consultants who produced it. “Republican politicians like Jack Martins are convinced that running racist, fearmongering campaigns is the only way they can win elections.”
An authority on political communication said the mailer hearkens back to the 1988 presidential campaign. Willie Horton was convicted of murder, sentenced to life sentence and was released on a weekend furlough program in Massachusetts, when he committed rape, assault and armed robbery. The incident was used by the Republican Party and its nominee, George H.W. Bush, against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor, trying to portray Dukakis as soft on crime.
“The mailer . . . is a classic fear appeal and the framing of the enemy to fear is certainly based on race,” said Professor Mitchell S. McKinney of the University of Missouri. “This ad does have a Willie Horton look and feel.”
Such ads “have always been with us,” he said. “We’re in a social-political environment with race as a flash point. Therefore, to produce such a message in this environment seems to ignore our current situation at best, or to purposively invoke an image like this to further stoke racial divides and fears.”