Nassau Legis. Laura Curran broke ranks with her Democratic colleagues Thursday night, voting with the Republican majority to approve $50 million in capital borrowing for road and environmental projects that have been held up in a political stalemate for seven months.
The vote — which came shortly before 11 p.m. in an empty legislative chamber with no member of the public or media present — stunned Democratic legislators who angrily walked out of the building.
Curran also joined with GOP lawmakers to approve $18 million in bonding for improvements at Nassau Community College after County Executive Edward Mangano agreed to insert language stating that the funds could only be used for college projects.
“I felt it was time to move on with these projects, and do the work of government,” Curran (D-Baldwin) said in an interview Friday. “For me, this is not about politics. It’s about doing the right thing. And I am prepared to deal with the consequences in my party. Let the chips fall where they may.”
Democrats contend Curran operated out of self-interest as one the projects approved by the legislature was $665,000 for streetscaping work in Baldwin.
“She caucused with Republicans to get one project for herself,” said Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). “She sold out.”
Curran disagreed and said all of the projects approved by the legislature had a matching federal or state grant component. If the bonding was not approved, she said, the grant money could be lost. “And that would be irresponsible,” she said.
Since March, Democrats have voted to block hundreds of millions in borrowing for capital projects in an effort to force Republicans to create an independent office to investigate county contracts. Bonding requires 13 votes; the GOP majority has 12 members to the Democrats’ six.
Mangano has refused to create an inspector general post, arguing that contract oversight is provided by the county Commissioner of Investigations.
In recent months, Democrats have acquiesced and approved borrowing for police and fire department projects. In June, Curran provided the 13th vote for a $6 million bonding ordinance to replace 28 aging NICE buses, citing the importance of bus service in her district.
Since then Democrats have largely voted to block the projects, arguing that the procurement system needs oversight from an investigator who does not report to Mangano.
Curran said she has privately griped to her Democratic colleagues for months about the borrowing strategy, noting that they had “no end game” to resolve the dispute.
Late Thursday, Curran informed the GOP caucus she would vote to approve 15 capital projects. They include $26 million in road resurfacing, $10.6 million to replace underground fuel storage tanks and nearly $8 million to replace aging traffic signals.
Shortly before 11 p.m., and after 9 hours of testimony on Mangano’s proposed 2017 budget, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) called for an emergency vote on the NCC projects and the capital borrowing. Democrats have previously voted against borrowing for each of the projects.
Democrats stormed out of the Mineola legislative chamber, with Abrahams calling the move “shameful” and telling Gonsalves she should be “embarrassed.” Curran was the only Democrat to remain in the room.
“There will be a lot of happy people in Nassau County,” Gonsalves said after the vote. “These capital projects impact on most of our districts. It’s not a partisan effort on our part.”
Abrahams criticized the lack of transparency, comparing the vote to deals reached decades ago in “smoke-filled rooms.”
Curran, who is mulling a run for county executive next year, said she “regrets” that the vote had occurred at such a late hour and with no public input. “But I could not walk away again” without voting for the projects, she said.
Despite the votes Thursday, Curran said she was not yet ready to approve the rest of Mangano’s capital budget.
Asked if she was still a member of the Democratic caucus, Curran responded: “I don’t know.”
Abrahams Thursday night expressed exasperation with Curran’s moves.
“Laura made her decision, and now we will make ours,” he said. “She can caucus with the Republicans. Good luck with your new caucus.”