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Until final minutes, common ground at Nassau executive debate

Candidates in the race to be the next

Candidates in the race to be the next Nassau County executive, from left Cassandra J. Lems, Laura Curran and Jack M. Martins, during their debate at Hofstra University on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Credit: John Roca

The three candidates for Nassau County executive shared a stage Sunday for a debate that — until the final minutes — was unusual for its common ground and lack of attacks.

In an event at Hofstra University, hosted by the League of Women Voters, Republican Jack Martins, Democrat Laura Curran and the Green Party’s Cassandra Lems traded proposals for 80 minutes, uniting in support for more higher-density housing, more contract monitoring and against fee hikes to balance the budget.

Martins, a former state senator and mayor of Mineola Village, framed himself as the most serious, experienced candidate to rebuild Nassau’s “crumbling infrastructure” and protect the quality of local drinking water.

He called himself “someone who tackled these issues as a mayor, as a state senator — dealing with these issues regionally — and certainly someone who understands the deep challenges facing our county.”

In the wake of corruption scandals, Curran, a county legislator from Baldwin, pledged to prioritize ethics reform before addressing broader economic development issues.

“There’s a common denominator, and that is a feeling of deep distrust,” Curran said of her discussions with residents.

Lems, a paralegal from Herricks, stressed her independence from the major political parties that often rely on major developers and county vendors to raise campaign funds.

“I’m not accusing my opponents of corruption, but they’re part of the system that corrupts,” Lems said.

The candidates fielded 14 questions, ranging from their stances on national issues — all asserted their belief in climate change and said they were against eliminating federal tax deductions for local property taxes — to how they’d help the homeless.

For most of the night, disagreements were minor. Lems and Martins, for example, firmly opposed any privatization of county services, but Curran, while criticizing Nassau’s recent deals, said “sometimes they make sense.”

At one point, it appeared as if they’d get through the debate without any rancor. After Martins ran out of time answering a question about improving storm infrastructure, Curran completed his thought by citing their common support for a local mayor’s plan to build retractable floodgates.

Lems high-fived Curran when she said she also volunteered on a county response team.

But during the final question, about corruption, Curran raised Martins’ initial support for former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) after his 2015 corruption arrest.

“When he had the opportunity to deal with an alleged corrupt official . . . he did nothing,” Curran said of Martins.

Martins noted that he had instantly called for Republican County Executive Edward Mangano to resign last year upon Mangano being charged in a federal corruption case, yet Curran still has not.

“You’re sitting here basing an entire campaign for county executive on someone who was indicted and you never called on him to step down,” Martins said. “It’s a shame.”

Curran accused Martins of calling on Mangano to step down only because he was then running for Congress. She repeated a campaign standby: “I am not a career politician.”

Martins said Curran railed against patronage jobs yet worked as a communications aide for former County Executive Thomas Suozzi: “Either you have the courage of your convictions or you do not.”

Martins and Curran did this for roughly five minutes, flashing their “red cards” for rebuttals — as Lems watched.

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