The candidates for Nassau County executive wasted no time Wednesday trying to gain the upper hand on what could become the central issue of the general election campaign: fighting public corruption.
Democrat Laura Curran — who won her primary decisively on Tuesday — and Republican Jack Martins each kicked off the race to Nov. 7 by releasing television ads focused on proposals to restore trust in government after the arrest last year of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano on federal corruption charges.
Curran, a county legislator from Baldwin, focused her ad on Mangano and others prominently placing their names on taxpayer-funded signage.
“It’s a small thing, but it’s a symbol of a big problem,” Curran says in the ad.
The ad notes Curran’s ethics plan, which calls for an independent office to monitor county contracts and banning county executive appointees from holding leadership positions in political party committees or clubs.
Martins, a former state senator from Old Westbury, centered his ad on a proposed state constitutional amendment to require officials convicted of public corruption to forfeit their state pensions.
“If you’re an elected official and you put yourself ahead of the people, there have to be consequences for violating the public trust,” Martins says in the ad, in which does not mention Mangano by name.
Martins’ ad also notes a component of his ethics plan: A proposed county charter provision that would allow for removal of a county executive for a corruption conviction.
Mangano, who the Nassau GOP declined to back for a third term, has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors accuse him of taking bribes and kickbacks from a local businessman in return for favors including a county contract.
In interviews Wednesday, Curran and Martins criticized each other over their use of Mangano in their campaigns.
Curran dismissed the significance of Martins having been among the first public officials to call for Mangano’s resignation last fall. She pointed instead to his initial support for former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) immediately after his federal corruption arrest in 2015. Skelos was convicted and is appealing.
“It’s picking and choosing one corruption politician over another,” Curran said.
Martins said Curran, for all her criticism of Mangano, has never called on him to resign. Martins accused her of using Mangano’s court case as political fodder instead of addressing issues.
“My opponent wants to make this campaign about the way this administration conducts themselves,” Martins said. “That’s her choice. But at the end of the day, people want to hear about solutions to problems.”
Curran on Tuesday defeated County Comptroller George Maragos in the Democratic primary by a margin of nearly 17,000 votes, or 58 percentage points. Only 7.4 percent of Nassau’s registered Democrats cast ballots.
Despite the low turnout, Democrats may have a general election advantage due to Mangano’s indictment and the national political climate, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
“Jack Martins is about as strong a Republican candidate as the party is going to find, but he is facing some very, very strong headwinds,” said Levy.
While both parties have large enough bases of loyalists to ensure victories in low turnout primaries, Levy said that may not be enough in a countywide general election
“They’ve got to find a way to appeal to moderates and independents,” Levy said.
Curran has touted her vote with legislative Republicans last year to approve borrowing for capital projects as a sign she’ll work in a bipartisan way, even if the GOP maintains control of the legislature.
“It’s going to take some diplomacy,” Curran said.
Martins has noted that he risked alienating Republicans by supporting Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on numerous initiatives, such as stronger firearms background checks and a state ban on hydraulic fracturing while in Albany.
“It’s about being able to work with other people,” Martins said.