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Curran's husband drops MTA contract

The parking meter program in downtown Bay Shore,

The parking meter program in downtown Bay Shore, seen on May 16, 2017, generated nearly $1 million in revenue over two years, records show. Credit: Steve Pfost

Daily Point

Conflict ended

After several days of criticism over potential conflicts of interest, attorney John Curran and his firm, Walden Macht & Haran, have withdrawn from serving as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board’s outside counsel, according to a letter Curran sent to MTA chief executive Pat Foye on Friday.

But Curran’s withdrawal doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the MTA board’s efforts to seek outside help, sources told The Point.

“I don’t think it has to be a counsel, but the desire to have an independent staff person [for the board] will remain,” one source said Friday.

Curran, the husband of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, and his firm had a contract with the MTA to earn as much as $240,000 as the board’s outside counsel. The move raised questions about why the MTA board needed outside counsel and why Curran would be the right choice. A Newsday editorial Thursday criticized the choice.  It said the MTA should reevaluate the decision to hire an outside counsel and choose someone without the appearance of conflicts that arises from Curran’s marriage to a public official who deals with the MTA. 

According to the letter, which was obtained by Newsday, John Curran talked with Foye about the decision to withdraw on Thursday. In the letter, Curran referred to concerns reported in the media — seemingly about the conflicts — as “baseless.”

“While we believe we could have been very helpful in our intended role, we take this step in order to prevent baseless assertions in the press from unnecessarily distracting the Board and the MTA as it does its important work,” the letter said.

Curran said his firm would not bill the MTA for any work since the contract was still “at the earliest stage.”

Laura Curran had campaigned against Republican patronage and nepotism, and has made that a focus of her time in office.

"I believe because of what I'm trying to accomplish and, separately, what the MTA is trying to accomplish, I don’t want to distract from that," Laura Curran told The Point in an interview Friday.

MTA officials earlier this week had defended the choice, saying John Curran was experienced and qualified, and that they expected he could remain independent.

“John is an extremely talented attorney,” MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins said in a statement Friday. “We respect his decision and wish him well.”

Whether the MTA goes forward with choosing another outside counsel -- or an independent resource in a different area such as finance -- remains to be seen. But it would be safe to assume that spouses of county executives need not apply.

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Reference Point

Decades of parking dilemmas

As arguments over the merits of parking meters continue in places such as the Town of Islip, it’s worth noting that the debate has raged on Long Island for decades — and that it also has pretty much been settled.

Back in 1945, the villages of Rockville Centre and Hempstead wrestled with the question of whether to introduce parking meters to address traffic congestion and shopping issues. The opposition was familiar: Merchants claimed that meters would drive customers away.

To test that theory, Newsday’s editorial board contacted four communities it deemed similar to Hempstead Village that had installed meters — White Plains, New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Montclair, N.J. — and all four reported facing the same opposition. But the pushback, the board wrote on Dec. 12, 1945, “melted away like an ice cream cone under a Fourth of July sun, once the meters had a fair trial. Meters, it turned out, produced a greater turnover in the parking spaces, allowed more customers to get closer to the shops, and upped merchandising revenue to a gratifying figure.”

The board also noted the revenue the meters would create, money that “could pay for a lot of things entirely beyond the reach of the current budget. It could enrich the lives of every citizen who plunks a nickel in the slot before he goes into the bank or has his shoes shined.”

But the board back then clearly had a love-hate relationship with parking meters, seeing them ultimately as a consequence of poor planning.

“Parking meters are needed in our bigger villages because Nassau developed heedlessly, without a plan,” the board wrote. “There is nothing we can do about the present situation except install remedial measures like meters and parking lots as quickly as we can. The younger communities in Nassau — and in Suffolk — can make sure, however, that the same mess doesn’t creep up on them. Intelligent planning can make room for everybody without hanging a single parking field from the sky.”

Seventy-four years later, Long Island is still dealing with that creeping mess.

— Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

Big shoes to fill

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion

Final Point

The Politics of Love

Marianne Williamson’s newest book is worth a look for two reasons. More than other candidates, she made her career writing them: The self-help guru has published more than a dozen, many of them bestsellers. Plus, she has used her renown and readership to power her still-ongoing candidacy for president of the United States. 

These days that means continued spats about her social media presence and her questions about vaccine safety. But her 2019 book, “A Politics of Love,” shows why she caught at least a little Twitter attention during her debate appearances. 

She knows how to appeal to large book-buying audiences. She writes often-unimpeachable material about the importance of love and the need for a more deeply human politics, plus some dashed-out political takes about canceling student debt and the need for a U.S. Department of Peace.

It’s the kind of portentous but also hopeful material that can easily be lampooned but also can comfort some, just like her sermonizing about positivity during the AIDS crisis in California in the 1980s. 

“Humanity itself is being challenged to move on to the next stage of our evolution,” she writes. Also: “Love is the nutrition of the gods.” OK!

Her main rhetorical technique is the phrase “In the words of,” after which she quotes other unimpeachable sources, sometimes repeatedly, from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Thomas Paine to Abraham Lincoln to Proverbs (for that one, it’s “It is written”). 

The quotes aren’t particularly surprising, but they help the material go down easy. 

The shallowness of the arguments reaches a thin low in a passage late in the book in which Williamson recounts visiting communist-dominated Budapest with her family when she was 13. At the end of the trip, she says, her father surreptitiously handed their young driver a business card and said quietly, “You get yourself out of here, and I’ll take care of you from there.” 

This moment is never returned to and the book doesn’t explain whether the young man was actually taken care of. The answer isn’t there, even if you wanted to know. It’s just words. 
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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