After weeks of speculation, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos switched parties last Thursday to run as a Democrat for county executive.
Maragos was twice elected comptroller as a Republican in 2009 and 2013, but said continued fiscal stress and allegations of corruption in the county led him to break with the GOP.
“These are very serious issues that have been accumulating and that will lead the county off the cliff if we don’t address them,” Maragos said at a news conference Thursday, flanked by the Nassau County Democratic chairman, Jay Jacobs, and other local Democrats.
Maragos, a Great Neck resident and former banking executive, has recently criticized the fiscal practices of County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican with whom Maragos was first elected.
He also raised his public profile in recent months by halting payments on controversial county contracts — one for health care in the troubled county jail and another for environmental cleanup services that are being probed by federal investigators — and publishing an audit critical of the county police department.
The county’s failure to balance its budget without borrowing, fix its costly property tax assessment system and “eliminate waste” have caused a “loss of trust in government,” Maragos said.
“We cannot continue to borrow in order to pay our bills, we cannot continue to defer paying our bills and we cannot continue to hit our residents with ever-increasing fees and fines,” he said.
The Nassau County Democratic Committee will likely not endorse a candidate for county executive until mid-January, Jacobs said, emphasizing that he was appearing with Maragos only to welcome him to the party.
Maragos said he has put $1 million to his campaign and will begin fundraising.
The campaign announcement followed some staffing changes in Maragos’ office.
In July, he hired Michael Scotto, a Democrat and former Manhattan prosecutor who lost a primary for district attorney last year, as a deputy comptroller. That month he also hired a spokeswoman, Carla D’Ambra Hall, who acted as the press contact for Thursday’s news conference.
Maragos pledged to keep running the comptroller’s office “in an independent and bipartisan manner” and said his campaign would have no impact on his official duties.
Maragos lost two Republican primaries for Senate in 2010 and 2012.
As a Democrat, he said, he remains a fiscal conservative but has “evolved” to the left on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
In 2011, Maragos said he worried same-sex marriage could lead to legal polygamy and that “some people would even like to marry with their pets.”
He also said he opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threats to the life of the mother.
On Thursday, he said he accepts same-sex marriage as “a national policy” and now considers himself “pro-choice.”
Mangano plans to announce next year whether he will run for a third four-year term.
In an email, a Mangano spokesman, Brian Nevin, called Maragos “the new opportunistic face” of Nassau’s Democratic Party.
“It will certainly be interesting to see how Democrats embrace the conservative values George Maragos trumpeted in his failed campaigns against Senators Schumer and Gillibrand,” Nevin wrote from a Mangano campaign email address. “With the election more than a year away, Ed Mangano continues to be focused on maintaining public safety, creating jobs and holding the line on property taxes.”
Robert Zimmerman, a Great Neck public relations executive and Democratic National Committee member, said Maragos’ candidacy as a Democrat is “an affront” to the party’s principles.
“If Nassau Democrats are to build credibility with the electorate then we cannot turn to candidates who have attacked our elected Democrats and take positions that are offensive to our core beliefs and constituents,” Zimmerman said in a statement Thursday.
Other Democrats considering county executive bids include state Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman and county Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), Jacobs said.