Viewpoint: Curran has earned second term as Nassau executive

Viewpoint: Curran has earned second term as Nassau executive
Karen Rubin, Columnist

It’s so refreshing to watch a campaign commercial that speaks positively of accomplishments rather than clichéd attacks on an opponent. And Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has a lot to crow about in her campaign for re-election.

Curran’s leadership in addressing the coronavirus pandemic that struck New York City and Long Island with such fury so early on, before much was known and before there were the tools, has been nothing short of heroic.

Indeed, her campaign slogan for her re-election, “Leadership Through It All,” is a fair and accurate assessment of her first term and why she deserves re-election.

Curran addressed the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic but also the economic crisis, as Nassau County’s businesses had to lock down and shut down and the county was facing a significant budget shortfall that threatened its ability to provide medical, first responder, educational and other critical public services when most needed.

She came up with a way to obtain PPE “care” packages to give to small businesses so they could continue to operate, speedily figured out a way to let restaurants take over county streets for outdoor dining and keep downtowns vital. She set up the Nassau Resource Center at Eisenhower Park to help businesses access $10 million in American Recovery grants, created a stabilization loan program of $250,000 for small businesses to rebound, invested $500,000 to promote tourism, $500,000 for technical assistance grants to local chambers of commerce, nonprofits and downtowns and provided a financial lifeline to cultural and educational institutions.

And as soon as a vaccine became available, she set up mass vaccination sites in neighborhoods that traditionally have been overlooked as well as setting up a door-to-door vaccine program to make it as easy for businesses to vaccinate employees. It says a lot that Nassau is the first county in New York state to vaccinate 94 percent of adults 18 and over (at 91 percent Nassau had the highest rate in the state and the second highest in the nation) and 80 percent of all 12 and over. To further expand vaccinations, she joined New York state’s #VaxToSchool initiative.

Her steady, calm, competent, compassionate, intelligent leadership confronting the most severe challenges in memory warrants her re-election, but there is much, much more.

I love that early on, she made Nassau County a Climate Smart Community, that she has promoted transit-oriented development, downtown revitalization and Complete Streets strategies, and is putting Nassau County on track for a green, sustainable, 21st century economy. It says a lot that Nassau’s population is increasing along with home values.

Fiscal discipline is one of her planks, and it isn’t just political rhetoric you hear from the other side. She has had three consecutive years of budget surplus, avoided property tax increases, made important investments and scored the first positive bond rating in 15 years. As a result, she can credibly work with the state to phase out the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority and get our fiscal autonomy back.

Curran has managed to have solid support of labor, completing collective bargaining through 2026 and is investing $10 million of American Rescue Plan to fund apprenticeship programs and skills training. It says a lot that union leaders have come out to endorse her; indeed John D’Durso, president of Long Island Federation of Labor, said the decision to endorse her was unanimous, a rarity.

Curran has secured the support of police (she is committed to fully funding police, yet her opponent’s ads charge the opposite) while addressing state and national concerns over criminal justice. The key is community engagement and she has promoted community policing initiatives, opened new PAL offices so police interact with young people and formed Young Adult Councils in every precinct. She is promoting diversity in recruitment and investing $54 million in a new training academy. She is expanding intelligence-led policing, working with state and federal partners to address drugs and gang violence, cyber attacks and ransomware.

It is interesting that as violent crime has risen in much of the country, crime has decreased in Nassau County. Indeed, USA Today rated Nassau the “safest community in America” in 2020.

Much of the rise in violent crime nationally is attributed to the coronavirus. So, under the category of “Public Safety” initiatives, she is also expanding access to mental health care – establishing walk-in clinic for mental health services as a cost-effective alternative to emergency room care, and investing $115 million from the opioid settlement to provide support for families and residents dealing with opioid addiction and mental health challenges. She is also increasing funding for the Office of Aging, expanding public health programming in minority and underserved communities, and allocating American Rescue Plan funds to expand post-COVID health and human services programs,

Curran has made good on campaign promises in her first term and laid out a solid agenda for her second term. Under the heading, “Building Tomorrow’s Nassau,” she lists 13 proposed “transformative” projects qualifying for federal stimulus funding that could produce 4,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in economic output.

Under the category of protecting Nassau from climate change, she is proposing $1.27 billion of water and wastewater infrastructure improvements to the federal government which would create over 3,500 jobs. She is prioritizing initiatives that preserve the environment while also saving money by decreasing energy usage and converting to clean energy; protecting green open spaces and expanding park improvements and tree planting; and strengthening Nassau’s resilience to climate change; She supports offshore wind power projects that could power 6 million homes by 2035 and provide high-skilled and high-paying green jobs

With all this funding flowing into the county and the county at a critical juncture to rebuild, her allusion to the county’s “long legacy of corruption” and her mission to “keep county government accountable” is significant.

When she announced her re-election, she reflected that she first ran because “our elected officials were taking our trust for granted, betraying the faith we put in them and putting themselves ahead of our taxpayers. We all witnessed the results of a culture of corruption and we were all left footing the bill. I decided to step up and do something about it. I wanted our county government to live up to the hardworking people who call Nassau home. That’s why I ran and that’s how I’ve governed.”

She has already implemented new procurement policies and has just signed a new policy further increasing review to ensure vendors have the capacity and integrity to warrant award of a County contract, saying, “We will continue to transform the way Nassau County does business, increasing oversight and implementing strong controls to guard against corruption.”

What does her challenger, Republican Bruce Blakeman, offer? Only the same, tired, sad tropes about taxes too high and the reassessment being unfair (without evidence). No actual solution to any problem or issue facing Nassau County. A one-trick pony that isn’t aging very well in current reality.

Another important consideration is who becomes county executive will be have the ultimate power in deciding the redistricting map for the next 10 years. The Republican legislative majority has demonstrated its propensity to not only enshrine an 11-8 majority despite having fewer registered voters than Democrats, but with Blakeman as county executive could even go for a 13-6 super majority for the next 10 years. But Curran as executive could veto the Republican map and force fairer redistricting.

Laura Curran has been the major force pushing Nassau County in the right direction – on climate, on community policing, on downtown revitalization and infrastructure, sustainable economic development, and most significantly, on public health. She has been responsible and responsive, showing energy and resourcefulness and genuine interest in doing her best for the people. In the best sense, she has proved herself a public servant rather than a politician. Curran has earned re-election.

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