This week, Nassau welcomed two new — and increasingly familiar — faces to county government: Laura Curran, of Baldwin, who was inaugurated as Long Island’s first female county executive; and Jack Schnirman, of Long Beach, who became county comptroller. Both are Democrats.
Curran was formerly a county legislator, and Schnirman was formerly the Long Beach city manager.
In the Town of Hempstead, Laura Gillen, of Rockville Centre, took the reins as supervisor, and Sylvia Cabana, of Garden City, became the clerk. Neither previously held elective office. Both, again, are Democrats.
Is there a pattern here? Indeed, there is. Republicans, who have long dominated Nassau politics, lost big in November’s election.
At the county level, Curran defeated Jack Martins, a former Republican Village of Mineola mayor and state senator, and Schnirman beat Steve Labriola, a former GOP state assemblyman, Town of Oyster Bay clerk and deputy county comptroller under George Maragos, whom Schnirman replaced.
In Hempstead, voters ousted Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican from East Rockaway who was formerly a Town Board member, and installed Gillen. Cabana defeated Republican Nasrin Ahmad, of East Meadow, a longtime employee of the town clerk’s office before she assumed elective office.
Voters were clearly sending a message: They were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it anymore. The days when political insiders ruled with impunity were over.
At the county level, voters were fed up with a steady stream of shenanigans. Former County Executive Ed Mangano was, in short, an embarrassment. He remained in office despite bipartisan calls for him to resign after he was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2016. He will soon go to trial. Mangano, who maintains his innocence, was well connected and unafraid, it appears, to take full advantage of those connections.
In the Town of Hempstead, a century of Republican rule had made GOP leaders arrogant and aloof, and they did as they pleased because they mistakenly believed they were invincible — particularly Santino. They thought wrong.
Nassau and Hempstead now have the chance to take a different path. Our new leaders, we believe, have the ability and insight to make government more responsive to the people. And there is plenty of work to be done.
At all levels of government — federal, state, county, town, city and village — our leaders will have to work together, and work overtime, to restore voters’ trust. For too long we have lived with corrupt politicians who appeared more interested in enriching themselves than their constituents. Nassau voters were left wondering who in government could be trusted to lead the way.
Curran, Schnirman, Gillen and Cabana represent the hope of a new day. They will be in the spotlight for a long time — certainly as long as they hold office. Their first obligation is to remain truthful and trustworthy.
They will surely face headwinds as they assume office. Nassau’s Republican machine is badly bruised, but it is far from lifeless. There are still many people in this county who owe their jobs to the GOP.
The question is, will the party’s loyal soldiers work for the betterment of the county — and the people — under new Democratic administrations, or will they act as obstructionists, more concerned with removing the new leaders from power as soon as possible in order to pursue their own agendas?
Property taxes are too high. Too many streets are riddled with potholes. Waste, fraud and abuse were rampant under past administrations. There is no time for squabbling. There is no place for hyper-partisanship or political brinksmanship. The people expect change.
We can be thankful that we have examples of the leaders we would like to see. Town of Hempstead Trustees Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney, both Republicans, broke with their party’s ranks over the past year to support bipartisan measures to benefit their constituents. Both expended a considerable amount of political capital fighting Santino on a number of measures. In particular, they were seeking an independent inspector general to oversee the town’s contracts with outside vendors.
Blakeman’s and King Sweeney’s commitment to effecting positive change on behalf of the people was indeed remarkable. Let’s hope that other GOP leaders learn by their example that doing the right thing, regardless of party affiliation, can be good for your political career — and, most important, for your constituents.