Few people have had such a profound and lasting impact on the Baldwin community as Laura Curran. Throughout her 20 years as a resident, she has consistently worked to enhance the lives of those who call Baldwin home, from her time on the school board to her tenure on the Nassau County Legislature.
Even before she made history by being elected Nassau’s first female county executive on Nov. 7, she was a dedicated public servant who worked for the betterment of her hometown and surrounding communities.
For all these reason and more, the Herald proudly names Curran, herself a one-time Herald editor, its 2017 Person of the Year.
Curran, 49, was originally a Canadian citizen, born in St. Catherine, Ontario. “I bounced around a lot as a kid, and I lived in many different places,” she said. That is an understatement.
When she turned 2, her family moved to Belgium, where, as a toddler, she learned French and English. When she was 5, she moved with her family to Pembroke Pines, Fla., before moving to the Five Towns when she was 9. She also lived in Los Angeles for a year, moved to Washington, D.C., for high school and then went on to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.
After graduation, she moved to Paris to study French at the Sorbonne. She lived in Queens for a year, Brooklyn heights for two years and Manhattan for six years. There she met her husband, John, 54, a former federal prosecutor. They moved to Baldwin in 1997, and she never looked back.
“I moved to Baldwin 20 years ago this month, and I’ve been there ever since,” said Curran, now the mother of three daughters, Claire, 17, Julie, 12, and Molly, 10,. “I put down deep roots.”
Despite her travels around the world, she considers Baldwin her true home. “I’ve lived here way longer than I’ve lived anywhere else,” she said, remembering how she first fell in love with her house and her neighborhood.
She recounted her time in Baldwin as the reason for her foray into politics. “It was never a part of my plan to get into politics,” Curran said. “I got into this for my kids when they went into public school. There are a lot of kids in the public schools in Baldwin, and I wanted to do what I could to help them, help the schools and help the community, because I think Baldwin is a special place. It’s an unusual place. It’s diverse. It’s got so much going for it, and I wanted to help move it along.”
And help it she did, first as a member of the school board for four years and then as the 5th District county legislator for four years.
“It was certainly very exciting, because I got to work with her since she was in her first term,” said David Viana, Curran’s legislative assistant.
Viana helped to revive the Baldwin Civic Association, and was named the Herald’s Person of the Year in 2011. “I’d known her a little bit before that while she was still on the school board, because I was president of the civic association at the time,” Viana said. “So it was nice to be able to see her progress through all of those different phases, from school board, then to legislator, and to be a part of seeing her win the county executive race.”
As a legislator, Curran was credited with helping promote transit-oriented development, storm resiliency and infrastructure initiatives, like the “complete streets” project in Baldwin. Viana described her as unafraid of change and always willing to take charge.
“She rallied the community . . . [and] constantly listened to what people’s concerns were and let people yell at her when they were upset,” Viana said.
Viana said she admires Curran’s ability to remain humble and community-minded, despite the politics. “In this type of field, politicians like to get all of the credit they can, and all the recognition they can, and she’s in an interesting position, where she is going to have to take a lot more credit than she’s used to,” Viana said. “She deserves it, but she’s always about being a part of a team and fostering teamwork among people, not taking credit all for herself, so that’s something that I appreciated being a part of.”
Curran focused her county executive campaign almost entirely on the issue of government corruption and the corrosion of public trust, a message that clearly resonated with many throughout the county.
“I know how great Nassau County is, but we’re not living up to our potential,” she said, describing what motivated her to run for the position. “It was a feeling of frustration — frustration that there was no vision for how we grow in Nassau County.
“There was nothing on the holistic county level to look at where we are, and to think about how to grow, [how] we can handle housing better, how we can make transportation better . . .,” she continued. “There was kind of this feeling that we’re just getting through the day, making sure there were no emergencies, putting out the fires wherever they were. No one was sitting back and taking the long view as to where we were going.”
Curran said she recognized the significance of her candidacy as a woman running for county executive, because, after all, she would become not only Nassau’s but also Long Island’s first female county leader. Womanhood, however, did not define her candidacy, she said.
“I didn’t make a big deal about it during the campaign,” she said. “I didn’t want to rely on it. I didn’t want that to be the reason why people should vote for me. I wanted it to be because of my experience and what I bring to the table. But, that being said, it’s pretty cool to be the first woman.
“I think times have changed and I think people are ready for change . . . especially now,” she noted.
Curran’s aim as county executive is the same as it was when she first took office as a legislator in 2014. “I just wanted to do everything I could to make government more trustworthy and grow the tax base through economic development,” she said. “Line everything up in such a way that we can make the most of our potential.”
With inauguration day fast approaching, she and her team are in “transition mode.”
“I think there was a lot of pride in Baldwin to have one of our own reach this [position],” she said. “And coupled with Laura Gillen’s victory, who also grew up in Baldwin . . . I think there’s a lot of community pride in what we were able to achieve. And I’m proud for Baldwin too.”
Curran will be sworn in Jan. 1, and begin her new job the following day.