By Taylor Clarke
Special to the Chronicle
Students and members of the community packed the Helene Fortunoff Theater at Monroe Lecture Center on Sunday, Oct. 1, to watch the candidates for Nassau County executive debate. The event was sponsored by Hofstra’s Department of Political Science and the League of Women Voters.
Lisa Scott, the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, moderated the debate in which three candidates fielded questions from the community.
The candidates included Cassandra J. Lems of the Green Party, Laura Curran of the Democratic Party and Jack M. Martins of the Republican Party.
Martins served on the New York State Senate from January 2010 until January 2016, representing the Town of North Hempstead and parts of the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay. Prior to his work in the Senate, Martins served as mayor of Mineola for eight years.
Contrastingly, Democratic candidate Curran does not consider herself to be a career politician. She began her career as a reporter at the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Previously, Curran served on the Baldwin Board of Education from 2011 to 2014. For the past four years, she has served as a legislator for District 5, representing the communities of South Hempstead, Baldwin, Freeport, Merrick, Oceanside and Rockville Centre.
While Green Party candidates tend to be excluded from debates, Lems welcomed the chance to share her ideas and plans for the county. She is an active volunteer in the Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) of Nassau County and previously ran for county legislature in 2015.
The debate began with a two-minute introduction from each candidate and was then guided solely by questions provided by attending guests. As attendees entered the theater, they were handed an index card to write a question. The questions were then filtered and sorted before being given to the moderator. Each candidate was given three possibilities to rebut a question with a red card.
The first question of the evening addressed important issues in the county. Corruption was the first topic of debate.
“If we want to create a vision of how we grow and how we do true economic development, we have got to be trustworthy,” Curran (D) said. She also expressed the need to get county finances in order. “We have to restore the trust and put safeguards in order right in our government to stop corruption before it starts,” she said.
Martins (R) emphasized a message of unity. “Before we celebrate one side or the other being more corrupt, we understand that unfortunately – and it’s not something that we should celebrate – both sides have a lot to be ashamed about when it comes to public corruption in Nassau County, and I think we should all understand that as well,” he said.
Lems (G) said, “I think it’s very short sided to focus on the corruption and balancing the budget.”
She said the most important issue is protecting Long Island “from global warming, from intrusion of chemicals and salt water into our aquifers.”
The candidates were asked about their plans to keep young professionals living in Nassau County, a question many attending students could relate to.
Martins (R) said that through his plan of adding a variety of housing and creating an environment that allows well-paying jobs to relocate to Nassau, the youth of the population will remain in the county.
“It comes down to a job, the ability of people to work, raise their family here and pay the high cost of living,” he said.
Curran (D) specifically addressed transit-oriented development and affordable housing, which she believes will attract a young population to Nassau County. She emphasized her support for restoring the routes of the N.I.C.E buses. “Under my administration the buses will never be on the chopping block. It’s economic development and it is key to keeping our young people here.”
As the other candidates also mentioned, Lems (G) said affordable housing is key. “We need to reduce property taxes so that young people can afford to purchase housing here on Long Island. We can do that by moving that tax burden to an income tax,” she said.
An important conversation arose among the candidates regarding the violence in Charlottesville. Candidates were asked to identify what they learned from the violence and how they plan to prevent hate crimes throughout the county.
“Some people would say that they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, but I don’t believe that there is a First Amendment right to hate,” Martins (R) said. He noted that as a society, we all share the common desires of opportunity, freedom to express and safety, and in doing so we must denounce all forms of hatred.
Curran (D) said, “Our diversity is our strength. We should celebrate it and we should encourage it.” She also stressed that police play the key role in maintaining and promoting peace within the community.
Lems (G) said education is the answer to preventing violence. “I think we need to integrate our communities more so that people are exposed to the other cultures,” she said.
Lems explained that interacting with other cultures prevents hate and will ultimately decrease violence. “We need to introduce the cultures to each other and make sure we see each other as humans,” she said.
The election of the new Nassau County executive will take place this coming Election Day, Nov. 7. For more information on where and how to vote, visit: https://www.nassaucountyny.gov.