The path forward for Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran is clear-cut but steep as she readies for her inauguration next week.
It’s clear-cut in that her pledge to weed out corruption and professionalize the delivery of services must be honored. It’s steep in that she will have to manage the challenges that face reformers, namely maintain public support after the din of the campaign subsides and governing begins.
Most reform mayors, town supervisors and county executives run out of steam precisely because they come to see politics as their enemy. The smart ones distinguish the strength of President Theodore Roosevelt’s bully pulpit from the overreliance on political tricks. Simply put, when reformers disdain the assiduous political knitting required to provide a protective quilt for their policy initiatives, the reform agenda loses its heat. The Curran administration must prove nimble at delivering efficient services while crafting a defining narrative Nassau voters can quickly grasp and support.
How is Curran, a Democrat, likely to do?
First, her experience as a reporter could hold her in good stead. Good reporters have an intuitive sense for crafting compelling narratives. This skill can produce effective political messaging, which would enable voters to approve what her administration is doing and why it is doing it.
Second, Curran has followed through on taking the county executive’s name off signs and rescinding the sweetheart patronage deals the outgoing administration of Edward Mangano had tried to put in place. And, she has tapped Helena Williams, an experienced professional who headed the Long Island Rail Road, as her chief deputy county executive.
Third, Curran seems not to have a haughty bone in her body. Losing that common touch would be a severe blow to her authenticity.
Fourth, it never hurts to have luck in terms of your political adversaries. Jerry Laricchuita, the local head of the Civil Service Employees Association, has been a gift to Curran that keeps on giving. Near the end of the campaign, voters learned that Laricchuita had sought a pledge on priorities. It became public that Jack Martins, Curran’s Republican opponent, put a promise of no layoffs ahead of raising taxes. But she would not make that pledge to secure CSEA’s endorsement.
Then during the transition, Laricchuita complained that Curran would not return his calls, which were answered by the head of Curran’s transition committee. To voters that looked good, as Curran was not genuflecting to a special interest group, while Laricchuita appeared to his members to lack influence.
A larger challenge to Curran is whether she can build a broad and enduring political bond with Nassau’s independent voters. In terms of registration, Nassau Democrats only slightly outnumber Republicans (by just over 61,000: 397,859 Democrats to 336,289 Republicans) while unaffiliated independents number 239,242 voters, almost a full quarter of Nassau’s 1,025,598 registered voters.
As she takes the oath of office on New Year’s Day, in front of the Nassau County office building named after Theodore Roosevelt, Curran should embrace the bully pulpit on behalf of a purposeful governing agenda for Nassau County.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP and an adjunct professor of political science at The University at Albany.