As usual, in the weeks before the statewide elections held last Tuesday November 8th, residents of Nassau County saw campaign signs go up on lawns and heard political advertisements blare between TV shows. However, this year, the signs seemed to be get bigger and the ads seemed to get louder as the stakes were raised to historic levels as voters faced numerous crises both on and off the island.
With a pre-election poll ranking “national policy” as one of the top five issues facing Nassau County voters for the first time in years, many locals clearly viewed the recent election as a suburban referendum on President Trump. Mass casualty attacks have increased in tempo in recent months, from the Las Vegas and Texas mass shootings to the recent terrorist attack in nearby NYC, bringing attention to national politics. In fact, “LI Talks Trump,” a featured segment on News 12 in which Long Islanders of all political leanings discuss the President’s actions, regularly drew dozens and even hundreds of comments in response to each clip leading up to Tuesday.
Closer to home, corruption became a hot issue as former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano declined to run for re-election in the face of 13 federal corruption and fraud charges. He will be tried in early 2018 along with his wife Linda. Mangano’s indictment came on the heels of the arrest of former Oyster Bay
supervisor John Venditto and half a dozen of his inner circle on 40 counts of corruption and the disgrace of former State Senator Dean Skelos. Skelos, the former New York State Senate majority leader is currently embroiled in federal appeals for his bribery conviction. All three are Republicans, but even the conservative magazine National Review has scathingly excoriated local administrations in an editorial making Nassau “one of the most corrupt counties in the nation,” bemoaning the county with “the highest property-tax rates in the country…simultaneously being unable to make ends meet.”
It’s clear that voters were sick of politics-as-usual leading up to the election; a recent poll found that a whopping 60% of Nassau homeowners had an “unfavorable” opinion of the previous county administration and that a plurality, 48%, beloved the county was “going in the wrong direction.” This dissatisfaction caused politics to seep over into other areas of life: on a local news story about a teenage bank robber, a witty Oceanside resident named Vincent commented “[h]e is a smart guy…maybe he can run for office next year. It may be a slight upgrade from what we have now.”
These pressing issues combined to cause a highly contested and bitter election. However, as vote counts trickled in after poll closure at 9PM, a shocking upset in local governments on Long Island became apparent. Long Island Democrats have scored win after win at almost every level of local government.
Democrat and former reporter Laura Curran declared victory in the Nassau County Executive race just after 12 AM Wednesday with all precincts reporting a tight 51-48% margin over Republican candidate and former State Senator Jack Martins. Their race had been particularly aggressive, both campaigns shelling out an unprecedented $2.5 million for accusatory political advertisements on television, through mailings, and online. Controversially, Martins had labeled Curran “MS-13’s choice for county executive” in an advertisement accused of being “fearmongering” by Democrats. Likewise, Curran had slammed Martins’ supposed involvement in political corruption and association with convicted former state senator Dean Skelos, allegations the Martins campaign vehemently denied as “untrue” and “distracting.” Curran, who will be the first female Executive in the county’s history, promises to prioritize fighting government corruption through implementing ethics reform and term limits, and protecting citizens from gang violence through greater policing and outreach programs for at risk teens. A top aide to Curran has already asked over 200 appointees to resign county offices, most of them Republicans.
Democrat Jack Schnirman also defeated his Republican opponent for County Comptroller, the position in charge of county finances. Schnirman ran on a strong anti-corruption message and pledges to clean up Nassau’s budget and make up its deficit. The Hempstead town supervisor role, which has authority over all hamlets of Hempstead including Oceanside, has been won by a Democrat in the first time in over a century. Supervisor-Elect Laura Gillen is the ever first woman to serve in the position. Both of these high-level victories are credited by Democrats in part to grassroots action by Long Islanders, specifically by the activist group Indivisible. The group, founded as a response to the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, is a network of “resistance to the Trump agenda” that officially congratulated Gillen, Schnirman, and other Democrat candidates that won this election. Dozens of other municipal positions formerly occupied by GOP candidates, including the County Executive of Westchester, are now blue as well.
Reactions around Oceanside vary, but some residents are definitely more optimistic now. One school staff member commented, “it’s important that we’ve had all these historic firsts,” referring to the election of female candidates to leadership positions as well as the concurrent election of transgender leaders elsewhere in the country. Another group of Oceanside residents agreed, saying that “the change should be good for Long Island.” Nevertheless, the direction our communities take and any effects of this Democratic sweep will be watched closely by voters as the midterm elections approach.