Current Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos and former state Senator Jack Martins, who are both vying for Nassau’s top position of county executive, faced off for a debate and Q&A last week at New Hyde Park’s Clinton G. Martin Park Recreation Center.
Ed Mangano, who has served as county executive since 2010, will not be running for reelection this November. Previously indicted on federal charges of corruption in October 2016 and still awaiting trial, Mangano refused to heed calls of his Republican party to step down from his position amid the controversy. However, Mangano has chosen not to seek reelection, missing both the Republican primary deadline in July and August deadline to register as an Independent.
The candidate forum, held on Aug. 24 and featuring a respectful and courteous debate between Maragos and Martins, was hosted by a number of local Asian citizen groups, including Korean American Civic Empowerment and the Great Neck Chinese Association.
A former Republican who recently converted to the Democratic ticket, Maragos has served as Nassau County comptroller since 2010, and has twice unsuccessfully attempted to run for the United States Senate, first in 2010 and again in 2012. Martins, a Republican, represented the Seventh District in the New York State Senate from 2010 to 2016, after which he lost a Congressional bid to current Third District Representative, Democrat Tom Suozzi.
The forum consisted of candidates fielding questions from local civic leaders on numerous topics, including their views on immigration and the current economic and business climate on Long Island.
With immigration a hot-button topic in the news lately, several of the initial questions aimed at the candidates centered on that particular aspect of politics, and both Maragos—himself an immigrant from Greece—and Martins, whose parents emigrated from Portugal, pledged their support for all community members, including the ones who only recently made the United States their home.
“In Nassau County, our minority and ethnic communities have grown very rapidly and now represent over 40 percent of our population,” Maragos said. “However, there currently aren’t any Asian representatives in the Nassau County Legislature, the number of business opportunities that go to minorities is less than 10 percent and there are probably less than 5 percent of minorities in the police department. We need to devote more spending of money to support minority-owned businesses, and we need to ensure that all county documentation is available in a variety of languages that reflect our community, just as New York City is doing.”
In response to the same question, Martins said, “In a Jack Martins Administration, we’re going to hire the very best and we’re going to encourage everyone who has the highest qualifications to participate and place their applications, and we will consider people based solely on their merits. We will make sure we don’t exclude people because we live in a society of opportunity…we won’t exclude people based on race, color, ethnic background…you will all get an equal opportunity.”
The next question posed to the candidates involved how they would address the fears and protect the rights of the local immigrant community.
“There should never be mass deportation raids and people being asked to leave the leave the country. That is not what any of us wants. I do not believe a traffic infraction should lead to someone being deported,” Martins said. “I believe in the immigrant story, and I believe there should be a path for people who are here undocumented to achieve a status in this country so they don’t have to live in fear of being deported. However, where I draw the line is with violent felons…if someone is convicted of breaking the laws of our country, and they’re here illegally, when they get out of jail I want them deported. I do not want to let them back into our community.”
Maragos responded, “America is built by immigrants, and should always be welcoming to immigrants and accommodating. We should not be using police tactics to enforce and deport people. We will have a welcoming and friendly immigration policy that will guarantee due process rights to every individual, and any administrative warrants that are issued will be subject to administrative review by a judge before we honor any request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.”
One of the biggest questions of the evening concerned the current economic climate in Nassau County and how it pertains to both the cost of living and the quality of jobs available to residents. In particular, concern was expressed about the so-called “brain-drain” effect plaguing Long Island, where young people are leaving in droves in search of cheaper places to live that afford them better employment opportunities than Long Island currently offers.
“Nassau County’s population is aging, it’s grown more diverse and many of our young people are going away to college and never coming back because we are not creating exciting, high-paying opportunities for them and the cost of living is becoming unaffordable,” Maragos noted. “If Nassau County is going to compete in today’s global economy, we have to focus on industry segments—such as medicine and biotech—that will become world leaders in their fields, and that will create high-paying jobs. Second, we need to fix our transportation system and aging infrastructure, which is failing. If we offer a clean, safe and reliable train ride into the city, you will see companies flock out here.”
Martins replied, “The challenge of this race for Nassau County executive is that we have to get our house in order. We have to look at economic development….What is it that we want to do? How do we create a job base that will allow our children, after they leave school, to come back home and work here? Medicine and research is something that we do well, but what we don’t do well is allow for regional development….We need to get our economic house in order, and then we could start recruiting companies that will become the backbone of the next generation economy.”