October is a unique month. It’s time for apple picking, watching the trees change color and, if the weather permits, taking long car trips to interesting places.
Depending on where you live, it’s also the time for candidates for public office to make their final arguments as to why you should vote for them on Nov. 2. And if you live in Nassau County and are a registered voter, you’re seeing that last-minute blitz to make sure you show up on Election Day.
Unlike years when we elect a president, in politics this is considered an off year, with most of the campaigns involving candidates for local office. The biggest races in our county are for county executive, district attorney and comptroller. County Executive Laura Curran is favored to be re-elected, due to her professionalism and support from both political parties. That leaves the contests for district attorney and comptroller.
The hottest competition will be for the office of district attorney. Mailboxes all over the county are being flooded with materials promoting the candidacy of State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, and Anne Donnelly, a Republican and an assistant D.A. This one campaign could wind up costing the candidates as much as $6 million, and possibly more.
Having once represented the South Shore of Nassau County in the State Assembly, I have gotten to know Kaminsky, and have watched his political career rise rapidly. Our career paths are somewhat alike. I started out as a city attorney in Long Beach, and he started out as a federal prosecutor. I prosecuted local slumlords, and as a federal prosecutor he was given the opportunity to prosecute high-profile criminals. In my late 20s, I got a chance to run for the State Assembly, and he got his opening to run for the State Senate.
To the benefit of Long Island taxpayers, Kaminsky has been a hard-working legislator who has been a leader on criminal and environmental issues. He was the principal sponsor of a law to take pensions away from corrupt elected officials. He has gotten tougher drunken-driving laws and battled opioid manufacturers and doctors who dispense drugs too freely. During my time in Albany, I passed many laws in similar areas, and like Kaminsky was the leader of the Long Island legislative delegation in Albany.
I applauded his decision to run for district attorney, because he has been a strong voice on so many issues of concern to the public. The State Senate leaders turn to him for advice on criminal and environmental law issues. He is responsible for the $3 billion environmental cleanup bond that will be on the ballot in 2022. Donnelly, who claims that Kaminsky was the “author” of the bail-reform law, has criticized him. I know for a fact that he was not its author, and he has battled his own party on this issue.
Politics is a tough and unforgiving business. If you stay in one elected position for a long period of time, you are accused of being part of the establishment. If you run for higher office a few years after getting elected to a different job, you are accused of being too ambitious. I had the chance to run for statewide office twice, but a family tragedy prevented that from happening. I know Kaminsky’s opponent to be a long-term veteran of the D.A.’s office. In the end, it will be up to the voters to decide whom they want for district attorney.
There is another countywide contest on the ballot, for the important job of county comptroller. While the public focus has been on the D.A.’s race, the job of keeping an eye on taxpayers’ money is also crucial. Former Republican State Sen. Elaine Phillips is challenging Democrat Ryan Cronin for that position. I have worked with Phillips, and found her to be an excellent public official.
This will be another important choice for Nassau County voters. I hope they won’t decide to skip this year’s election, because any election, whether for dogcatcher or president, is important. If you stay home on Election Day, you get the kind of government you deserve.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.