Curran, Laura

Editorial: Willie Horton, Updated for the Trump Era

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Attorney and activist Fred Brewington holding up a mailer sent by the Republican candidate Jack Martins. Credit J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday

If an amalgam of McCarthyism and the notorious Willie Horton ad suits your taste, then you want to get hold of a mailer sent to Long Island voters on behalf of the Republican candidate for Nassau County executive. As odious campaign material goes, this one is hard to beat. Yet the candidate, Jack Martins, says he firmly stands by it.

The mailer shows three shirtless Latino men, covered in tattoos and representing MS-13, the vicious gang begun by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles that now menaces Long Island. “Meet Your New Neighbors!” a headline above them says, adding this about Mr. Martins’s Democratic opponent: “Laura Curran will roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13!” Ms. Curran, the text says, is “MS-13’s choice for county executive.”

That was the Willie Horton part of the message — a blatant race-based appeal to fear. You may recall the Horton commercial, which the elder George Bush ran in his 1988 presidential campaign. It showed a black man who had raped a white woman and assaulted her husband while free on a Massachusetts prison-furlough program that was supported by Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate. As a vote magnet, it worked for Mr. Bush. Mr. Martins, a former state senator, clearly hopes it does the same for him in Tuesday’s election.


A campaign mailer sent by Jack Martins. Credit Newsday

Now for the McCarthyism: “Laura Curran’s campaign is supported and funded by New York City special interest groups.” This is an attempted smear reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy’s heyday, with its suggestion that Ms. Curran shares the views of unnamed groups that “want to make Nassau County a sanctuary county for illegal immigrants.” It’s the old guilt by association.

In fact, Ms. Curran, a county legislator, supports neither sanctuary counties nor sanctuary cities, terms typically applied to localities whose police forces are ordered not to ask about the immigration status of people taken into custody. “It makes MS-13 look like a PAC that’s supporting me,” she said, understandably offended.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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