Janison: DA Rice on clear path to 3rd term

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks at a

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks at a 2011 press conference in Mineola with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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Currently in a job known for its long incumbencies, Democratic Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice faces a clear path to re-election, having passed on a county executive bid.

Nassau Republicans will focus in November mainly on protecting their current county power bases, including the offices of executive and comptroller and the legislature. And Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello has praised Rice publicly, both before and after she ran for state attorney general in 2010. Sources said Mondello privately expressed interest in a cross-endorsement in 2009, though nothing came of it. Rice won a second term, 54 to 46 percent, against Joy Watson in an otherwise victorious year for Mondello's candidates.

Challenging executive Edward Mangano this year could have been much dicier.

Last week Rice, 47, told her supporters in an email announcement for re-election that her office team has acted as "non-political, independent prosecutors not guided by fear or favor, but instead by what's right and what's wrong . . . I believe I have more to contribute to an office that we all rely upon to protect our families and to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system."

As in 2009, she starts with a monetary edge. As of July the Friends of Kathleen Rice committee reported $1,977,966 in cash on hand. New filings are due next week.

More than a few district attorneys around the state stay put for decades. Some political professionals see a fear factor -- the perception, perhaps unjustified, that unsuccessfully challenging an incumbent DA could mean prosecutorial payback after an election.

Whatever the reasons, however, a "DA-for-life" phenomenon -- or something close to it -- commonly arises. Brooklyn's Charles Hynes took office in 1990; Robert Johnson has been Bronx DA since 1989, and Queens DA Richard Brown, since 1991. In Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau served in the job for 35 years, and Nassau's late Denis Dillon, for 31 years, before Rice unseated him in 2005.

In Suffolk, third-term DA Thomas Spota and two co-plaintiffs won a court ruling that, pending possible appeals, makes him immune to county term limits. Opponents of such limits argue that voters can always change incumbents at the next election. That may not console Suffolk voters who like choices, since Spota has won major-party cross-endorsement in the past -- as have his co-plaintiffs, County Clerk Judith Pascale and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.