Democrat Madeline Singas' surprisingly wide margin of victory in the election for Nassau district attorney -- over Republican Kate Murray, who had never before lost a race -- came from a mix of her disciplined message, success in GOP strongholds and voter anger over political corruption, officials and experts said.
Singas, the acting district attorney, defeated Murray, the Hempstead Town supervisor, by 18 percentage points, or 31,000 votes, after recent polls predicted a near-dead heat.
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Political watchers had expected Murray's strong name recognition, coupled with Nassau Republicans' skill in getting their core supporters to vote in off-year elections, to overcome the fact that Murray had never practiced criminal law.
Murray worked as a lawyer in the state attorney general's office in the 1990s, but has held elected legislative or administrative offices for the past 18 years. Still, she'd won each of her previous campaigns by an average of 65 percent of the vote.
Singas, though,raised Murray's lack of criminal law credentials early and often, contrasting it with her more than two decades as a prosecutor.
"I felt Kate Murray underestimated the voter and the issues at stake," Singas said Wednesday. "I feel inspired people were able to put aside the noise and distractions and zero-in on the issues important for the job."
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works largely with Republicans, said Singas "had exactly the right message. She said, 'I'm a prosecutor, not a politician.' And I thought the way [Murray] countered it, with 'I'm an administrator,' was just awful."
While Singas rarely veered off message, Murray changed focus. She often said she had the management skills to lead a large office, but her ads and events focused, at varying times, on her anti-heroin strategy, the district attorney's alleged mismanagement of a domestic violence case, and an endorsement by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Nassau GOP spokesman Tony Santino, who on Tuesday won election as Murray's successor in Hempstead, said Singas' campaign "latched onto the qualification issue and was able to hammer that home.
"We think Kate had great qualifications for the job," Santino said, "but they were able to come up with a line of reasoning that resonated with voters."
The Murray campaign declined to comment Wednesday. In her concession speech, Murray didn't address strategy, only saying: "It didn't go my way tonight, but you know what? I have never been prouder of a campaign that I've run."
Roughly 20 percent of Nassau's 948,000 registered voters cast ballots on Tuesday. Traditionally, a number that low has favored Republicans for their comprehensive field efforts.
But Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said he focused on persuasion rather than turnout. The party, he said, used its field operation to persuade some Republicans that Murray was unqualified and that they should vote with them.
Singas won all three towns, including Murray's base in Hempstead and the GOP stronghold of Oyster Bay. She swept Bethpage, Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's home, and Hicksville.
"Voters need a reason to care, especially in an off-year election," Jacobs said Wednesday. "And we gave them that."
That most GOP incumbents won while the party's top of the ticket lost showed that low turnout voters are educated and selective, Dawidziak said.
"They made choices, like, 'I'll vote for Tony Santino here and Singas there," Dawidziak said.
Another reason for Singas' win, experts said, was dissatisfaction over public corruption cases involving other Nassau Republicans. Singas ran ads showing Murray pictured with State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. Meanwhile, a politically connected restaurateur, Harendra Singh, faces federal charges of bribing an official in Republican-led Oyster Bay town.
"Kate was the wrong candidate for the wrong office at the wrong time," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver, who backed Murray, said Singas was "a better candidate to keep everyone in check. I think Kate would have kept people in check, but there was backlash against other officials.
"People just wanted some balance," he said. "I think this shows there's a lack of trust in government right now."
Santino, however, said he didn't believe Murray was affected by Skelos or Singh: "You can't reasonably connect her to that. Kate has a reputation for honesty and integrity."
New York Islanders
Singas used social media to reach out to New York Islanders fans who blame Murray for the team's departure from Nassau and the failure of Hempstead to approve the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project, which involved the renovation of Nassau Coliseum.
Murray opposed the plan, saying it would badly affect traffic and the environment.
Matt Ruzz, of Great Neck, an Islanders season ticketholder, sent out half a dozen messages urging friends to vote against Murray, whom he calls the fans' "public enemy number one . I hold her personally responsible for Long Island losing its only professional sports franchise."
Tom Liodice of Mineola, who writes an Islanders' blog, said fans feel a measure of satisfaction. "I feel we got something accomplished," said Liodice. "Better late than never."