Democrat Madeline Singas and Republican Kate Murray, the candidates for Nassau district attorney, faced off in a spirited debate Wednesday night, with each arguing that her opponent lacked the credentials for the county's top law-enforcement post.
Singas, the acting Nassau district attorney, and Murray, the Town of Hempstead supervisor, traded barbs in a nearly two-hour debate at Hofstra University's Law School, organized by the nonpartisan Nassau League of Women Voters.
Both candidates responded to more than 20 questions, fielded from an audience of more than 220 students, prospective voters, and campaign supporters, on issues including public corruption and gun violence.
"You have to vote for someone with the experience to take on the heavy lift," said Singas, who delivered her opening remarks first. "This is not black and white. Every day I draw upon my 24 years of experience. Every day I will work to keep your family safe."
Singas touted her experience as a prosecutor in Queens and Nassau, while noting that Murray has never worked as a prosecutor or practiced criminal law. Murray, a former state assemblywoman who also previously worked for the state attorney general's office, touted her experience managing the nation's largest township whose budget dwarfed the size of the district attorney's $33 million budget.
"The bottom line is if you do something wrong and I am district attorney, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Murray said.
Asked about how they would approach deciding whether to negotiate a plea bargain versus taking a criminal case to trial, Murray said she would make her decision on a "case-by-case basis."
"That's where you have to have a good, seasoned prosecutor . . . a well-trained prosecutor to go over the facts of the case," Murray said.
Singas replied: "I do agree that you need experience before you make plea agreements . . . I have that experience."
The two tussled over the issue of drug diversion programs aimed at getting treatment for nonviolent offenders.
Murray accused Singas of "remaining silent" and not doing enough to fight diversion sentencing. Singas said Murray had a "fundamental misunderstanding" about how the program works, saying judges, not prosecutors, determine who is admitted into the program.
Murray cited last week's fatal shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder by an ex-con who had been released into a drug-diversion program in Manhattan.
She said Manhattan prosecutors had previously objected to the alleged shooter's placement into the program aimed at getting treatment for nonviolent offenders.
"God forbid a police officer in Nassau . . . a civilian is killed by someone put in diversion court," Murray said.
Singas criticized Murray for invoking Holder's death on the day of his funeral.
She said that while prosecutors objected, ultimately the decision rested with the judge.
"I'm tired of politicians using tragedies to propel some sort of fear-mongering or some sort of myth that we're not doing our job and you all are at risk," Singas said. "Diversion is dictated by judges, it had nothing to do with the prosecutors. My prosecutors object when they need to."
On the issue of public corruption, Murray criticized Singas for being "reactive" to allegations of public corruption against prominent figures, saying the acting DA's investigations have been spurred by news reports or indictments handed down by U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara this year against state lawmakers including Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
Singas said her office launched a review of Nassau County's contracting system following Skelos' arrest in May on charges that included using his influence in the awarding of a Nassau County contract to a firm that employed his son, and said corruption investigations can take months to build before the case is made public.
Asked about their plans to "remove guns from the streets," Singas said prosecutors now work with Nassau police officers in various communities to go after illegal gun traffickers and investigate "where this iron pipeline is emanating from."
Singas said she is part of a national coalition of prosecutors who meet every couple of months to trade information and bolster gun trafficking investigations.
Murray said she would seek to "close loopholes" in the state's gun laws to try and prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns. She said she would work "very closely with local, state and federal authorities" to investigate illegal gun sales.