Rice, Sturim, Nassau DA contenders, face off at debate

Nassau County District Attorney candidates Kathleen Rice and

Nassau County District Attorney candidates Kathleen Rice and Howard Sturim square off at a debate at News 12 in Woodbury. (Oct. 16, 2013) (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

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In their sole debate, Democratic Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice Wednesday night portrayed herself as an innovative incumbent who has proved herself on the job, while her Republican opponent accused her of losing focus while aiming at higher office.

"The office has become a platform for my opponent to further her political ambitions," said her GOP challenger Howard Sturim, a former Nassau prosecutor from Great Neck, during a televised News 12 debate.

"You can vote for the politician with the fancy ideas or you can vote for me; I will prosecute the violent offenders," said Sturim, 54.

But Rice, 48, of Garden City, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for state attorney general, touted her record. She said her office had vigorously pursued corrupt public officials and drunken drivers. Her administration, she said, has recovered millions of dollars from white-collar criminals, and she pointed to success in sending violent gang members to jail.

"That's the kind of progress I want to continue," she said.

Rice repeatedly tried to tie Sturim to what she said were the shortcomings of her predecessor and his old boss, Denis Dillon, whom she defeated in 2005.

"You can vote to return to the old days of small ideas or you can vote to continue the progress we have made," Rice said, saying she had turned her office into the country's best.

She jabbed at Sturim, saying that "while he said he's tough on crime," she has a record of accomplishments.

Sturim has been a law clerk to Nassau County Court Judge Alan L. Honorof since 2004. Under Dillon, he ran the Arson Bureau and prosecuted homicides in the Major Offense Bureau.

During the debate, he distinguished between violent and nonviolent criminals. Referring to his work with the judge with the latter, he said, "We try to incorporate an aspect of rehabilitation."

According to an Oct. 13 Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll, Sturim trailed Rice badly -- 63 percent versus 26 percent.

Sturim charged that violent crime and plea bargains had climbed since Rice took office. And he urged voters to check the statistics for themselves.

Rice's campaign spokesman Eric Phillips, however, said the data contradicted Sturim.

A signature issue for Rice, a former state and federal prosecutor, has been prosecuting clients of sex workers, who can be victims of trafficking. Sturim dismissed this emphasis as "frivolous," saying it siphoned money from pursuing more important violent crimes.

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