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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Garner case could affect Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan's expected re-election run

People march in protest on Manhattan's West Side

People march in protest on Manhattan's West Side Highway on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, after the announcement that the New York City police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner would not be indicted. Credit: AP

Next year brings a test of whether passions and protests of the moment will matter once Election Day comes around in New York City's least-populous borough.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. convened the grand jury that produced no charges against a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. Donovan is widely expected to seek re-election to a fourth term in 2015. For the moment, there's serious doubt that the Garner case will dent his prospects.

In 2010, Republicans regarded Donovan, now 58, as a solid candidate for statewide office. He won their nomination for attorney general without opposition. Donovan ended up with 44 percent against the winner, Democrat Eric T. Schneiderman.

Amid the outcry over the grand jury result, Schneiderman stepped forward last week to propose letting his AG office handle deaths of unarmed civilians linked to police action. That's unlikely to happen, but it illustrates the heat of the moment.

Unlike other boroughs, Staten Island has a Republican district attorney, a GOP borough president, Republicans in both state legislative houses and on the City Council. Its sole House member, Republican Michael Grimm, won a decisive re-election last month -- while under federal indictment on corruption charges.

Yet official figures show that Richmond County's registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, 128,328 to 80,187. There are also 56,321 unaffiliated voters.

The Democrats have yet to line up a candidate for district attorney -- though one party activist who declined to be identified noted a challenger could find support and funding from those engaged in the justice-for-Eric Garner cause.

John Gulino, the county Democratic chairman, said Thursday, "We've been working on recruiting candidates as we do normally in any race. I've met with a couple of candidates to form a subcommittee and send a message out that we're ready to interview all people who want to step forward."

Turnover is rare for DA seats, but last year, longtime Democratic Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes was ousted by Democratic insurgent Kenneth Thompson.

"Politically, you don't know," Gulino said. "Different things happen. There are different circumstances. I'm looking to recruit qualified candidates, nominate and back them."

Donovan was not immediately available for comment. But GOP Councilman Vincent Ignizio, from the Island's south shore, expressed confidence in the DA's chances. "Dan is a highly ethical and competent DA," Ignizio said, "and I anticipate he will win again by a wide margin in the coming year."

Eleven years ago in Manhattan, security guard Patrick Dorismond was fatally shot by police in what was determined to be a botched undercover drug sting. Then-DA Robert Morgenthau did not prosecute officers involved. But he issued a 33-page report describing the case in detail, which drew criticism from Dorismond's family and protesters.

Neither Donovan nor his grand jury issued a report explaining its actions in the Garner case. This week, State Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney recused himself from a request to release grand jury transcripts, citing a potential conflict: His wife, Kathryn Krause Rooney, chairs the board of the hospital that sent medics to the scene July 17.

Demonstrators have proved their staying power in the case's aftermath. Whether it hurts Donovan next November becomes a different discussion.

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