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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

DA candidate Scotto pursuing a longtime goal

Michael Scotto, the former chief of the Manhattan

Michael Scotto, the former chief of the Manhattan Rackets Bureau, announced his candidacy for Nassau County District Attorney, May 5, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The walls of the storefront headquarters in West Hempstead are mostly bare except for a map and a big makeshift writing board above a table. There, a visitor finds a handful of young campaign aides seated across from and alongside the 51-year-old candidate, Michael Scotto.

Big gaps in the ceiling, and a long stretch of open floor space, give the place a sense of transience.

Scotto, a seasoned prosecutor, wants to become the Nassau district attorney. The Port Washington lawyer -- who looks younger in person than in photos -- has held this ambition for years, friends say.

First he must survive a challenge to his qualifying petitions in state Supreme Court this week from acting DA Madeline Singas, his intended Democratic primary rival.

Scotto seems to believe he can win the primary despite Singas' huge cash-on-hand advantage. He seems to believe he can then beat GOP candidate Kate Murray, the Hempstead supervisor, in November.

Underdogs and long shots always face the question of what they "really" want.

"I'm running because it's important," Scotto insists. "I think it's the single most important election in Nassau County in many years . . . I'm not running to have the Democrats or Republicans win the election. It's about having the best DA.

"It's politics that led Madeline Singas to be the Democratic establishment's endorsed candidate. It's certainly not based on her record. And the same for Kate Murray. I keep hearing Kate Murray is a proven vote-getter. I mean, that's the only thing they [GOP leaders] are interested in."

Scotto gets help from off Long Island. His attorney, Louis Rosenthal, and campaign consultant Warren Cohn, for example, have roots in the Brooklyn Democratic organization.

"The fact that I'm working with people from outside the county -- who else am I going to use?" he says. "I'm not going to step out to get a judgeship. People say, 'Oh, maybe you can make a deal with the party.' What deal? You're not paying attention to my campaign."

Scotto worked for 22 years, until 2012, for the Manhattan DA. He headed the rackets bureau and was deputy chief of the investigation division. Some of his highest-profile cases involved corruption in labor unions and the construction industry.

Scotto gives a rapid-fire, multi-point critique of the Nassau DA's office beginning under Kathleen Rice and extending into her former chief assistant Singas' tenure, which began in January when Rice departed for Congress.

Perhaps signaling the stuff of a future debate, Scotto charges the DA with failing to focus on heroin, dysfunctionally assigning cases, lacking a bond with police, inappropriate leaks and shucking off Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves' failure to file campaign disclosure reports over many years.

Singas' campaign declined to comment. Democratic County chairman Jay Jacobs, backing Singas, said, "You have to justify every run like this and he's chosen these items, which I don't think are valid, but that will be for the public to judge." Jacobs contends that with little funding -- or grassroots support "as far as I can tell" -- Scotto has "not much" chance.

For now, it's about the primary ballot. Scotto said his 12-year-old son asked, upon hearing about the petition lawsuit, "Are they afraid you're going to beat them?" The candidate laughs loudly.

"I said I don't know what they're afraid of," he says. "But I think it's because they can't control me."


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