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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Brown: Cuomo stagnant in appointing successor to Nassau district attorney

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks as supporters gather in

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks as supporters gather in Manhattan after the polls close on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Former New York State governors Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson A. Rockefeller moved swiftly to appoint successors to outgoing Nassau district attorneys.

But it's looking as if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could go the opposite direction, by leaving a chief deputy in charge for a year.

That would make Madeline Singas the longest-serving temporary district attorney in Nassau since Dewey, in 1949, appointed Frank Gulotta to fill out the five months of James Gehrig's term until an election.

Does that make sense for a county as large and with as many ongoing -- and serious -- investigations as Nassau?

Residents are still awaiting action on everything from voter fraud in the Hempstead school district to allegations that a police officer improperly served a subpoena on a witness in custody in a politically charged case.

Though she had a swearing-in ceremony last week, Singas is serving as a caretaker, albeit one, as per state law, with the full duties, powers and responsibilities of an elected or appointed district attorney.

She's said she will run in November for a full four-year elected term. And she's already raised more than $400,000 for the race.

Gulotta, after his appointment in 1949, ran and won several full terms. He served as district attorney until 1958, when he became a judge. His son, Thomas, is a former Nassau County executive.

And William Cahn, who was appointed in 1962 by Rockefeller to serve two months before an election after former District Attorney Manuel Levine became a judge, went on to win, too.

He served until 1974.

In short, being appointed by the two governors didn't hurt -- and in fact may have helped -- their election because they could run as de facto incumbents.

But it looks as if Singas' stretch as custodian could extend to a year, until an elected district attorney takes office Jan. 1.

Which would leave Nassau's two top law enforcement jobs in the hands of acting, rather than appointed or elected, officials.

Would that best serve residents' needs?

Nassau hasn't had a police commissioner since Thomas Dale resigned in 2013. County Executive Edward Mangano has had Thomas Krumpter in the job as an acting commissioner since then. And it looks as if Mangano's in no hurry to make a change.

But the district attorney's office is different, because it is an elected job rather than an appointed position such as commissioner. Leaving the county's top elected law enforcement position in a caretaker's hands for a long period of time sets a bad precedent, because it devalues the job and severs voters' ties to it.

Last week, Hempstead appointed two new town board members to fill vacancies. If it was important for the town to do that, why not for the state?

It's up to Cuomo to decide whether to appoint Singas, or someone else, as district attorney to fill in until November, when voters make a choice. Or he can decide not to appoint anyone. But he doesn't appear to be in a hurry to decide.

As for Singas, she's said she intends to stay the course, following through on former District Attorney Kathleen Rice's initiatives, which included aggressive prosecution of drunken drivers.

Appointed or not, however, she has a chance to set her own course, by making clear to Nassau's residents what a Singas term would look like.

There are plenty of issues ripe for examination -- including gangs, drugs and, especially, public corruption.

So dig in.

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