Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly pledged, as she took her ceremonial oath of office Wednesday, to keep the county "one of the safest places in the world" and to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with police while carrying out her mission of justice with compassion and fairness.
The veteran prosecutor retired last summer from a 32-year career at the office she now leads to run for the top job.
She is the third woman Nassau voters have elected to the position and the first Republican to hold the office since 2005, coming into power as part of a wave of GOP candidates who swept into office across Long Island after November poll victories.
Donnelly, 57, called her journey to the top of the county’s law enforcement ranks the fulfillment of the values and vision of her mother, Barbara Galligan, and late father, Patrick Galligan. He served in the Marines and as deputy chief court officer of the county’s District Court.
"My dad often said, ‘Do the right thing and the right thing will happen.’ And that is my promise to all of you today. I will always do the right thing and together we will watch the right things happen for Nassau County," Donnelly said Wednesday.
She vowed to join with other district attorneys to lobby Albany legislators to amend recent reforms governing discovery, the exchange of evidence with defense attorneys, and bail — a matter over which she said judges should have more discretion.
"I experienced firsthand the anguish of watching dangerous criminals, who I had brought to court, be released without bail," Donnelly told an audience of hundreds at the county’s new police training facility. "Some of those criminals left the courthouse laughing at me and immediately fled this great country."
The district attorney said that experience was part of what prompted her to seek office, saying she believed "somebody had to take up the battle against the criminal justice laws that had gone too far and have put the safety of the public at risk."
Donnelly said her staff "will aggressively prosecute cases when appropriate and be equally compassionate when the circumstances warrant it," and added that prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges would have to work together for just outcomes.
The district attorney said battling gun violence and arresting drug dealers who are fueling an opioid crisis that has worsened amid the coronavirus pandemic — and pushing for treatment for the addicted — were among her top priorities.
Donnelly also said she would focus on establishing her office as a model for prosecuting internet-related crimes and put resources into combating scams that target the elderly.
Donnelly, a Garden City wife and mother of three, graduated from Fordham University School of Law before going right to work for the now-late former Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon in 1989.
Catholic Msgr. James Lisante, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, said while giving an invocation Wednesday that he’d seen "an Irish-looking angel" outside who "looked suspiciously like Denis Dillon … who I think is so happy today."
As an assistant district attorney, Donnelly rose through her office’s ranks to become deputy chief of the Rackets and Enterprise Crime Bureau, where Rick Whelan — now her executive assistant district attorney for the Investigations Division — was her supervisor for more than a decade.
Whelan told those gathered Wednesday that he and Donnelly had been "co-captains" all those years and that she was a devoted public servant who put 110% into her cases, was "fair to a fault" and "always led by example."
John Wighaus, president of the Nassau County Detectives’ Association, recalled introducing Donnelly to county Republican Party chairman Joseph Cairo upon hearing of the top prosecutor job opening up. It was an opening created by former Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas’ appointment as a Court of Appeals judge.
Wighaus, whom Donnelly once sent into a maximum-security prison undercover for a case, thanked her for being "law and order’s candidate" before adding: "We will always have your back."
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder was among those on the dais with Donnelly, along with Freeport Police Department chaplain the Rev. Eric Mallette and Yeshiva of the South Shore Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, both of whom spoke during Wednesday's ceremony.
The crowd included many prosecutors, police officials and judges, along with former Rep. Peter King, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and new NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell — who previously was the Nassau County Police Department’s chief of detectives.
State Supreme Court Justice David Sullivan administered Donnelly’s oath as her husband of 30 years, Dave Donnelly, and their three grown children, stood with her.
"You rock, Mom!" one of them exclaimed later as Donnelly thanked her family for their support.
Then, to finish a ceremony that included music from the NCPD's Pipes and Drums and its Blue Lion Band, the Donnellys’ daughter Erin, 21, played "America the Beautiful" on her alto saxophone.