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Nassau DA candidates Madeline Singas, Kate Murray spar at forum in Garden City

Nassau County district attorney candidates Madeline Singas and

Nassau County district attorney candidates Madeline Singas and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray appear at a voters forum hosted by the Garden City Chamber of Commerce at the Garden City Hotel Sept. 30, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Democrat Madeline Singas and Republican Kate Murray, the candidates for Nassau County district attorney, made their first joint appearance of the campaign Wednesday at a forum where each questioned the other's credentials for the county's top law enforcement post.

Singas, 49, the acting Nassau district attorney, touted her more than 20 years of courtroom experience and described Murray, the Hempstead Town supervisor, as a "career politician . . . who has no experience in criminal law whatsoever."

Murray, 52, billed herself as "CEO of America's largest township." She said the district attorney's office needs "a lawyer who's a leader, not a lawyer who's never led."

Singas and Murray fielded questions from members of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce at the Garden City Hotel about heroin abuse, cybercrime and community policing.

The nearly hourlong question-and-answer session was tense.

In responding to comments that she has never been a prosecutor, Murray said Singas' former boss Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown had not been a prosecutor before taking office. Murray also said Singas' predecessor as Nassau district attorney, Kathleen Rice, did not prosecute cases as DA.

Singas, who was named acting district attorney after Rice was elected to Congress last year, said Brown had served as a criminal court, State Supreme Court and appellate court judge, and that Rice "was a prosecutor on the state and federal level."

"I'm sorry Kate, you are no Judge Brown. You are no Kathleen Rice," Singas said.

Murray, a former state assemblywoman who also worked for the state attorney general's office, said she was aware some questioned her prosecutorial experience, but said, "I'm not a prosecutor, I am a manager."

Murray criticized the county's drug diversion court program, saying that drug dealers are saying they are addicted to heroin in order to be placed in the program, and "given a slap on the wrist . . . that will stop when I'm district attorney."

Singas responded that the program, in which county judges order some nonviolent drug offenders to enroll in drug rehabilitation instead of facing prosecution, is not operated by the district attorney's office.

"When Supervisor Murray said there's a problem with diversion in the court system, what she doesn't understand is that judges set diversion, not prosecutors," Singas said.

At one point, Singas drew jeers from the crowd of about 150 when she suggested that Murray had received questions in advance. Both candidates had been asked if they were supporters of the broken windows theory of policing, which focuses on minor crimes to catch offenders who also may be committing more serious offenses.

"I see that the supervisor has her notes on broken windows in front of her," Singas said. "I don't know if she got a preview of the questions, but I'm prepared to answer nonetheless."

Event organizers said none of the candidates were briefed on the questions before the debate.

Murray said she was "in line with broken windows proponents," adding "in my opinion there are no small crimes."

Singas said she believes in being "smart on crime." But "maybe because I'm a mom," some cases "deserve compassion," such as those involving nonviolent youth offenders.

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