The seven-week sprint to the general election for Nassau district attorney begins this weekend, with Democrat Madeline Singas and Republican Kate Murray each looking to frame distinctly different resumes as being best suited for the job.
Singas, the county's acting district attorney, withstood a primary challenge last week and has quickly turned her focus to highlighting her career of courtroom experience and her campaign platforms of tackling political corruption and curbing heroin-related deaths.
Murray, the longtime Hempstead Town supervisor -- who opened her campaign headquarters Saturday -- is arguing that her leadership over one of America's largest townships, and existing work on town-related anti-heroin initiatives, makes her the best candidate to oversee the district attorney's office and set its priorities.
The two candidates are likely to spend well over $1 million combined between now and Nov. 3 to spread their messages via mailers and television ads.
The district attorney's office -- which Democrat Kathleen Rice left in January after being elected to Congress -- has a budget of $34.6 million and more than 370 full-time employees.
"The district attorney is a manager, a visionary, the captain of the ship," said Murray, who has been town supervisor for 12 years and held stints as town clerk, state assemblywoman and as a lawyer in the state attorney general's office. "I'm clearly the one with executive and management experience; I'll be running on my record, and will let the public decide."
Singas, who has 24 years of experience as a prosecutor in Queens and Nassau, served as Rice's chief deputy since 2011, before taking over the office in the interim. She said Murray's lack of experience in criminal law should be a disqualifier.
"Every decision made out of that office should be made by someone who knows what we do," Singas said. "You need someone who knows the job, is trained for the job and is qualified for the job. Voters know that -- it's intuitive -- and they don't like it when someone tries to tell them otherwise."
Singas not as well-known
Political analysts say the race, despite the candidates' specific messages, may come down to how well Singas, who has never held elected office, can combat Murray's wide name recognition in Nassau.
"People need to know your name before you can persuade," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works largely with Republicans. "First comes introduction, then persuasion."
Singas easily defeated former Manhattan prosecutor Michael Scotto in Thursday's primary, but only 3 percent of the county's 363,000 registered Democrats voted. Nassau Republicans are known for strong get-out-the-vote operations.
"The Democrats have a lot of work to do," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant.
Still, citing her fundraising, Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said, "Singas is clearly an underdog, but the possibility of her winning is hardly in the realm of political science fiction."
Money an equalizer
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said Singas' funds will lessen the impact of the GOP's turnout and messaging machine. Singas ended August with $800,000 in cash on hand, while Murray, as of her last filed report in mid-July, had $538,000 on hand, most of it transferred from her town campaign fund, records show.
"There's certainly enough for television and substantial mailings and field operations," Jacobs said of Singas' war chest. "People will have the opportunity to judge her on the merits of the arguments."
Jacobs dismissed the low turnout by saying the party didn't use all its resources because it was confident it'd win. "When you don't ask people to vote, you're not concerned when they don't vote," he said.
Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello said he's already "trying to whip up the troops" for the election, but believes Murray has a built-in advantage: People know her well.
"Ms. Singas, I've never met the lady, never had the pleasure," Mondello said. "I can only talk to Kate Murray's popularity, which is enormous."
He argued that Murray's lack of prosecutorial experience, by providing outside perspective, could actually be a positive. "It's better, in some instances to have expertise outside the legal area," Mondello said.
Beyond differing views of Singas and Murray's resumes, other attack lines are emerging.
Murray is trying to tie increases in fatal heroin overdoses to inaction by the district attorney's office since Singas has been chief deputy and acting district attorney. Singas has dismissed the criticisms, citing her recent calls for stronger heroin laws while pointing out that Murray recently called for a county task force to fight heroin when one already exists.
Singas, meanwhile, argues that she's best positioned to fight corruption as a career prosecutor, and not someone groomed in either party's political apparatus. Murray counters that she'd investigate any allegation, regardless of party.
Both candidates say they're prepared to debate each other.
"I'm ready to talk about issues that matter," Murray said.
"I gladly welcome the opportunity to engage," Singas said.