Gang violence, opioid addiction, partisan politics and public corruption were among the issues discussed and debated Tuesday night at a candidate forum in Sands Point featuring Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and her challenger, Francis X. McQuade.
Both candidates said they would aggressively prosecute street gangs like MS-13 while Singas touted her office's efforts to increase access to treatment for people who overdose on drugs and McQuade vowed to target the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them.
McQuade, running on the Republican line, questioned whether party loyalty could prevent Singas from impartially prosecuting fellow Democratic public officials charged with corruption. Singas said party politics would not play a role in any prosecutions.
Singas, 53, a Democrat from Manhasset running for her second, four-year term as the county's top prosecutor, highlighted her recent record as well as her 28-year career in law enforcement, including opening Nassau's special crimes unit and founding the domestic violence bureau in Queens County.
"With experience comes results. I’m proud to say that today Nassau County is the safest large county in the state, if not in the nation," said Singas, who noted crime in the county has dropped more than 25 percent over the last five years. "That significant drop does not happen by accident. It happens because we know how to identify, investigate and prosecute crime drivers."
McQuade, 65, a 25-year private practice Long Beach attorney, said his professional experience as a police officer, his theology degree and years as a priest, as well as his work as a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, makes him well-suited for the job.
"I will go hard after street crime and prosecute public corruption in a fair way, regardless of party and with due diligence," McQuade said. "I aim to restore good relations with our police departments, the first line of crime prevention and enforcement, not to make it a territorial tug of war."
The candidates answered written audience questions before about 50 people at the League of Women Voters event.
Answering a question about the opioid epidemic, Singas noted her office opened the first 24-hour crisis center to deal with overdose victims who would otherwise be released from medical care without a treatment plan.
McQuade said he would more strongly prosecute doctors who illegally prescribe the drugs and look into holding drugmakers accountable. McQuade also said he would seek to expand Narcan training.
With regards to public corruption, both Singas and McQuade said they would not allow partisan politics to influence what cases they pursue.
However, regarding an investigation into separation payouts to former Long Beach officials, including Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, a Democrat, Singas said: "It's not easy to do these investigations. These investigations take time."
McQuade implied Singas could not be independent in the investigation against her fellow Democrat. He noted he has never been a municipal employee, separating himself from either of the two major political parties in Nassau. He quoted a sitting Long Beach councilwoman in saying Singas "turned a blind eye on the Long Beach scandal."
"All we are waiting for is a district attorney to prosecute with the same vigor as the IDA," McQuade said, referring to a payout scandal involving former officials of Nassau's Industrial Development Agency during the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano.
"I've never worked for the Town of Hempstead or Nassau County," McQuade said. "I didn't seek the nomination, the party asked me to run."
Singas said she hoped that transparency would play a greater role in preventing future public corruption scandals.
"These are tax dollars paying for these public salaries," Singas said. "We build our public corruption investigations regardless of party."
Singas and McQuade agreed on upholding the Second Amendment but Singas advocated for "common sense" gun laws such as a mental health check before issuing a gun license. She said she would continue prosecuting those who possess guns illegally and maintain her office's gun buyback program.
McQuade said he believed New York State already had the safest gun laws in the nation.
When asked what is the most important characteristic a district attorney should have, Singas said "courage."
McQuade said: "Is it better to be fair than to be tough? I think it is better to be fair than to be tough. … between the two I'd rather be fair than be tough."