Nassau district attorney candidates Madeline Singas and Francis X. McQuade squared off on issues such as asset forfeiture, gang violence and political partisanship during a News 12 Long Island debate Thursday in Woodbury.
Moderator Stone Grissom, a News 12 anchor, asked the candidates to defend their records, and they sparred most intensely when asked about their individual experiences in the legal field.
Watch the Suffolk county executive and Nassau district attorney debates on News 12 Plus (Ch. 61) and on News12.com.
Singas, the Democratic incumbent, touted her 28-year career as a prosecutor. She said that as Nassau district attorney since 2016, she has helped bring the rate of violent crimes down by 25%. Singas is seeking reelection for a second, four-year term.
"The DA's office is not a place for beginners; it's not for trial and error," said Singas, 53. "The stakes are too high. The information that we receive — how we act on it — how we structure our investigations, everything about it, you need to know what you are doing."
McQuade, a Republican from Long Beach who has practiced criminal defense and civil rights law for 25 years, said he would bring a unique perspective to the district attorney's office. McQuade, 66, noted his experience as a former police officer and a Roman Catholic priest.
"Experience counts but experiences count more," McQuade said.
"There's a certain learning curve we are both on with the many changes that have come down from the New York State Senate," said McQuade, referring to bail reform legislation passed this year in the State Legislature. "So in one sense we are on an even plain."
Singas and McQuade differed on the issue of asset forfeiture, a tool used by law enforcement to seize assets such as money, cars and homes suspected of being connected to criminal activity.
McQuade called the practice "a form of state robbing" that violates the civil rights of defendants.
Singas, saying she has "looked in the eyes" of murder victims' family members, called asset forfeiture a justifiable way to hold perpetrators accountable.
Singas touted her office's work in fighting the MS-13 gang, saying under her leadership Nassau County law enforcement has "neutralized" the gang.
Officials were able to "take down the kingpin of the Eastern Seaboard" because of the work of her office and a complex investigation that involved 22 other agencies.
McQuade said he believed the drop in Nassau's crime rate was due to "the great work of our police departments" and the shifting demographics of the county.
On the topic of political partisanship, McQuade said he believed Singas' office was "political but not corrupt." He noted what he said was a delay in the release of findings in an investigation of Nassau County comptroller for a payout he received when he left his job as Long Beach city manager.
Singas noted she has investigated Republican and Democratic public officials.
She said she was tapped as special prosecutor in the investigation of former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, because of her reputation for leaving politics out of her law enforcement work.
Schneiderman resigned after multiple women accused him of physically attacking them. Singas said she believed the women. But because of "legal impediments, including statutes of limitations," prosecution wasn't possible.
"This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how investigations are run. I've done thousands of them. My opponent has not done one," Singas said.