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Singas, McQuade square off in Nassau district attorney race

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas is facing off against Republican challenger Francis X. McQuade in the race for Nassau County district attorney. Both candidates have highlighted how their experiences in law enforcement qualify them to be the county’s top prosecutor. Voters will decide on Nov. 5. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost; John Paraskevas; Howard Schnapp

Madeline Singas was a career prosecutor who had never run for public office before she was elected Nassau County’s district attorney in 2015.

Now, as she campaigns for a second term, Singas, a Democrat, is touting her record as the county's top prosecutor as the reason voters should return her to the office.

She says she has helped bring about a 25% drop in the county’s crime rate, gone after the MS-13 gang and attacked the opioid crisis by addressing drug trafficking and through drug treatment programs.  

“Crime is at historic lows,” said Singas, 53, of Manhasset. “That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens because we are experienced people at the helm who can collaborate with other law enforcement agencies who understand how to identify crime drivers — that’s why those numbers happen.”

Republican challenger Francis X. McQuade has worked as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney for the past 25 years.

He says his past experience as a police officer for the Village of Ocean Beach on Fire Island and as a Roman Catholic priest also helped shape his understanding of the law — “knowing where crime begins and where it ends,” as he put it.

McQuade, 65, of Long Beach, said he respects Singas' experience but cautions against giving her and the Democrats more power as sweeping criminal justice reforms initiated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Democratic majority in the State Legislature are implemented.

"I'm a new DA for a new day," McQuade said. "I believe in treating everyone fairly. I'm a little more balanced, maybe a little more human. Experience counts but experiences count more."

With the Nov. 5 election approaching, both candidates over the last few weeks have been reaching out to voters in debates, candidate forums, diners and train stations, making the case for why they're the most qualified choice to lead the district attorney's office and control the agency's $45 million budget. 

Singas is the youngest of two daughters of Greek immigrants, and was born and raised in Astoria, Queens. Her father, Bill Singas, worked at a bakery before saving enough money to open Singas Famous Pizza in 1967 in Elmurst, Queens. Known for their smaller pizza pie size the restaurant chain now has 13 locations. 

Singas graduated from Barnard College in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in political science, and received a degree in 1991 from Fordham University School of Law. After law school, Singas worked as an assistant district attorney in Queens.  

In 2006, former Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice hired Singas to lead the county's special victims bureau. Rice was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, and Singas was tapped as acting Nassau district attorney. 

In 2015, Singas won a four-year term, beating former Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, a Republican.

Singas is married with twin daughters. 

McQuade was born in Brooklyn and raised in East Rockaway, the second of six children of Francis Joseph McQuade, an electrical engineer, and Carthene Marinaro McQuade, a schoolteacher. 

He graduated from St. John’s University law school in 1994 and received a bachelor of arts degree in history from Cathedral College in Queens in 1976. He also earned a master’s of divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Lloyd Harbor in 1981. 

After law school, McQuade became field director of St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp., where his duties included negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

In 1997, McQuade opened a law office in Long Beach representing clients — many of them in the country illegally — facing criminal charges including DWI, petty larceny and domestic abuse. McQuade served as counsel from 2005 to 2015 to the Long Beach Housing Authority. He has extensively traveled through Latin America and is fluent in Spanish.

He is married with three adult sons.

In the campaign, Singas and McQuade have focused primarily on issues such as gang violence, opioid addiction and sex and drug trafficking.

A package of criminal justice reforms passed by state legislators in April also has emerged as a key issue.

The laws set tighter deadlines for court filings to protect defendants' rights to a speedy trial, mandated that defense attorneys receive evidence or "discovery" materials within days of an arrest and ended cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

Another provision reduces the maximum sentence for the most serious "Class A" misdemeanors by one day, to 364 days. The intent is to protect from deportation people who are in the country illegally; a sentence of one year previously could trigger deportation proceedings.

Many of these changes have prompted county GOP lawmakers, who hold an 11-8 majority on the Nassau Legislature, to try to mitigate the local impact of the new laws before they take effect Jan. 1.

Nassau’s Republicans have proposed a new Office of Crime Victims Advocate within the police department to provide legal assistance to victims and witnesses to crimes

“For the sake of all Nassau County residents, it’s important that whoever our District Attorney is in January work hand in hand with the legislature to create protections for victims and witnesses who will be affected by the state’s new criminal justice ‘reforms,’” legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said in a statement.  

Singas said her office is working on how to implement the state legislation. DA officials have met with all the town and village police departments in Nassau and are working to update computer systems to prepare for the changes.

In debates, Singas has said that as a prosecutor she doesn’t necessarily agree with all the state provisions.

“We all felt that it was time for some criminal justice reform,” Singas said. “What we didn’t like was the haste with which these laws came about. So now we’re in a position of not being able to actually change anything until they go back and revote or redraft. So we are giving them suggestions.”

McQuade says cashless bail issue “is complex” and criticizes Singas for supporting asset forfeiture — the practice of seizing cars, homes and money from criminal defendants before conviction. McQuade said seizure violates the civil liberties of people who have not been convicted.

Singas noted that as acting DA in 2015 she committed $585,000 from criminal asset forfeiture funds to start a drug treatment program.

Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Cairo said he believes McQuade has a “common-sense approach” to the criminal justice system.

“He knows that the new extreme Democrats’ “criminals first” agenda that was passed in Albany this year will put more dangerous criminals back on the streets,” Cairo said in a statement.

Nassau’s Police Benevolent Association has not endorsed either district attorney candidate, said James McDermott, the union’s president. He declined further comment.

The union endorsed former Republican Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray when she opposed then-acting District Attorney Singas for the job in 2015.

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said the two candidates “are in a completely different league.”

“People may find reasons to vote for McQuade — I don’t know what they would be but they are certainly not based on experience,” Jacobs said. “While he was going to South America allegedly bribing judges, she was busy prosecuting people who do that.”

Jacobs was referring to an interview with Newsday’s editorial board in which McQuade described how he helped clients in trouble in Central America.

“I go down there and bribe a few judges,” he said.  

Asked during a News 12 Long Island debate and again by a Newsday reporter to clarify his statement, McQuade apologized for using the word “bribe.”

"It was flip and inaccurate to use the word 'bribe,'" McQuade said. "I was being a little informal but it was a poor choice of words." 

McQuade said he has at times given money to judges or another intermediary for inmate expenses such as food and lodging, a practice he described as common in developing nations.

"I have negotiated in some very hard spots all over the world," McQuade said. "It's not easy and certainly defies convention. But to say that I bribe judges is an exaggeration. If I did that I would be in the cell as well." 

At a recent GOP event held at the North Merrick firehouse on Camp Avenue, McQuade's life experiences and his willingness to uphold the more conservative and libertarian ideas such as aggressively prosecuting violent street crime and his rejection of asset forfeiture. 

“He is a gentleman who really represents the conservative Republican ideals of our party,” said North Bellmore Republican Club leader Jay Reinhardt in introducing McQuade. “He’s bilingual, he’s an immigration attorney — he crosses over into a lot of different topics that affect Long Islanders every day.”

On a different evening, Singas shook hands at a Rockville Centre diner where she spoke about the work of her office.

Among them was Judy Arabian, 55, a retired middle school teacher from Oceanside who promised her vote to Singas.

Arabian said she was impressed with the investigation into a recent teen brawl that resulted in the stabbing death of a 16-year-old in Oceanside.  

“They did a thorough investigation and I feel better knowing she was taking the reins on that one,” Arabian said.  

FRANCIS X. MCQUADE

Republican (Also running on the Libertarian and Tax Revolt Party ballot lines)

Age: 65

Hometown: Long Beach

Education/career: Bachelor’s degree from Cathedral College in Queens; master’s of divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Lloyd Harbor; law degree from St. John’s University in Queens. Former police officer on Fire Island and former Roman Catholic priest. Currently a private-practice attorney specializing in criminal defense, immigration, international, municipal and civil rights law. Served as counsel to the Long Beach Housing Authority from 2005 to 2015.

Family: Married with three sons

Campaign finance: Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30, McQuade raised $23,269 and spent $21,820, according to State Board of Elections campaign finance disclosures.

MADELINE SINGAS

Democrat (Also running on the Conservative and Working Families Party lines)

Age: 53

Hometown: Manhasset

Education/career: Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College; law degree from Fordham University. Served as a prosecutor in Queens and Nassau counties for 28 years. Hired in 2006 as an assistant Nassau district attorney to head special victims bureau. Appointed acting Nassau district attorney in January 2015. Elected to four-year term in November 2015.

Family: Married with twin son and daughter.

Campaign finance: Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30, Singas raised $773,894 and spent $990,206, according to State Board of Elections campaign finance disclosures.

Correction: A previous version of this biographical sketch described Singas's children incorrectly.

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