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Suffolk district attorney candidates meet in first one-on-one debate over qualifications, prosecution of drug dealers

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, left, speaks

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, left, speaks as challenger Ray Tierney awaits his turn at the Suffolk County Bar Association in Hauppauge Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini and challenger Raymond Tierney met Thursday in their first one-on-one debate, clashing over how best to run the top prosecutor’s office.

Sini, a Democrat who previously was the county police commissioner, said he has helped reduce crime in Suffolk since taking office in January 2018.

"The assistants and the investigators and the paralegals and the support staff and everyone in the office is working tirelessly to achieve justice," Sini said, adding that the work continued during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tierney, who is not affiliated with a party but is running on the Republican and Conservative lines, stressed his experience as a federal prosecutor, as well as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk and Brooklyn, while attacking Sini for being overly concerned with media coverage of cases.

"We need a district attorney who understands that the case doesn’t end at a splashy press conference," Tierney said at the debate, held at the Suffolk County Bar Association in Hauppauge and hosted by the Suffolk Criminal Bar Association.

Sini called for change on discovery reform, which allows defendants to receive pretrial evidence from the prosecution.

"It doesn’t adequately protect victims and witnesses, and we need to ensure that we have laws on the book" to help them, he said, adding that he wants to work with other county district attorneys in the state to also revamp bail reform.

Tierney noted that the county needs "an effective" district attorney, saying that Sini has not done enough to keep people with criminal records from committing more crimes such as selling illegal drugs.

"We need a prosecutor who is going to prosecute those individuals responsible for the overdoses," Tierney said, referring to the August arrests of two men in connection with the ongoing spate of fatal overdoses on the East End.

A Suffolk grand jury last month indicted one of the men on manslaughter charges in connection with three of those deaths.

Sini said the district attorney’s office helped bring down 96 MS-13 gang members and associates in December 2019, which at the time was regarded as the largest state takedown of the gang that terrorized parts of Long Island.

Tierney said he too had prosecuted gang crimes in the federal system, saying his work had helped to solve 50 gang killings.

Sini said he does not accept campaign money from defense attorneys in Suffolk County to avoid "the appearance" of a conflict of interest. The same applies to meeting with attorneys his office tries cases against, he said.

"I think it’s a best practice to let [prosecutors] gather the facts, have the meetings with defense attorneys and then we as an office make a decision. And that way, there’s no favoritism, there’s no special access," Sini said.

Tierney, however, said as district attorney he would be available to defense attorneys. "I am going to be open," Tierney said. "I’m going to meet with everyone."

On mandating staff to get COVID-19 vaccinations, Tierney said he’s not qualified to make that decision, and would rely on medical experts to provide guidance.

Sini said Suffolk County is going to set the rule on vaccinating workers and "we’re going to follow whatever protocols they adopt."

With Rachelle Blidner

Campaign finance reports

Following is information from the most recent campaign finance reports filed by Timothy Sini and Ray Tierney in the race for Suffolk County district attorney. The reports cover the period July 11-Sept. 27.

Sini:

Raised: $450,141

Spent: $1,028,393

Cash on hand: $764,551

Top donors:

  • Heather Nolin, art historian and consultant in Branford, Conn: $50,000.
  • Robert Kotick: Santa Monica, California-based CEO of video game company Activision Blizzard: $50,000.
  • James and Sean Winters, of St. James, co-owners of Winters Bros. Waste Systems, a waste management company: $32,500 each.
  • Michael R. Bloomberg, former New York City mayor: $30,000

Tierney:

Raised: $168,920

Spent: $328,600

Cash on hand: $148,141

Top donors:

  • Suffolk County Republican Committee: $45,000
  • Suffolk County Conservative Chairman’s Club: $35,000
  • Committee to Elect a Republican Majority: $25,000
  • IGA supermarkets owner Charles Reichert, of Fort Salonga: $15,000

Source: New York State Board of Elections

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