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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Nassau holds DA's race -- a rite forgotten in Suffolk, Queens, Bronx

Fourth-term DA Thomas Spota, 73, last month at

Fourth-term DA Thomas Spota, 73, last month at a news conference. Credit: Randee Dadonna

Say what you will about Nassau politics. At least the county is holding a bona fide, competitive election for district attorney. For an opening act, incumbent Madeline Singas faces underdog insurgent Michael Scotto on Thursday in a Democratic primary.

Compare that to Suffolk. By arrangement of party leaders, that county's D.A. Thomas Spota, a Democrat, won a fourth term two years ago with cross-endorsement from the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Parties. His only obstacle was a GOP primary.

The GOP cross-endorsed Spota in 2005 and 2009 as well.

In Nassau, Scotto, a former assistant Manhattan district attorney, is trying to make a case against the stewardship of Singas -- who succeeded her ex-boss Rep. Kathleen Rice in January.

But in Suffolk, Spota's 14-year record has never undergone the rigorous dissection of a general election debate.

For example, he never faced public cross-examination over his highly unusual 2011 deal by which former County Executive Steve Levy agreed to forgo a run for a third term and forfeited his $4.1 million campaign warchest, apparently to settle a corruption inquiry. Details of that pact remain secret four years later.

This season, major-party players in the Bronx and Queens are conducting their district attorney's races Suffolk-style. That is to say, the re-election of longtime incumbents Robert Johnson and Richard Brown in those boroughs is guaranteed by virtue of cross-endorsement and no primaries.

In Johnson's case, there may be a twist. Rumors persist that he could be nominated for a judgeship in time for the Democrats to replace him without primaries on the November ballot. Still, the D.A. has said he's running on all three lines for re-election.

Either way, expect no contest in the Bronx.

On Staten Island, the situation this season is a bit more like Nassau's.

The previous D.A., Republican Dan Donovan, became a congressman, forcing a special election for his successor. But the borough's acting district attorney is not running. Instead, the Republican nominee, longtime Manhattan prosecutor Joan Illuzzi, faces former Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon.

As will be the case with whoever faces Hempstead GOP Supervisor Kate Murray on Nov. 3, Illuzzi emphasizes her seasoning as a prosecutor -- and her opponent's total lack of experience on that count.

District attorney offices change hands sooner or later -- mostly later. When they do, it takes on the feel of a rare cosmological event.

Longtime Brooklyn D.A. Charles J. Hynes lost his job in 2013 essentially through defeat in the Democratic primary to Ken Thompson. Rice unseated veteran D.A. Dennis Dillon in 2005, and Spota beat James M. Catterson Jr. in 2005.

Systemic changes come up for discussion every now and then. For example, some believe district attorneys should run in non-partisan elections, if they are to be elected at all.

Years ago, Suffolk imposed term-limits on the office. But Spota's allies got it ruled unconstitutional in court, enabling him to run for his current term.

Nassau voters may wish to pay attention. Based on common practice, the candidate they install this time could stay in the D.A. job for a very, very long time.

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