Anne Donnelly, Republican candidate for Nassau County district attorney

Anne Donnelly, Republican candidate for Nassau County district attorney Credit: James Escher

There wasn’t supposed to be a contest for district attorney in Nassau County this year. Madeline Singas was midway through her second term and seemingly settling in to hold the office comfortably, and non-controversially, for a long time.

But earlier this year, Singas was appointed to an opening on the state's highest court. Both county political organizations were caught flat-footed, making quick and calculated choices. The Republicans didn’t have an obvious candidate but knew they had a good case to make. The Democrats had a candidate with name recognition, ambition and a war chest — who was an easy target.

Now voters will choose between Anne T. Donnelly, 57, a Garden City Republican who spent her entire career in the office she is seeking to run, and State Sen. Todd D. Kaminsky, 43, a Long Beach Democrat and former federal prosecutor whose legislative role in the state's new bail laws is the dominant issue in this race.

Donnelly was deputy chief of the Rackets and Enterprise Crime Bureau, with an emphasis on cyber crime, before leaving to run for the top job. Clearly, she is not a striver but someone who understands how the office works, how new lawyers must be trained, how the office must listen to all sections of its community about crime and policing, the importance of meeting the challenges of the opioid scourge, and the necessity of protecting the community's most vulnerable members.

She says Nassau is a safe place but wants a greater effort toward stopping gun violence. Donnelly says some but not all changes to the bail law — which mandates release of a suspect in most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, the majority of criminal cases — were a mistake. She wants the law amended to give judges and prosecutors more discretion pretrial and judges more time to determine whether a person needs medical or mental health treatment.

After a stint in the Queens district attorney’s office, Kaminsky joined the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District where he convicted former state senator Pedro Espada Jr., who looted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a community health clinic. Kaminsky used his credentials in prosecuting public corruption to win a special election to replace Dean Skelos, who himself had to resign from the Senate after a federal corruption conviction.

In 2019, criminal justice reform advocates passed one of the nation's most advanced overhauls of a state justice system with the worthy goal of reducing incarceration. But the process was complex and rushed. Bills were revised, with Kaminsky playing a role, until the very last hours before the vote. The backlash was swift from police chiefs and prosecutors who claimed it went too far and would release dangerous offenders.

Kaminsky later introduced a bill to allow judges to set bail for some sex offenders even if they were only arrested for misdemeanors, citing a problem in his home community. By January 2020, after a drunken driver who caused a fatal crash in Suffolk County was released the next day without bail, Kaminsky said, "The prosecutors I’m talking to these days don’t feel they have the tools to protect the public."

Swaying with the winds of the moment is a worrisome trait. If Kaminsky had concerns about the bills, he failed to speak out effectively against them, perhaps to stay in the graces of New York City progressives who hold the key to success for statewide office, becoming more vocal only as the law came under attack and suburban residents were alarmed.

Last month, Nassau's acting district attorney sent a letter to Oyster Bay Town saying an official there may have violated ethics laws but there wasn't enough evidence to file criminal charges. Behind in polls, Kaminsky held a news conference demanding the official be fired, saying that in cases like this he would pursue charges. It was a stunt suggesting that Kaminsky may not yet have the judgment and temperament needed for the job.

Donnelly has observed firsthand how professional, nonpartisan district attorneys operate. If she wins, she would be wise to keep the place hack-free and the experienced staff intact, resisting efforts by her party to hire political operatives who would undercut the accomplishments of the office.

Newsday endorses Donnelly.

ENDORSEMENTS ARE DETERMINED solely by the Newsday editorial board, a team of opinion journalists focused on issues of public policy and governance. Newsday’s news division has no role in this process.

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