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If Singas rises to New York's top court, who will take her place as Nassau DA?

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas inside the

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas inside the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola in September 2020. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Daily Point

A big move for Singas gives Cuomo the power to appoint Nassau’s next DA

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas is a finalist for a seat on New York’s top court, setting the state’s political chessboard into overdrive with calculations about what her leaving means for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a possible new district attorney for the county.

There is some history here. Singas became Acting District Attorney in 2015, when her boss, Kathleen Rice, was sworn in as a member of Congress. Later that year, Singas beat Kate Murray for a full four-year term and then overwhelmingly won a second term in 2019.

That the career prosecutor made the list of recommended, highly qualified nominees wasn’t a surprise but her decision to screen last month for a spot on the Court of Appeals certainly was. Cuomo must send his nomination to the State Senate for confirmation in the next few weeks. If he chooses Singas, an unlimited number of political moves come into play.

"It’s not a scenario we were planning for," said one top Nassau Democrat. Almost identical words came from a county Republican insider.

Singas applied for an upcoming vacancy that will be created on June 4 with the retirement of Associate Judge Leslie Stein. In addition to Singas, the Commission on Judicial Nomination recommended three appellate division judges, two attorneys in private practice and an administrative judge, Ellen Biben, who has worked for Cuomo for years, including as executive director of the state ethics commission. All are women.

However, since Stein announced her retirement earlier this year, Judge Paul Feinman abruptly resigned from the court in March to deal with health issues and then died a week later. Cuomo said Monday he would act quickly to make nominations for the two slots. However, the judicial commission will have to submit a second list of candidates. It could do that quickly with the six remaining names or compile a new list and screen any additional candidates who may apply. That list of finalists is due by July 21. But Cuomo’s remarks seem to imply the second list would be delivered quickly.

To complicate matters even more, a third judge, Eugene Fahey, reaches the mandatory retirement age on Jan. 1, 2022. That would likely entail another full screening process but should she apply again, Singas could have three shots out of seven for the top court. With those odds, the calculations of whom the next DA may be are percolating.

Cuomo must make his first selection between April 23 and May 8. If he were to nominate Singas, there would be plenty of time for the State Senate to confirm her nomination before the members leave town in June. And the same confirmation timeline is possible for the second nomination. That means her successor would sit in the DA’s chair for more than two years before the next election because of the quirks of the state constitution.

State law allows the governor to appoint the next district attorney who would serve until the office can next be put on a general election ballot. Yet, the constitution specifies that the district attorney can only be elected in odd-numbered years. Yes, 2021 fits the bill, but several election law experts told The Point that the current year is out because the petitioning period for the November ballot has closed. So anyone Cuomo appoints would serve more than two years in the role.

If that person wanted to run for the office, they would have quite the head start. Even if the appointee chose to only fill out Singas’ term, that’s quite the political plum Cuomo has to offer.

Singas assumed the "acting" district attorney title after Rice left. She was the chief deputy and, as required by law, a Nassau resident. And there was a qualifying general election later that year. Currently, the four top aides to Singas live in Suffolk or New York City and while it is possible someone working in the office can step to the acting spot if Singas were to take a judgeship, there’s an expectation of a gubernatorial appointment sometime before 2023.

There are many current and former prosecutors who are Democrats and Nassau residents who would have the needed experience and would be interested in the opportunity. Early names coming to the surface are State Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach, a former federal prosecutor, but he has called for Cuomo’s resignation. Assemb. Charles Lavine from Glen Cove has extensive experience in the criminal justice system but he is currently leading the Assembly’s investigation of the claims of harassment and other misdoings made against Cuomo that could possibly lead to the governor’s impeachment.

In the end, a sitting judge or an attorney might be the easier route for Cuomo and Nassau Democrats. It’s the hot political story of the moment but not one anyone wants to talk about.

—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

Cuomo didn’t make the starting gate

Why did Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announce that fans could come to Belmont Park during the upcoming racing season just hours after he held an event at Belmont Park?

It was an event during which the governor talked about a host of other topics, from vaccination and hockey to construction, taxes and the environment, but made no mention of horse racing.

Belmont’s season starts next week and, as of the Wednesday event, there hadn’t been any public announcement on whether fans would be allowed at horse or auto racing facilities this year.

Click here to read what spectators can expect when they return to Belmont.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Communication breakdown

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Final Point

New York legislators make a push for public banking

With the budget and some flashier items settled in Albany, some lawmakers and activists are pushing for legislation to help create local public banks.

The idea is that banks created by cities, counties, towns, or villages as a "public benefit" could fill a void in places that don’t have many financial institutions, supporting local projects, low-cost student loans, or access to credit in ways that commercial banks might not. They could also help with quick access to initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program, which many small businesses struggled to benefit from last year.

Efforts to expand public banking in America have popped up in recent years from California to New Hampshire and on the federal level, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among the high-profile Democrats behind a public banking act.

In New York, bills by Queens State Sen. James Sanders and Bronx Assemb. Victor Pichardo, both chairs of their chambers' banking committees, would create a regulatory framework for the banks. Previous versions have been introduced, but Sanders thinks this time could be different given the power dynamic in Albany.

"The governor has never been more amenable to change than he is now," the Queens Democrat said in a virtual launch event for public banking on Tuesday.

Activists also point to the economic disparities clarified by the pandemic as rationale for public banks now.

No Long Island state senators are signed onto the most recent versions of the bill — officially called the New York Public Banking Act — in the state’s online database. On the Assembly side, there has been Long Island support in the past and the current bill includes co-sponsors Democrat Kimberly Jean-Pierre and Michael Montesano, a Republican.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano