If getting people to the polls on the first Tuesday of November is difficult, imagine what it is like to generate voter turnout on the second Thursday of September.
That is the dilemma facing Nassau County’s Acting District Attorney (DA) Madeline Singas of Manhasset and her Democratic primary rival, Michael Scotto of Port Washington, who are competing in a countywide election on Thursday, Sept. 10.
The State Legislature moved the primary to that date amid a confluence of events, among them a late Labor Day, early school openings and the Jewish holidays.
There were 363,290 registered Democrats in Nassau as of late last month, according to the county’s board of elections and, if last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary provides any guidance, fewer than 10 percent of them will cast a ballot for DA on Sept. 10. The winner of the Singas-Scotto contest will face Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray (R-Levittown), the Republican nominee for DA, in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, general election.
The decision makers at Nassau Democratic Party headquarters did not want Acting DA Singas to face a challenger on Sept. 10 because it would drain the financial resources and energy of their official nominee. Yet Scotto, a former assistant DA in New York (Manhattan) County, collected 6,000-plus signatures on his nominating petitions while needing only 2,000 to qualify for the ballot. The Singas campaign sought to invalidate thousands of Scotto’s signatures and avert a primary election, an effort which failed. There was an upside to keeping Scotto tied up in the courts, fighting to get on the ballot—he had to spend substantial amounts of money on legal fees and lost valuable time on the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, Newsday has made it clear they are all in for Acting DA Singas, and she has returned the favor by reacting to a few high-profile Newsday stories with promises of DA investigations into Newsday’s findings. To further assist the acting DA’s cause, Newsday ignored for as long as possible telling the public about the Singas campaign’s efforts to invalidate Scotto’s petitions, and subsequently gave Scotto the level of coverage usually accorded someone in the federal witness protection program.
Nassau County’s DA has extensive prosecutorial powers, manages a multi-million dollar annual budget and employs more than 350 full-time employees, about half of whom are political appointees. So it should have come as no surprise to anyone that more than one registered Democrat in a county with around 1.3 million residents wants the job. The position opened up after then-DA Kathleen Rice was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Rep. Rice (D-Garden City) was first elected Nassau County DA in 2005 and wanted to leave county government as far back as 2010, when she made an unsuccessful bid for state attorney general.
Soon after DA Rice became Rep. Rice, numerous media outlets correctly noted Governor Andrew Cuomo could appoint a Nassau County DA in early 2015, after Rep. Rice had become a member of Congress, and that person could then serve as DA until the next election. The governor opted against filling the DA’s position, a surprising move considering Republicans hold every other countywide elective office (county executive, comptroller and clerk). Why wouldn’t Governor Cuomo want to give someone loyal to him a running head start to become the next Nassau County DA? The question must remain a rhetorical one as Nassau’s registered Democrats make that choice for themselves on Sept. 10.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com.