Democratic Nassau County district attorney candidate Michael A. Scotto said Thursday that although he doesn’t plan on losing to acting DA Madeline Singas in their Sept. 10 primary, he’s not sure he’d be able to endorse her or Republican Kate Murray if he does.
“I don’t know that I could support Madeline Singas or anyone because I’m not running on any reason other than I think she’s running a poor DA’s office,” Scotto said in a sit-down interview with Blank Slate media.
A Port Washington resident, Scotto had accumulated more than 6,000 petition signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary, of which more than 3,100 were invalidated by the county Board of Elections.
Singas’s campaign said in court that even more signatures should have been nullified, though Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Brown accepted a judicial hearing report that indicated Scotto had received 3,241 legal signatures.
Singas, of Manhasset, did not pursue an appeal, setting the stage for a primary.
“She made it personal, being named a party in the suit,” Scotto said. “If the DA is willing to say that about me, imagine what she’d be willing to say about a person on the street.”
A former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office’s Rackets Bureau, Scotto expressed doubt about both Singas’ and Murray’s ability to effectively prosecute cases of political corruption or slow rising death tolls resulting from rampant heroin use throughout the county.
“You don’t get gun traffickers, you don’t get drug dealers, you don’t get public officials unless you do wiretaps. They don’t do that. They think they do the best they can with the cases that come to them,” he said.
Scotto accused the DA’s office under Singas and her predecessor, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), of publicizing insignificant cases and announcing major investigations only in wake of media reports.
He also called Rice a “political DA,” accusing her of prioritizing her campaigns for state Attorney General, the Senate and, most recently, the House of Representatives above her office’s day-to-day operations.
“If you look at the way that office runs, it’s very reactive,” he said. “Nothing happens until it’s on the front page of Newsday first.”
In turn, he said, Singas’ ideas of running a successful office were “clouded” by Rice, comparing Rice’s oft-criticized “Flush the Johns” prostitution sting with a recent case in which Singas’s office charged 16 people with selling alcohol to an underage, undercover officer at a nightclub in Atlantic Beach.
“They chase headlines,” he said. “You don’t go chasing headlines.”
In a statement issued by campaign spokesman Isaac Goldberg, Singas said she is proud of her years as Rice’s top assistant and is “continuing her proactive, aggressive, and progressive tradition of prosecution, prevention and advocacy.”
“During my tenure, we have aggressively prosecuted violent crimes, fought to end the scourge of heroin abuse plaguing our communities, and we launched an investigation into Nassau County’s corruption-prone contracting system because it’s critical that we restore public confidence in the integrity of our government,” she added.
Scotto said his DA’s office would focus its efforts on prosecuting violent crime, drug and political corruption cases through to conviction and sentencing, citing figures from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services that said nearly 30 percent of sentences for violent felonies in 2014 resulted in little to no jail time and show a steady decline in its felony conviction rate since 2010.
In addition to accumulating “street-level arrests” that he said the DA’s office champions, Scotto said he would further seek to stop drug and gun-trafficking at the source.
“You have to get the people who are bringing the drugs in and the people distributing the drugs,” he said. “Junkies are always going to be selling drugs. I’m not saying don’t arrest them, but it’s like whack-a-mole. If something’s going to pop up, what you do is you take the board up, you take all the moles out, you pour concrete on.”
“In this case, you go into those buildings, you do long-term investigations with wiretaps, undercovers making buys, and also the same things with the buys,” he added.
Murray would likely ignore political corruption cases due to her ties to local Republican committees and relationships to County Executive Edward Mangano (R-Bethpage) and the GOP-controlled Legislature as Hempstead town supervisor, Scotto said.
Scotto said Murray “is a very nice person,” but doubted whether the skills she’s utilized as town supervisor would translate to the DA’s office or a prosecutor’s role.
“Joe Torre was a pretty good manager, had some very good teams, but would you want him managing the Knicks?” he said.
Murray campaign spokesman Bill Corbett disputed Scotto’s allegation, saying in a statement “the only criteria in her office’s investigations will be the facts in each case.”
He went on to defend Murray’s tenure as town supervisor and past positions as a former state Assemblywoman, assistant attorney general in the office’s Criminal Justice Section and advocate for the Suffolk University Battered Women’s Project, where she worked with victims of domestic abuse.
“These are all powerful and important credentials that will make her an effective District Attorney,” he said.
Calling Singas “desperate to get elected,” Scotto said Murray would likely fare better in November because she could hold Singas accountable for the county’s rising heroin death totals, and Singas would not be able to take credit for Rice’s accomplishments as DA.
According to figures from the county Medical Examiner’s office, there were 51 fatal heroin overdoses and 123 prescription drug-related deaths in Nassau in 2014.
“If you’re going to have a DA who’s going to sit by as heroin deaths shoot up, it’s not going to matter if they’re a Democrat or a Green Party candidate,” he said.
Scotto acknowledged he faced an uphill battle against Singas, who has the backing the Nassau County Democratic Party and a large advantage in funds.
According to pre-primary campaign finance reports, Scotto has a balance of $6,211.92, having raised $162,377.50 and accumulating $156,165.58 in expenses.
Singas has $829,667.75 on hand, having raised $867,818.60 and spent $38,150.85, according to campaign finance records.
“I don’t know if people will know me, I don’t think people will know her,” Scotto said. “I don’t know. I don’t know if they’ll look at the names and say, was he related to [Fox 5 news anchor] Rosanna Scotto? We don’t know what’s going to happen three Thursdays from now.”