The state bail reform law has emerged as a key issue in the race between Democrat Todd Kaminsky and Republican Anne Donnelly to become the next district attorney in Nassau County.
Kaminsky and Donnelly are touting their record of fighting crime as they seek to portray themselves as the candidate best qualified to protect public safety.
Donnelly, 57, of Garden City, has been a prosecutor in the Nassau District Attorney’s office for 32 years.
Kaminsky, 43, a state senator from Long Beach, is a former federal prosecutor and assistant Nassau district attorney.
Donnelly, approved by unions representing Nassau County police, correctional officers and detectives, has criticized Kaminsky and majority Democrats in the state legislature for passing bail law in 2019.
She opposes several elements of the law and portrays Kaminsky as one of the authors of the legislation.
Her campaign says the elimination of cash bail under the law has led to an increase in crime, but offers no data to support the claim.
Kaminsky, backed by unions representing the New York State Troopers and Long Beach City police, sat on the legislative committee that reported the bail proposal to the full Senate.
Bail form was part of the state budget, which Kaminsky voted for in 2019.
He said he subsequently led the drive to successful amendments to the original bill, including restoring judges’ powers to decide whether defendants should be remanded in custody because they pose a risk to public safety.
“My only role in the legislative process was to use my law enforcement expertise to fight others in my own party to try to make the law more equitable and to try to give judges more discretion,” Kaminsky told Newsday.
Kaminsky and Donnelly are running to replace former district attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat who resigned this year to become a judge at the state Court of Appeals.
The winner of the November 2 election will serve the remainder of Singa’s term ending in 2023.
Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith has been running the office since June.
Donnelly most recently served as deputy chief of the district attorney’s organized crime and racket bureau.
She had spent the previous 12 years as acting head of the Public Corruption Bureau and deputy head of the Economic Crimes Bureau.
Donnelly left the district attorney’s office to run for city council attorney.
Donnelly says that if elected, she will work on law enforcement to develop strategies to stop what she calls the revolving door that has strained courts because of the “cashless bail” law.
Donnelly says another big priority is treating opioid addiction and the gangs that bring drugs into Nassau County. She also promises to devote more resources to education and treatment against medication.
In addition, Donnelly says she would work to update and strengthen the district attorney’s technology crime so that it can deal with the growing number of emails, text and phone-based crimes.
Kaminsky was first elected to the state Senate by a special election in 2016.
In his election campaign for district attorney, Kaminsky highlights his law enforcement as a prosecutor for six years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.
As a federal prosecutor, Kaminsky worked on public corruption cases, including cases involving former state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr., a Democrat and former rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island).
Espada pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2012.
Grimm pleaded guilty to a federal charge of tax fraud in 2014.
Kaminsky is trying to highlight the public corruption issue in the district attorney campaign.
Last month, for example, he called for To the fact that Oyster Bay, deputy city supervisor, Gregory Carman Jr., became a Republican, after a county trial that showed Carman may have violated ethical laws by requesting political contributions from subordinates.
At a news conference, Kaminsky urged Donnelly to join him in calling for Carman to be fired, “and charges to begin.”
Donnelly responded by saying she would “have a zero-tolerance policy on corruption” if elected.
A district attorney’s investigation under Singas found insufficient evidence that Carman committed a criminal act.
But the state bail reform has triggered some of the sharpest exchanges in the Nassau district attorney campaign so far.
The Bail Reform Act eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent crimes.
The Bail Reform Act also requires prosecutors and defense attorneys to share information well in advance of the trial.
Donnelly argues that the provisions on cash bail threaten public safety and that it is the judges who must consider the consequences of releasing defendants, even some accused of non-violent crimes.
“There’s no need for a low-level juvenile offender who made a mistake,” was jailed, Donnelly said. “It’s important that we do not just say ‘everyone goes to jail’.”
“But shall we wait for someone to die before a dangerous person is sent to prison?” she asked.
Her position has helped her win the backing of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, the Superior Officers’ Association and the Detectives Association Inc.
DAI President John Wighaus said Donnelly “has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us on the ground,” saying the impact of bail is among the most important issues for his members.
“The drug dealers who sell these drugs in our community are only released to be able to resell in our same community,” Wighaus said.
Tony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of New York, said prosecutors are still in favor of changes to the bail law.
He said the 2020 amendments pushed by Kaminsky “did not fundamentally change” what his group believes is wrong with the law.
He said his organization advocates for the authority of judges to hold defendants solely based on their possible threat to public safety.
Kaminsky accuses Donnelly of “lying” and claims he wrote the bail law.
“Lying should be a disqualifying move for any lawyer, let alone anyone who wants to be a district attorney,” Kaminsky told Newsday.
But he said he would like to make further changes to the bail reform law so that defendants are assessed for release or detention based on their risk to public safety, but without regard to their ability to pay cash bail.
The state and Nassau County Democratic president, Jay Jacobs, said “voters will receive mail and watch digital and television commercials that disprove and disprove these lies,” by Donnelly and other Republicans about Kaminsky.
“Our vote shows that Kaminsky is strengthened when voters understand that the accusations she makes are clearly untrue, so we need to make sure voters understand that,” Jacobs said.
But Hofstra University associate professor Craig Burnett expressed skepticism that the issue of bail would have a major impact on voters in the November election.
Burnett noted that bail reform had not been discussed in the public forum for more than a year. ”
“I’m not convinced this would be the problem that would bring me over the finish line,” he said.
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