The state bail reform bill has become a central theme in the race between Democrat Todd Kaminsky and Republican Anne Donnelly for the next Nassau County District Attorney.
Kaminsky and Donnelly tout their crime-fighting track record as they seek to portray themselves as the best-qualified candidates to protect public safety.
Donnelly, 57, of Garden City, has been a prosecutor in the Nassau District Attorney for 32 years.
Kaminsky, 43, a Senator from Long Beach, is a former federal attorney and assistant prosecutor for Nassau.
Donnelly, who is backed by unions representing Nassau County police, law enforcement officers and detectives, has criticized Kaminsky and the majority of the Democrats in the state legislature for passing the bail reform bill in 2019.
She opposes several elements of the law and portrays Kaminsky as one of the authors of the law.
Their campaign says that the legislature’s abolition of the cash deposit led to an increase in crime, but offers no data to support the claim.
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Kaminsky, who is backed by unions representing the New York State Troopers and Long Beach City Police Department, sat on the Legislative Committee that put the bail bill to the entire Senate.
The bail reform was part of the state budget that Kaminsky voted for in 2019.
He said he subsequently spearheaded efforts to successfully amend the original bill, including restoring the powers of judges to decide whether defendants should be detained for posing a public safety risk.
“My only role in the legislative process was to use my law enforcement expertise to fight against others in my own party to try to make the law more reasonable and give judges more discretion,” Kaminsky told Newsday.
Kaminsky and Donnelly are running to replace former District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat who stepped down this year to serve on the state appeals court.
The November 2 election winner will serve the remainder of Singas’ term, which ends in 2023.
Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith has been running the office since June.
Donnelly most recently served as the District Attorney’s Associate Director of Organized Crime and Thugs.
She had spent the past 12 years serving as the deputy head of the Public Corruption Bureau and the deputy head of the White Collar Crime Bureau.
Donnelly left the district attorney’s office to run for the district attorney.
Donnelly says that if there is an election, she will work with law enforcement to develop strategies to stop what she calls the revolving door that has incriminated the courts under the “cashless bail” act.
Donnelly says another major priority is tackling opioid addiction and the gangs that bring drugs to Nassau County. It also vows to devote more resources to drug education and treatment.
Additionally, Donnelly says she will work to update and strengthen the district attorney’s technology crimes division to deal with the growing number of email, text, and phone crime.
Kaminsky was elected to the state senate for the first time in a special election in 2016.
In his application for the district attorney’s election, Kaminsky highlights his six-year prosecution credentials in the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
As a federal prosecutor, Kaminsky has worked on public corruption cases, including those involving former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr., a Democrat, and former MP Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island).
Espada pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2012.
Grimm pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud in 2014.
Kaminsky tries to highlight the issue of public corruption in the public prosecutor’s election campaign.
For example, last month he called for the removal of Oyster Bay’s deputy city overseer, Gregory Carman Jr., a Republican after a district investigation revealed that Carman may have violated ethical laws by soliciting political donations from subordinates.
At a press conference, Kaminsky urged Donnelly to join him and demand Carman’s release, “and the prosecution should begin”.
Donnelly responded by saying she would “have a zero tolerance policy on corruption” if elected.
An investigation by the Singas prosecutor found insufficient evidence that Carman had committed a crime.
But the government bail reform has sparked some of the sharpest arguments in the Nassau prosecutor’s campaign to date.
The Bail Reform Act has abolished cash bail for most offenses and nonviolent crimes.
The Bail Reform Act also requires prosecutors and defense attorneys to share information well in advance of the trial.
Donnelly argues that the cash deposit regulations threaten public safety and that the judges should be the ones who should consider the consequences of the release of defendants, even some charged with nonviolent crimes.
“There is no need to detain a low-level juvenile offender who has made a mistake,” Donnelly said in prison. “It is important that we don’t just say, ‘Everyone is going to jail’.”
“But do we have to wait for someone to die before a dangerous person goes to jail?” She asked.
Her position has helped her gain the support of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, Superior Officers’ Association, and Detectives Association Inc.
DAI President John Wighaus said Donnelly “stood shoulder to shoulder with us on the ground” and said the impact of the bail reform is one of the most important issues for his members.
“The drug dealers who sell these drugs in our communities are only released so they can resell in our same communities,” said Wighaus.
Tony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of New York, said prosecutors are still advocating changes to the bail law.
He said the 2020 amendments requested by Kaminsky “did not fundamentally change” what his group believed was wrong with the law.
He said his organization advocates the power of judges to detain defendants solely on the basis of possible threats to public safety.
Kaminsky accuses Donnelly of “lying” by claiming that he wrote the bail reform law.
“Lying should be a disqualifying quality for any lawyer, let alone someone who wants to become a district attorney,” Kaminsky told Newsday.
However, he said he would continue to amend the bail reform law so that defendants would be judged for release or imprisonment on the basis of their public safety risk, but without taking into account their ability to bail.
Speaking of Kaminsky from Donnelly and fellow Republicans, Democratic Chairman of the State and Nassau Counties Jay Jacobs said, “Voters will get mail and see digital ads and ads on television that refute and refute those lies.”
“Our polls show that Kaminsky will be empowered when voters understand that the allegations they are making are obviously untrue, so we need to make sure voters understand that,” Jacobs said.
Craig Burnett, associate professor at Hofstra University, however, was skeptical that the question of bail reform would have a major impact on voters in the November election.
Burnett noted that the bail reform had not been discussed in the public forum for over a year. ”
“I’m not convinced that this would be the problem that would get me over the finish line,” he said.
Candice Ferrette reports on the government and politics of Nassau County, Long Island. She has been a reporter at Newsday since 2011.