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District Attorney Race Heats Up in NY

By Tuesday, 27 October 2015 09:18 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The race to succeed Republican Dan Donovan as district attorney of Staten Island this year has evolved as the most contentious in New York for some time.

Donovan vacates his post to leave for Congress as a newly elected representative.

Observers say the unusual attention given the contest transcends the personalities of the colorful nominees of the major-party nominees: Republican Joan Illuzzi, career prosecutor and longtime assistant district attorney in Manhattan, and Democrat Michael McMahon, former U.S. representative, city councilman, and boss of the Democratic organization in Richmond County (Staten Island).

"Very few two-party races in New York City are competitive,” historian David Pietrusza, who knows all things New York, told me. “This is one of them and will demonstrate the continued viability of the Republican organization in Staten Island."

Pietrusza also pointed out that "Prosecutors are big stars in New York City, going back at least as far as Manhattan District Attorney Charles Whitman, who became governor in the 1910s. “Where you have big crooks, the prosecutors become big stars. New York has big crooks."

New York’s governor, and two-time Republican presidential nominee, Tom Dewey and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made their initial fame as larger-than-life, crime-busting prosecutors. Democrats Frank Hogan and Robert Morgenthau became legends as Manhattan district attorneys for more than three decades each.

Illuzzi, a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law and mother of two, proudly recalled that, although a Republican, she worked for two of Manhattan’s Democratic district attorneys for 27 years: Morgenthau, and his Democratic successor Cyrus Vance Jr.

“In the early and mid ’90’s, I was on homicide call and that was a time when Manhattan was gripped by murder after murder,” she told me, “so I really don’t remember having many nice weekends then.” Illuzzi went on to become the chief of the hate crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

With Donovan leaving the Richmond County District Attorney’s office for Congress, county Republicans tapped longtime Staten Island resident Illuzzi for the job.

The Conservative Party, which holds the third line in New York’s multi-party ballot, turned to another candidate. But Illuzi’s supporters chose a path known as “opportunity to ballot”—that is, running as a write-in candidate to challenge the nominee in a primary.

Illuzzi’s write-ins emerged triumphant and she secured the conservative line with 57 percent of the vote.

New York is 1 of 5 states in which candidates can appear on the ballot under multiple party lines and have the votes aggregated.

The Republican-Conservative hopeful campaigns as “Lady Law and Order” and rarely mentions her opponent. But when she quotes legendary D.A. Hogan’s 1942 admonition that “You can’t play politics with people’s lives,” it is obvious she is talking about McMahon, Democratic Party boss and Staten Island’s only Democratic congressman (2008-10) in the last 35 years.

“He says he wants to start a new special unit [in the D.A.’s office] to address animal abuse,” observed Illuzzi, “We’ve had 10 animal abuse cases in the last year and the DA’s office has 32 lawyers. Here’s what I’ll say: You can’t be captain of a ship if you’ve never been sailing.”

One other factor in this unique contest that is rarely mentioned is that New York City has had only one female district attorney in any of its five boroughs (counties): Elizabeth Holtzman, former U.S. representative and 1980 Democratic Senate nominee, who served as Kings County (Brooklyn) district attorney from 1981-89.

One who did mention this was State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island, the only Republican woman elected office holder in New York City.

“I view this race as one about bringing diversity to our party,” Malliotakis told me, “If we want more women involved in the Republican Party, we need leadership that reflects that. We have an opportunity here to make history by electing Joan the first female district attorney of Richmond County. Not only is she a woman, but more importantly, she is clearly the more qualified candidate.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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The race to succeed Republican Dan Donovan as district attorney of Staten Island this year has evolved as the most contentious in New York for some time. Donovan vacates his post to leave for Congress as a newly elected representative.
donovan, staten island, district attorney
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 09:18 AM
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