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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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District Attorney’s Office To Get Its Close-Up

Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.

The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.

I remember thinking: is that the best storyline Morgenthau’s opponent could come up with? You mean the Manhattan D.A. hadn’t presided over a wrongful conviction, hired a rogue prosecutor, or supervised a tainted investigation that might make voters wonder whether Manhattan’s D.A. deserved another four years in office? P.S. Morgenthau easily won the Democratic primary and the general election in 2005 before retiring in 2009.

Let’s turn our attention now to the Nassau County D.A.’s office, one of the least scrutinized public offices on Long Island since 2006, although that could change as D.A. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) seeks election this year to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 4th Congressional District.

The Island’s major media outlets have shown little interest in acting as a watchdog over Rice’s office in the eight-plus years she’s been there, even though Nassau’s D.A. manages a multi-million-dollar budget and has 375 full-time employees, public records indicate. More than half of the D.A. office’s personnel are non-union (e.g., political appointees).

This is why you’re constantly reading and hearing about District Attorney Rice’s favorite issues: cracking down on drunk drivers, shaming people who allegedly tried to patronize a prostitute, and prosecuting impostors who take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Indeed, Long Island’s lone daily newspaper will write many love letters to Rice between now and November, and then its editorial page will heartily endorse her for Congress. Meanwhile, anyone who dares to challenge the D.A. will be subject to that publication’s version of a full-body cavity search.

Nonetheless, as of this writing, Nassau County Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), is weighing a Democratic primary against Rice, and two Republicans, former county Legislator Bruce Blakeman of Long Beach and attorney Frank Scaturro of New Hyde Park, are seeking the GOP’s nomination for the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola).

Legislator Abrahams, former Legislator Blakeman and Scaturro should, if they haven’t done so already, retain a research firm to review Rice’s public record. To what extent did the widely-chronicled problems at the county police department’s forensics lab impact the D.A.’s office, what is the Nassau D.A.’s conviction rate as compared to other counties of comparable population size, and why did Rice hail Governor Cuomo’s plan to offer college degrees to imprisoned New Yorkers, as she did in a Feb. 19 statement? Is the latter a high priority for anyone besides the academic institutions who will respond to the Cuomo administration’s Request for Proposals to this effect?

One of the great things about the current media age is that whatever credible and relevant information Rice’s rivals dig up can be shared publicly in inexpensive ways. My guess is they’ll uncover matters more compelling than where Rice parks her car.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net