When I first met Kathleen Rice, shortly after having won the position of District Attorney from longtime office holder, Republican Dennis Dillon, she was still short of breath, cheery and interested in making friends. You see, aside from her patron, Tom Suozzi, a young, smart, charismatic scion of a local political family who rode the wave of tax and corruption discontent into the County Executive’s office, Rice didn’t knew anyone in the neighborhood.
She was plucked out of the Philly U.S. Attorneys office to run for the job, there being no registered Democrat locally who Suozzi could live with, and Rice, having once driven through Nassau Couty on her way to the Hamptons, had the strongest local ties of anyone on Suozzi’s list. Beyond that, no one in the business knew her, and she knew no one.
At my first meeting, she asked me if I could help her set up a meeting with the Nassau County Criminal Bar Association. Though not a member, I knew some of the guys and was willing to give her a chance to get to know the locals. I set things up and called her office, speaking with her sister, her nepostistic aide-de-camp (hose name doesn’t come to mind), who blew me off, informing me that Rice was a Very Important Person who had neither time nor interest in speaking to defense lawyers.
This was my first insight into the new Democrat in office. Young and self-important.
The word from the DAs office was that she was hated. Some saw this as sour grapes, Dillon having been around so long, and so well-regarded, he wasn’t going to be quickly replaced by this unworthy carpet-bagger. Years later, however, she was still hated, not for being an outside at the start, but for having used the office for her self-aggrandizing political agenda, putting its integrity at risk for the sake of making her bones.
Kathleen Rice has picked her spot, and that spot is drunk driving, where no punishment is too harsh, too severe, for her taste. From a 60 Minutes segment on drunk driving:
Curiously, one wonders what distinguishes a Democrat for District Attorney from a Republican. The answer in Nassau County, as opposed to the campaign for District Attorney in New York County where there was vigorous debate and discussion about protecting individual freedoms and constitutional rights while maintaining safety, is simple: The line on the ballot. Nobody told Rice what it means to be a Democrat. Clearly, she has no clue.
Her opponent, Joy Watson, was a long time assistant under Dillon, Chief of Sex Crimes and Deputy Chief of Major Crimes, having worked her way through the ranks over 20 years before leaving the office under Rice to become law clerk to a Supreme Court judge. She is regarded as a solid prosecutor, knowledgeable and experienced.
But the decision about who should hold the office of District Attorney isn’t about who you would hire for a staff position, but who is equipped to lead. Joy Watson has offered absolutely nothing to suggest that she’s a leader, that she has a philosophy to guide her should she be elected. Consider what it would mean to have Watson as District Attorney, and the only answer available is, “I dunno.”
Considering that she is running against an incumbant who is clearly vulnerable, a rarity given the Republicans in Nassau County who have gone from the last working machine in politics to a joke, Watson’s lack of vision is a manifest failing. Her campaign slogan says it all, Fair on Justice, Tough on Crime. That’s right, when it comes to justice, she’s only fair. And it never dawned on her that her slogan aspired to mediocrity.
But there’s a more telling issue lurking beneath the surface. Her endorsements come from the usual cast of rogues, the various police organizations around the county. Watson has neither sought, nor apparently desired, the endorsement of anyone outside of law enforcement. No wonder she’s only fair on justice, by her own assessment.
A third candidate, Anthony Colleluori, on the Libertarian Party line if the local papers are to be trusted, has been AWOL, and that’s about as much as can be said for Tony.
Given the choice between a Democratic candidate with no apparent recognition of any party value, who has used her office to push ever-harsher punishment to establish her merit and who has demonstrated a flagrant distrust of the judiciary and constitutional rights, and a career prosecutor who wants the job simply because she worked her way up the ranks and in the absence of any philosophical viewpoint to guide her, there is no choice at all.
While Rice has given ample reason not to re-elect her to an office where she has, and will continue, to cause damage to the very interests she was sworn protect, Watson has failed to offer any reason to vote for her. It comes down to a show pony versus a yeoman, not much of a choice. Despite the importance of the office, and the fact that a choice will be made for better or worse, an endorsement must ultimately be based upon some affirmative reason to want a particular candidate to hold the office. Given what the candidates have offered, neither candidate is worthy of endorsement.
It’s rather sad and pathetic that Nassau County, America’s first suburb and neighbor to the greatest City in the world, that there isn’t a candidate for District Attorney who has said or done anything to prove that she deserves the post. But there isn’t, and I cannot in good conscience support either candidate for District Attorney.