By Spencer Rumsey and Rashed Mian
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the clock struck 9 p.m. Tuesday, the Democratic Party faithful at glitzy Garden City Hotel let out an exuberant cheer.
“It’s 0-0!” one Democrat supporter yelled to a group of people seated at his table, as if the hotly contested race for Nassau District Attorney, the top-of-the-ticket contest, resembled the first inning of a World Series match-up. If Mets fans were in attendance, they were surely wishing for a more favorable outcome.
The extravagant hotel had opened its ballroom doors to partiers at 8 p.m. but it wasn’t until an hour later that a couple hundred blue-blooded Democrats streamed inside. While the entire county-wide Democratic ticket attended the election night party, most of their supporters were there to see acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas—the novice campaigner and Kathleen Rice apprentice. Singas had stumped hard to formally get elected to the position she assumed in January following Rice’s ascension to Congress last year. But standing in her way was GOP powerhouse Kate Murray, who had served as Hempstead Town Supervisor for more than a decade and was a key cog in the mighty Republican machine that dominates Nassau politics.
Polls released throughout the campaign signaled that Singas would be the underdog going into Election Day, but you wouldn’t know it at the Garden City Hotel. Drinks were flowing—martinis appeared to be the preferred conversation lubricant of the evening—and most staunch supporters were in good spirits, aside for a select few who sat glued to News12 Long Island coverage beamed from a large screen at the corner of the room.
At one point, Cablevision’s news channel aired footage of Singas, prompting boisterous applause.
A few minutes later, the entire crowd was awarded a better view.
At about 9:15 p.m., the career prosecutor walked inside the opulent banquet hall. She wore a confident smile that belied how grueling her months-long campaign had been—a campaign, she’d admit later, that cost her precious time with her young children.
If Singas was battling any nerves, her emotions did not betray her. She worked the room like a seasoned politician would, zigzagging through the crowd, embracing friends and family with appreciative hugs, graciously shaking hands with fellow Democrats, and posing for dozens of photos as the ubiquitous gaze of smartphone cameras followed her every move. She stuck around for more than a half-hour. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” echoed through the ballroom moments before her exit.
Standing by risers meant for news crews documenting the election was Nassau Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs. He said he “felt good” about Singas’ chances. Maybe Democrats knew something no one else did.
As reporters struggled to review election results on Nassau’s Board of Election’s archaic website, cheers rang out amid reports that Singas had a seemingly insurmountable lead.
With the ballroom teeming with excitement, Singas emerged once more shortly after 11 p.m. This time she headed straight for the stage to declare herself the winner.
“What a great victory!” she smiled, her family standing beside her.
Throughout the campaign, Singas had touted her prosecutorial experience. Democrats criticized Murray for never prosecuting a criminal case, suggesting she was unfit to oversee such an important office.
Singas repeated the theme.
“I said it many times before that this election would come down to a choice,” Singas said from the podium. “Would they choose someone with the expertise and the experience, a prosecutor who could root out corruption, a prosecutor who could end the heroin scourge in our community, a prosecutor who can end violence on our streets? And today the voters responded with an overwhelming ‘yes.’”
Singas, who defeated Murray 58 to 42 percent, thanked her volunteers, congratulated Murray on a hard-fought campaign and pledged to root out corruption and tackle the heroin scourge. She also thanked Islanders fans, a vengeful bunch who primarily blame Murray for the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn.
As she declared victory, Singas, who has been investigating Nassau’s contract process but did not mention the probe, promised to “follow the evidence without fear or favor.”
“No one is above the law,” she said.
Singas’ resounding victory would not be the only surprise of the evening. Shortly before midnight, Jacobs climbed back on stage and told those still on hand that he was comfortable declaring John Mangelli the victor over nine-term Republican Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, despite 68 votes separating the two. Democrats looked at one another with shock. Mangelli was equally speechless.
“I didn’t prepare a speech,” he admitted, barely able to contain his excitement.
For the Nassau Republicans the election night had begun quite differently after the polls had closed.
Inside Mirelle’s Restaurant on Post Avenue in Westbury, half a dozen couples were doing the tango in the Cinderella Room near the street entrance, while crowds of Republican supporters, reporters and a few elected officials were gathering in the catering hall in the back where they faced a large white board running almost the length of the stage behind the podium that showed the names of all the candidates on the Nassau ballot. Every now and then three young women dressed in black, Republican volunteers wielding magic markers, came up to write in the latest results.
As the evening wore on, the mood felt like being in a big casino where time has stopped and everybody still clings to the hope they’re about to win it big. The figures for the district attorney’s race stayed stuck at 85,248 for Singas and 64,463 for Murray. The totals for Oyster Bay showed Republican Supervisor John Venditto with 5,523 votes and his Democratic challenger John Mangelli with 5,807. No figures mentioned how many precincts had been counted. Those numbers were never updated.
In the packed hall, there wasn’t a TV or computer monitor in sight, just the hot lights for the News12 cameras. When word started to get out at 11:30 p.m. that Singas had already given her victory speech in Garden City, it was hard to believe based on the lack of reaction among those milling around. Asked about the latest development in the DA race, New York State Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) said with a sigh, “Somebody just told me that.”
Almost another 45 minutes went by before Nassau Republican Chair Joe Mondello took the stage with his procession of candidates. Conspicuously absent were GOP stalwarts such as former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’amato and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. It was understandable that state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was a no-show because he’s under federal indictment.
“Thank you all for being here tonight,” Mondello told the packed hall. “It’s not as good as I would have liked it to be but we have a helluva lot of winners and I’m happy to announce them.”
After he got through congratulating the victorious judges, Mondello praised Supervisor John Venditto as “a hardworking, tough guy who’s been around for a while, and he’s very, very good for the people of Oyster Bay.” Then he referred to Venditto’s race, whose numbers on the tally board still showed the incumbent trailing.
“We’ve got a terrible campaign, in the sense that they’ve come at us pretty good,” Mondello said. “Not the Democrats. We don’t worry about them. We worry about Newsday because they’re the ones that came at us.” There were boos heard from the crowd as a man’s voice rang out, “You’re going to win, chairman!”
Mondello expressed confidence that once the paper ballots had been counted, “they’re going to show that he’s won again.” There were cheers, but no sign of the Oyster Bay supervisor so the chairman moved on to Hempstead Town.
“I can’t call him my executive assistant anymore,” he beamed. “Let’s hear it for Tony Santino!” The crowd chanted “Tony! Tony!” as the two men embraced behind the podium.
Santino thanked the chairman for “giving me this great opportunity to serve the people of the biggest and the best township in America!” He praised his predecessor, who stood on stage with a smile on her face.
“And let me thank a woman who made my job on the campaign trail very easy this year because she did such an outstanding job for 12 years as our town supervisor,” Santino continued. “She left this town in outstanding fiscal shape, the best services. She, from the very first day, set the gold standard for what municipal leadership is all about, and ladies and gentlemen, we ran this year on Kate Murray’s record and we won big because of that.”
Next up was not Murray, but Venditto.
“As crazy as it sounds, I couldn’t be happier, and you know why?” Venditto asked the audience. “Good Republican government built the town of Oyster Bay and good Republican government to this day protects and preserves the wonderful quality of life that we enjoy in the Town of Oyster Bay.”
Five of his running mates had won “by very solid margins,” he explained, “so good Republican government will lead the town of Oyster Bay into the future… As far as my race is concerned, I like the action!” he said to laughter from the crowd. “We’ll see what happens. It is waaay too close to call.”
Now the chairman was ready for the main event.
“We were blessed with a wonderful top of the ticket,” he said. “Although I can’t be up here to tell you that she was successful in her endeavor tonight, she worked hard, and it’s hard work that helped the entire rest of the ticket that was successful tonight.”
To cheers and applause so loud that it drowned out her opening lines, Murray thanked her supporters.
“I will never regret this campaign, ladies and gentlemen, because of all the people that I got to know,” she said. “When you’re in a tight race, you see who your friends are, and my goodness, I never knew I had so many friends.”
Standing near the podium, a middle-aged man holding a drink shouted, “We love you, Kate!” The crowd cheered and clapped.
Murray started to leave but the chairman touched her sleeve so she turned around and gave him a hug. Then he took the microphone at the podium again and said, “Kate Murray, ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for her!”
Next on his agenda, he referred to the Nassau County Legislature, where every seat was up for election.
“I think it’s a Mexican stand-off,” Mondello said, “in that we kept all the seats that we had.”
Then he introduced the legislature’s presiding officer, the feisty Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).
“This has been a campaign fought on many battlefronts,” Gonsalves said. “First it was Newsday, then social media, then Facebook, you name it, it was out there.” Despite the opposition, she reminded the crowd that “we’re still in control of the legislature.”
And then she issued a warning.
“We’re going to watch the DA. The so-called DA. We’re going to watch very carefully,” she said. “The next time, I’m telling you right now, they pull out all the stops, we’re going to do the same thing.”
Judging from the audience response, it wasn’t clear if they matched her enthusiasm for the next round. To be fair, it was nearing 1 a.m.
It was time for the chairman’s curtain call.
“By and large, we had a great night,” said Mondello. “Unfortunately, we were not successful at the top of the ticket, and I want to send my congratulations to Madeline Singas on her victory. I want to congratulate Jay Jacobs on what he has accomplished with top of the ticket but the rest of it was ours!”
Surprisingly, the mention of the Nassau Democratic chairman’s name drew no boos, no jeers, no cat-calls.
As the party was winding down and the crowd was thinning out, one very proud parent was still on hand. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) was beaming because his daughter, Erin King-Sweeney, had won her first election to Hempstead town council. Asked what tip the veteran campaigner had given his offspring, King grinned and said, “‘Stay away from me!’ That’s all! I would call her 20 times a day but she ran the whole campaign.”
He was disappointed that Murray hadn’t carried the top of the ticket but he expressed satisfaction with the overall results—his daughter’s success included.
“First of all, it showed that the Republican Party is still very strong,” he said. “Obviously, there were certain issues raised. The fact is that we’ve got corruption we have to address, but it didn’t work its way down to retire the Republican Party.”
If it had, he observed, then there would have been wholesale rejection of GOP candidates, from judgeships to townships.
“If anything, the voters were sending a message that they want to be Republican—they support Republican principles—but we’ve got to straighten some stuff out,” he said. He thought that in this election cycle, “Kate got caught up in all this. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Without mentioning the ongoing federal corruption charges facing Skelos—whose trial is about to begin—the Congressman alluded to “all the allegations out there, whether they’re valid or not, they’re out there, and a Republican running for DA, that was hard. The issue was: Can a candidate investigate their own? And I have no doubt she could.” On the other hand, he said, “The voters probably had to take it out on somebody, for whatever reason, and Kate was the one. I still think she ran a very good race.”
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Murray was endorsed by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, himself a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where his successor, Preet Bharara, launched corruption probes against Skelos and state Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), the former Assembly speaker, whose trial started on Election Day. Giuliani had drawn the ire of the New York Daily News editorial board for supporting the Republican candidate for Staten Island, Joan Illuzzi, because she had prosecutorial experience compared to her Democratic challenger, former Rep. Michael McMahon, who had none (he ultimately won), and reversing himself in Nassau by supporting Murray, who’s never been a prosecutor, while Singas has been one for 24 years.
“Rudy definitely felt that Kate had the better philosophy towards fighting crime,” King explained.
Earlier in the evening, Chairman Mondello had told the Press that Murray had benefited from having Giuliani’s endorsement, which he’d helped bring about. Back when he was state GOP chairman and Giuliani was running for president, they’d traveled together through New York and become “pretty close.”
“I couldn’t tell you the amount of points, but it’s without question that he helped Kate,” Mondello said. “I felt that the tide had to be stemmed… His coming out here and his commercial that he made with Kate stemmed the tide.”
Talking about Murray, he said, “I’ve known her since she was a little girl. Her father and I were very close.” Picking her to run for district attorney was easy, he said. “She’s bright as hell…she connects with people. People like her. She started this campaign very gently, if you recall. Then she got attacked pretty good. I told her that you have to fight fire with fire in this world. It didn’t take right away…but she understood that it had to be done.”
Later on stage, after it was clear to all that Murray had lost, Mondello told the assembled throng, “All I can say is that it hurts that she’s not going to be the district attorney but she’s got a great future with the Republican Party, and don’t you ever forget it!”