A red tide swept over Long Island, with the Republican candidates for district attorney in both Nassau and Suffolk counties winning their races in stunning landslides Tuesday — turning the campaigns into a referendum on New York’s controversial bail reform law.
In Nassau, career local prosecutor Anne Donnelly upset Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, who voted for the 2019 law that eliminated cash bail to defendants accused of many misdemeanor and “non-violent” felony crimes.
Donnelly, who was deputy chief of the Nassau DA’s organized crime and rackets bureau, won 145,766 or 60 percent of the vote to 97,299 votes or 40 percent for Kaminsky — a 20 point blowout.
Kaminsky and Democrats rolled back some of the changes in 2020 following a public backlash and complaints from law enforcement that criminals getting sprung immediately would commit more crimes. The Democrats took action to limit judges’ discretion to set bail after wresting control of the state Senate from Republicans.
Kaminsky voted for bail reform as part of the 2019 state budget. He pushed for amendments to the law a year later to address complaints.
But Donnelly and the GOP successfully used the bail issue as a club against Kaminsky, a rising star in the Democratic Party. The law was pushed so poor defendants who could not afford to pay cash bail would not have to languish in detention pending trial.
“The voters are sending a message. Safety first. Our children and families come first,” Donnelly said in an interview early Wednesday morning.
“I intend to hit the ground running come January and do everything I can to protect the people of Nassau County.”
Meanwhile in Suffolk, Republican Ray Tierney trounced Democratic incumbent District Attorney Tim Sini with 145,933 votes or 57 percent to 109,060 votes or 43 percent. Bail reform was also a burning issue in that race.
Sini suffered even though he was an early critic of his fellow Democratic lawmakers’ loosening of bail restrictions.
The carnage extended to other races.
In another potential upset, Republican challenger Bruce Blakeman led Democratic incumbent Nassau County Executive Laura Curran with 127,414 votes or 52 percent to 117,158 votes or 48 percent. Curran was elected four years ago, running on an anti-corruption platform after ex-county executive Ed Mangano was arrested and convicted on bribery charges.
Curran will need to win the lion’s share of 30,000 to 40,000 uncounted mail-in balls to turn the tide.
Republican Elaine Phillips, a former state senator, also buried Democratic rival Ryan Cronin in the Nassau comptroller’s race, with 61 percent or 145,175 votes to 94,445 votes or 39 percent.
“It was not a particularly good night,” said Nassau County Democratic leader Jay Jacobs.
President Joe Biden’s plummeting popularity and infighting among Democrats in charge of Congress over spending plans contributed to the onslaught. Democrats how have the burden of governing and can no longer invoke former President Donald Trump as the bogeyman.
“Donald Trump is no longer on the ballot,” said Lawrence Levy, dean of Hofstra University’s national center for suburban studies.
“This is a red tsunami. It’s a complete wipeout. This is a sharp repudiation of the Democratic Party.”
He noted that Republicans even swept races for low legislative seats in the heavily Democratic Town of North Hempstead.
Jacobs acknowledged that Donnelly and the GOP turned the DA’s race into a referendum on bail reform and falsely painted Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, as soft on crime.
“Republicans are always very good at scaring voters. In this case, they used bail reform to mislead the voters and scare the voters,” said Jacobs, also state chairman of the Democratic Party.
Jacobs said bail reform was a good idea but the Democrats in the legislature rushed through an “imperfect” and “flawed” law in 2019 that was “corrected” in 2020. He demanded changes to the law.
“We need to educate voters. When we rush something through, we risk being misunderstood,” he said of Democrats.
Hofstra’s Levy said the results show that “bail reform is still a potent issue.”
He said Republicans will continue to pound Democratic lawmakers for approving bail reform.
The Nassau DA office became vacant this year when former DA Madeline Singas was appointed a judge to the state Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal. The special election was held to replace her.
Kaminsky, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor, was heavily favored to win the special election.
But Donnelly and the GOP bludgeoned Kaminsky with ads such as “‘Turn ‘Em Loose’ Todd.”
The rebuke will likely result in a fierce debate within the New York Democrat Party on whether its lawmakers have swung too far to the left on criminal justice issues with suburban voters, threatening its moderate candidates in swing-districts.
Democrats have made inroads in Nassau County in recent decades. Former President Barack Obama won Nassau twice and both Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden carried the suburban county in presidential races. But they also lost seats in 2009, a year after Obama’s first election.