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Rensselaer County DA Candidates Debate At RPI

League of Women Voters of Rensselaer County/Facebook

Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove and his challenger Mary Pat Donnelly met in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters this week.

Running for a second four-year term, Republican Joel Abelove faced off against Democrat Mary Pat Donnelly, a former East Greenbush town justice, at the RPI Cultural Center. Donnelly argued she can "fix what is broken in Rensselaer County.” 

Donnelly:  "I want everyone to know that my decision to enter the race is not a partisan one. I am not here as a Democratic challenger. I am here as a judge who has observed the function of the current office and feels that I have something to offer the citizens of Rensselaer County."

Abelove:  "My opponent has never prosecuted a single case in the state of New York."

Although Abelove said he has prosecuted several prominent cases and has personally taken on a quadruple murder case in Troy, Donnelly suggested "something is wrong."

Donnelly: "I don't know what it is. I do know that there has been an extremely high turnover in his office. Over 30 attorneys have left during his tenure. I do know that multiple cases have been dismissed on speedy trial grounds and we've heard all kinds of crazy numbers, but at least 400 felonies were never presented to a grand jury."

Abelove disputed the statistics Donnelly cited, claiming they were garnered from inaccurate media reports. He added he never heard any complaint from Donnelly, her court or the other judge that sits in her court.

Ableove:  "There are 17 other city town and village courts in the county and two county court judges, and none of them has ever complained to me about my office being in disarray or any of the other terms I've heard my opponent use."

The two tackled a variety of topics during the 90-minute forum. Neither favors ending cash bail. Abelove and Donnelly both claimed to embrace transparency. They agreed drug treatment courts play a key role in dealing with the county's opioid crisis. Both agreed the D.A. is accountable to the electorate. Both candidates are opposed to the SAFE Act. They disagreed on the appropriateness of having a third party handle an investigation that police are the subject of.

Donnelly:  "So we have to just acknowledge where we are, without laying blame, that there is an absolute distrust in certain areas of the police, and as a prosecutor we have to acknowledge it and make certain concessions moving forward."

Abelove :  "There's nothing in my background or any good prosecutor's background that would lead me to believe that they could not be fair and impartial when assessing the evidence in a case no matter who the suspect or the defendant is."

Regarding cybercrime, Abelove says today's technical issues are challenging since people can "commit these crimes from anywhere in the world."

Abelove:  "It's been my office's practice to partner with our federal agencies whenever possible, whether it's United States Secret Service, whether it's the FBI,  whether it's the DEA, any of the federal agencies that have a lot more of the resources and the capabilities to help us investigate these matters."

Donnelly:  "But then what I have seen at the town court level is more of the harassment crimes that we see through Facebook and social media. And that is certainly an emerging area of the law. You have your jurisdictional questions, you have your actual harm, querying whether or not the person was actually going to do what they threatened to do on social media."

Donnelly added we have to take all threats seriously.

When the candidates were asked about their weaknesses:

Donnelly: "I'm a little too hard on myself, and I think that I can always do better."

Abelove:  "Well, I think one of my biggest weaknesses is probably also somewhat of a strengh, is that I'm a workaholic."

Voters will decide Tuesday.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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