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Clegg Leads In Ulster County DA Race

Dave Clegg

The Ulster County Board of Elections completed its tally of absentee and affidavit ballots this week in the race for district attorney, but there is still no certified DA-elect. Democrat Dave Clegg leads Republican Michael Kavanagh, who could appeal a judge’s ruling on a number of ballots.

Dave Clegg has emerged with 77 votes more than Kavanagh. This comes following a few hundred state Supreme Court justice ballot rulings from both sides. Clegg is a criminal defense attorney.

“There’s two issues. One is that the judge has made decisions and allowed a certain amount of votes to be counted, and the other side did object to about 100 of those votes. So the question, on their part, is do they think that if they appealed, that the judge’s ruling would be overturned to the degree that that could allow them to catch up in the vote department. I think that’s highly unlikely, but that is part of their thinking, I’m sure,” Clegg says. “The other side is that, because of the closeness of the race, that they can choose under county law to have a total recount of all the votes. And their hope is, on their part, that they might recover some votes that they don’t know they had. Now, the machines, thus far, have been totally accurate and I expect that would be the case. So those are kinds of the issues that the other side has to think about, whether it’s worth putting the county through that process, and whether an appeal would generate enough votes that have been counted, or reduce the votes that have been counted to the extent that they could possibly make up 77 votes.”

Kavanagh, the county’s chief assistant district attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment. His boss, Republican District Attorney Holley Carnright, is retiring. Clegg believes the answer on whether Kavanagh appeals could come by Monday.

“Really, if they’re appealing, they should be in the process of getting a record on appeal prepared right now. They would make an application to the third department, who would give them an expedited schedule for doing the appeal,” says Clegg. “We’ve heard nothing about that but, yeah, that would have to start right now if they were going to be appealing.”

Clegg believes there will be a district attorney-elect before January 1.

“I think we’ll have an answer by Monday,” says Clegg. “If they do appeal it, if they do require a total recount, that will delay things but, I think, depending upon what happens, I still could be certified as the winner and step into the position as of January 1, but there’s not clear indication should they go that route what will happen.”

On election night November 5, the race for DA was left hanging, along with some other Ulster County races, when a medical emergency at the county Board of Elections halted the ballot counting, which resumed the next morning. After counting resumed, Kavanagh led by three votes, before absentee ballots. Clegg says his priorities if he serves as district attorney remain the same.

“I think the opioid crisis is front and center, and I’m just setting up some meetings this week. One of the things that we’re hoping to do is to set up diversion programs so that people with addiction get immediate help, have the opportunity for immediate help,” Clegg says. “And so that’s an ongoing process that I would continue to work on, yes.”

You serve on various boards and you lead the Human Rights Commission. If it ends up that you are the district attorney-elect for Ulster County, would you have to give up any of those roles?” Dunne asks.

“I would. I would not be to sit on the YMCA board; the Human Rights Commission also I would have to step down from,” says Clegg. “I would still be engaged with all these community groups but from a different perspective.”

Clegg considers the closeness of the race.

“Well, you know, the district attorney is a status-quo situation where it’s been in place, this particular regime, the Republican control of that office, has been there for many, many, many decades. And so change is not easy for some folks,” Clegg says. “And I brought to the forefront issues that I think were important to change, that we can do a better job with our criminal justice system; we can be more equitable; we can rehabilitate more; we can make sure that we’re transparent. All those things are things that I think are important for a 21st century DA’s office. And so I think there’s some, just like with the bail reform issues, there’s some people who are afraid of change, what will happen, and I think that reflects part of why the race was so close and so contentious in some ways.”

“How was voter turnout?” asks Dunne.

“Voter turnout was better than normal on an off, off year, but it wasn’t over the top,” says Clegg.

He says there hasn’t been a Democratic Ulster County District Attorney in more than 160 years.

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