Albany County District Attorney David Soares says he is confident he will prevail in the Democratic primary against challenger Matt Toporowski when absentee ballots are counted. Seeking a fifth four-year term, Soares is leading in unofficial results by about 8 percentage points, according to the Albany County Board of Elections. In an interview Wednesday morning, Soares slammed his opponent for running on "misrepresentations and lies," and had harsh criticism for Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who endorsed Toporowski.
The state of the race is very good from my perspective. We went to bed last night with a lead, I believe, about 1,200 votes, with 17,000 absentee ballots still to be counted. The numbers are roughly about 53% to 45%. That's the same numbers, that tracks for the early voting, so we anticipate that the absentee ballot count will reflect the same those same trends.
This is obviously an election like we haven't seen before with a huge jump in the amount of absentee ballots. So what makes you think that the margin will hold on that front?
Well, I mean, prior history demonstrates that absentee ballots tend to reflect the same trends that you see at the machines. And I think what the difference here is, is the fact that we have more volume, so we anticipate the same outcome once the ballots are counted.
Have you spoken with Matt Toporowski in the last day?
I have not. Nope.
I just want to get a sense of where the campaigns are. So are you declaring victory in the race?
Well, listen, I don't take anything for granted as an incumbent. I never took that for granted. I work for every vote that I have. I believe that our good policy and the strength of our performance as an agency dictates my politics and so I'm reflecting confidence in the fact that I'm confident in 71-plus people that show up at that office every day and I've been working hard for the last 16 years to deliver a service to Albany County. And so I'm very confident in that regard. So in terms of the vote, the responses that we've gotten from our calls, any contract that we've had with voters, which of course, because of COVID has been limited, there are great things that we hear at the at the doors as well as on the phones. And so I have reason to be confident.
The State Board of Elections told us it would be very foolish to expect any result Tuesday night or early Wednesday. I'm wondering what kind of advice your campaign has gotten about how long it will take until we actually have a finished result here?
Well, this is unique in the sense that this year, the date for which ballots had to be postmarked was last night. So I would figure the earliest that they will be delivered to the board would be perhaps on Friday, and perhaps Monday would be the beginning of counting day.
So it seems like you would be very surprised at this point to not win this race.
You know, first lifted in my line of business, you don't know what you're walking into in the morning, and you certainly don't know what you're walking out of the office to so I'm not a person who can be surprised, you know, so we always plan for the best and hope for the best, but we deal with whatever it is that we're confronted with, and that's pretty much the job description of a prosecutor.
This particular primary got a lot of attention. And it's if the margins are what they are right now, in the end, definitely one of your closer races. What did you learn during this process? And, you know, including the criticism that you got?
Well, I've never run a campaign before where the talking point used by the opposition word fact my 2004 talking points, I've also never run a campaign where there's been outmatched lies. And so it's difficult when you're in a professional setting on a platform where you're looking to debate the merits of very important topical issues. But you're having to deal with misrepresentations and lies and so this one has been very different for the reasons that I've just stated. My previous opponents, they had observations and criticisms of the way that the office functioned, they had observations and in differences in opinions as to policy. This was one of the more interesting campaigns in the sense that someone is running on very aspirational and not actual practical or from a knowledge base of a prosecutor's office. I mean, the idea that you want to, you know, reduce the investigatory staff of the district attorney's office in a population of the community with 300,000 people, demonstrates incredible naiveté. But again, all of those things sounded very aspirational as this defund the police movement is getting some energy. So yeah, it was a very unique race. Very unique set of issues. I've actually never run against the person who has pledged to do the things that I'm doing now. Like, my marijuana policy, my restorative justice practices. So this has been a very unique race, but I'm glad that the people of Albany County saw through it.
You know, you had your endorsements and your opponent had his endorsements. Why do you think so many elected officials went with your opponent?
I don't recall “so many” elected officials going with my opponent. I recall, celebrities that don't live in Albany County and federal. I think you had two? Was it two?
Well, I mean, in fairness, the mayor is a high-profile person.
You said “many.” And not profile, but you said “many” and I believe he had two. And the mayor, that was an interesting call because in a city that is absolutely on fire, with 24 people reporting to the emergency room with bullet wounds, that the mayor would choose to endorse a candidate for the most important public safety position that addresses violence in her city, the fact that the mayor would go with someone who's had very little to no prosecutorial experience over a group of people that have been in the office keeping her city safe prior to her being mayor, for a period of over 20 years. That to me is startling. But it reflects more on her judgment than it does on my performance.
So assuming that you do come in for a fifth term after the absentee ballots are counted. What's your top priority for the next four years?
Well, listen, we are in the most, I feel, important window in all of my time in this office in that window is reforming police practices reforming, you know, even criminal justice practices, which I have had a history of doing my entire 16 years as a DA, and even the five previous years as an assistant DA. Now so more than ever, this requires a person with prosecutorial experience as well as experience taking on institutions and other elected positions. And if you can say anything about me, that the people are familiar with, it's the fact that people know that I've battled with politicians, have battled with police chiefs, battled with institutions.
And I would continue to do that to bring about the change that I believe is so necessary right now. And the idea that, that, you know, anyone in Albany County could choose someone with little to no experience or track record and even has a problem with the truth. That to me is astounding. So I anticipate returning to office, I anticipate continuing my mission and protecting communities and engaging in smart reforms.
Just one more thing. You mentioned the rash of shootings that we've seen in the city of Albany in the last couple of weeks. The mayor, the police chief have been urging a halt to this. From your perspective, how do you get a handle on something like gun violence at a time like this?
Well, what you don't do is call a press conference and have a TED talk. What you do is you reach out to your fellow law enforcement agencies, let's remember something now, OK. I've been here before this current mayor. I've been in this position as an ADA delivering public safety services to Albany County for 20 years. 20 years. And the way that you curb gun violence, because we've done that before, is by making sure that we have the full breadth of law enforcement services in the Capital District providing public safety, which means you have wonderful people that the New York State Police Department, you have wonderful people at the Albany County Sheriff's Department that you should be calling in right now, today, to engage in a greater presence in the neighborhoods that are experiencing drive-by shootings. In the neighborhoods where the errant bullets are finding children in their beds. That's what you do, because that's what my experience in public safety for 20 years. That's what my experience tells me. That's also what we've done in the past to curb gun violence. And so the mayor, instead of having press conferences and having TED Talks, she needs to pick up the phone and call the superintendent of the New York State Police and call Sheriff Craig Apple.
Assuming you're back for another term, will you have to patch things up with the mayor? You know, you're a high-profile public official in an Albany County, the DA. She's the mayor of a city that's dealing with its own issues right now. But it sounds like the two of you are not in communication.
The people of Albany County and the people of city of Albany did not elect me to engage in hostilities with any other elected personalities in Albany County. I'm a professional person, if anything, my history and my record reflects my ability to work with everyone. You will also have to delve into your history books to also see that when I first came into office, I had very few allies and I had a lot of other enemies and political enemies in high elected office, but over the years, my record and our ability to work together in a sense of achievement and accomplishment, we've weathered through those storms.
I don't have to have tea or have coffee with someone to work with them. But the city of Albany is just as much my responsibility, my focus, and my obligation to the citizens here, just as much if not more than any other elected official. So I'll continue to work with people as long as what we're doing is the best that we possibly can do for the citizens. But right now, we're not doing our best because we don't have every resource available to us.
WAMC reached out to Toporowski for comment Wednesday. He issued a statement late Tuesday:
“I got into this campaign because I saw how structural racism in the justice system has deeply harmed our community. Over the past few months, I listened about how the system has failed people - there were no shortage of stories. We all shared a vision of a different kind of justice system - one that lifts people up, meets the needs of our communities, and makes us all stronger. On the issues and on our vision, this campaign has connected with tens of thousands of voters across Albany County. I believe that when all the votes are counted, the people of Albany County will have chosen a new, better approach to justice that’s built on compassion and grounded in partnership with the community.”