WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Staten Island DA Asks Voters for Big Promotion
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
District Attorney Dan Donovan's view out of his seventh story window is a breathtaking panorama. "It is a spectacular view from the office, it overlooks the New York City Harbor, the Staten Island Yankee Stadium, the refurbished State Island Ferry, it is absolutely spectacular," says Donovan.
But this ambitious Staten Island native and social conservative is not spending much time looking out the window. He wants voters to give him a major promotion to be the state's top law enforcement officer, based on his record as District Attorney.
The city's smallest borough wasn't always on the front lines of crime fighting. But in the last decade, Richmond County was the city's fastest growing borough and the second-fastest growing county in the state. Its neighbourhoods became more urban. More immigrants arrived.
Donovan says he had to adapt. When he arrived, there were no Spanish-speakers in his office. "The greatest increase in population in Staten Island is people whose first language is Spanish and English is their second language," recalls Donovan. "The first three people I hired were Spanish speakers. I tried to explain to my staff what it would be like if we were a victim of a crime in China and could not explain to anybody what happened to us."
Donovan says he also brought the office up to speed in other ways. He says his predecessor had 70 percent of his cases were dismissed because of witness intimidation and there was no formal witness protection program in place.
"In the first month, we put together a witness protection program," says Donovan. And at a time when prosecutors were coping with budget cuts, he says he funded that expansion with money seized from drug transactions.
The last two men to hold the post of Attorney General made Wall Street prosecutions a top priority. Donovan's Democratic opponent, Eric Schneiderman, has said the Republican would go easy on the financial services sector. One of Donovan's major boosters is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a car ride over to Flushing to get an endorsement, Donovan echoes Bloomberg when he says the challenge is to root out corruption without driving away the financial services industry.
"If the financial services left New York state," Donovan warns, "we wouldn't have the money to pay for police officers and teachers and not money to pay for some of the services that are needed for the people less fortunate than us."
Once in Flushing at the Chinese Business Association, Donovan appears pretty practiced at working a room for a guy who's only run for office twice. He holds an impromptu press conference with several of the Asian American news outlets that were covering the events.
The Republican-Conservative nominee manages to praise incumbent Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, now the Democratic nominee for governor, as he emphasizes his own working class roots. "Attorney General Cuomo did things like fighting the student loan scandal program," Donovan tells a gaggle of reporters. "I was very happy he did. Last year at the age of fifty-two I made my last student loan payment. it took me twenty years so i was glad the Attorney General did that."
Several local Chinese American business leaders are joined by Freshman Republican City Councilman Peter Koo, who gives his endorsement of Donovan.
"New Yorkers deserve a government that works for them not against them," says Koo, "that's why I am endorsing Dan Donovan for Attorney General. Ladies and gentleman, it is my pleasure to introduce Dan Donovan."
"Councilman, I first want to thank you for your confidence in my abilities, your friendship and your support," says Donovan.
In making his case, Donovan references yet another Democrat -- his former boss of eight years, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
"And Mr. Morgenthau taught us to uphold justice without fear or favor, that everyone's treated equally and fairly," says Donovan. "No one is to be treated differently because of who they are or who they know."
Donovan compares his own experience working with Morgenthau with that of the last two Democrats to serve as Attorney General. Both Spitzer and Cuomo spent time in that office. A community member asks if the Republican nominee for governor, Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, will hurt Donovan's run on the Republican line. Donovan's says he is counting on discriminating New York voters.
"They'll vote for a Democrat for one office, a Republican for another office, and an Independent for another office. Traditonally New Yorkers don't go down one line."
When pressed if he will support his party's controversial candidate, Donovan says he is prohibited from making endorsements by the ethics code that covers sitting District Attorneys.