Broome County District Attorney Candidate Interview – Debra Gelson

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WSKG is offering extended interviews with the three candidates in the Broome County District Attorney’s race throughout the week before election day.
[Transcript]

GABE ALTIERI: This is WSKG News. I’m Gabe Altieri.

One of the most contentious races in the region this November is for Broome County District Attorney.

Current D.A. Steve Cornwell is leaving the position to run for Congress, making it an open race. Ahead of election day, we’re sitting down with each of the candidates.

I’m joined now by Democrat Debra Gelson and, Debra, could you first walk me through the process of being chosen by the Democrats. I didn’t know if this jump into politics is something you’ve, sort of, always wanted to do.

Debra Gelson. Debra Gelson For District Attorney/Facebook

DEBRA GELSON: Actually, absolutely not. When I first came to Broome County I was working as a trial attorney for Tully Legal and the last thing I thought I’d be doing is running for election. I’ve never run for election before.

It was a number of people coming to me, as well as my having experienced some issues, that I thought that I could bring experience that I’ve had to the table and to be able to make Broome County safer, since it’s now my home.

GA: And, you know, at the start of the general, you were coming off entering the race after a very contentious Republican primary. So, a lot of name recognition with your opponents, Paul Battisti and Mike Korchak, maybe less so with you. How do you think that’s affected your race the last few months?

DG: Well, I think that name recognition is important. At the same point in time, I certainly did not want to get involved in the nastiness of the primary. My position has been to run a positive campaign. To discuss my qualifications, my experience and my vision. And that’s what I’ve done. And that’s what I will continue to do. But my name recognition, in terms of a negative campaign, is not something that I wanted to do nor will I ever.

GA: A lot has been made, as we sort of get into some of the issues, about the relationship between police and people of color. Especially in City of Binghamton and even some of the surrounding communities, as well. Not only in recent years, but in recent weeks. And then, of course, there’s the issue with the deaths of Broome County jail inmates. What’s the role of the district attorney in these issues?

DG: Well, the district attorney is the chief law enforcement officer. It is the responsibility of the district attorney to investigate any allegations of, not only misconduct, as well as criminal aspects. The issue would be whether or not there has been something that would rise to the level of a crime. With regard to, for example, it could be a criminally negligent homicide, could be medical neglect. It would be something, but the district attorney’s office, certainly, should and – investigate every possible scenario where there could be an element of criminal conduct, as well as police misconduct.

GA: At the recent SUNY Broome D.A. debate, you mentioned you were torn about supervised injection sites and I think that was, that was very interesting. Just, for people that don’t know, these are places people can inject illegal drugs safely, under medical supervision. That’s the whole idea. There’s one that’s been proposed in Ithaca.

Can you explain why you’re so torn over these supervised injection sites?

DG: Well Gabe, I’m a candidate who has been in the trenches for 35 years. And I’ve represented individuals, I’ve worked with their families, I’ve seen what addiction does to families, as well as to the individuals. So when – the horrific impact that addiction has on the individuals, as well as families. At the same point in time, I have seen hope.

What we need to do is the – I’ve been through the war on drugs, I’ve been through the war on crime back in my early days, when I was a prosecutor. But, in terms of the injection sites, no one should die. As we’ve recognized with the criminal justice reform that putting individuals in jail with non-violent offenses, such as drug possession and things like that. That’s not the way we are going to be able to win the opioid crisis.

My concern is that we’ve had so many deaths in Broome County and we have had a – so many individuals that have been saved by NARCAN. So, I understand the safe injection sites are there so individuals could come in with the idea that, God forbid that they should overdose, that they would be able to be revived by NARCAN.

That, at the same point in time, as a district attorney, I take an oath to uphold the law, and if possession of narcotics is illegal, I must enforce that. So, in terms of being on the fence, I think I’d like to see where that’s going. I’m certainly open to it. No one should die from a drug overdose.

At the same point in time, my thinking is that I want to take any of our resources that we possibly can to try and get individuals into treatment, into collaborative services, drug-job training, trying to get them into an independent lifestyle, to give them hope. Because we’re not just talking about the addicts, we’re talking about the family members. The toll that it takes on, addiction takes on, an individual family and their children is astronomical. So, the idea is if we do have sites that individuals do come to, the idea is also be able to have the potential to be able to provide services to help them beat that addiction.

GA: You mentioned that this is sort of your first foray into, into politics and I think you sort of experienced that earlier during the general when former District Attorney Gerald Mollen, a Democrat, decided to endorse Paul Battisti. Why do you think that is? Why do you think he decided to go, you know, not with you, a Democrat?

DG: I really don’t know. With respect to, I have met Mr. Mollen very briefly. So, I would’ve liked to have an opportunity to be able to sit down and speak with him, explain my qualifications, and, quite frankly, as to understand a lot of what he did as a district attorney. I can’t specifically speak to why he might endorse Mr. Battisti. I can tell you that many people think that it was, instead of professional endorsement, it was a personal endorsement. In that, there has been a long-standing family relationship between Mr. Battisti’s family along with Gerry Mollen.

GA: Debra Gelson is the Democratic candidate for Broome County District Attorney. Debra, Thanks so much.

DG: Thank you.

Early voting is underway in New York and runs through November 3rd. Election Day is November 5th.