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 the election, we’re sitting down with each of the candidates. I’m joined now by Libertarian Candidate Mike Korchak.
You know, you’re running as a Libertarian after running as a Republican in the primary. Is that a change in political philosophy? Or did it result from just, you know, you believe you should be district attorney and you needed to get on the ballot and that’s the way it works in New York?
MIKE KORCHAK: Right, that’s exactly the case. My philosophy has not changed just by the fact that I switched parties. I believe I said earlier, in another forum, that all three candidates went for the Libertarian line; myself, Ms. Gelson and Mr. Battisti. We all interviewed for the Libertarian. So, Mr. Battisti and I both went for the Libertarian and the Republican. We split that. He got the Republican, I got the Libertarian. So, here we are again. So, we’re just going to continue on and may the best candidate win.
GA: Getting into some of the issues now, one thing your office has done quite a bit is worked with the opioid epidemic in trying to reduce the number of overdose deaths. Describe, as much as you can, some of the minutia of that work and what the folks out there should know heading into election day.
MK: Okay. Obviously one overdose death is too much, but we have been able to work with law enforcement, the Broome County Health Department, Broome County Emergency Services to educate the public as to the dangers.
Now, it’s multi-layered because there’s an opioid crisis, meaning individuals get addicted to the opioids at some point in time and then they move on to heroin and the heroin is laced with fentanyl and that’s what’s been causing a lot of the deaths in our community.
Over the last three years, when we started in the office the first year that I came in as Chief Assistant under Steve Cornwell, there were 76 overdose deaths in the county. It was then reduced to 66 and then 31. We’re on a pace similar to that, but for the spike we had earlier this year in March of the fentanyl deaths.
The way we did that was we got together with, as I said, the health department, emergency services and law enforcement and informed the public. We have school resource officers now in the schools to inform our youth of the dangers of drug use. We’ve also been able to expand drug court. There’s three times as many individuals in the drug court as there used to be. I think these are significant steps.
Steve Cornwell has implemented a program where there’s treatment as an alternative to prosecution. Where someone with a low-level offense, who may have an addiction problem, is put into treatment rather than put into jail.
I think these are important programs because we obviously want to hit the drug dealers hard and if you’re selling fentanyl in Broome County, we’re going to do everything we can to send you to prison. I mean heroin with fentanyl in it. If you’re doing that, we want to send you to state prison. But if you’re a user, if you’re someone who’s fallen on hard times, who has a problem, who commits a crime because they’re addicted, we want to take care of that problem because having people repeat the same crimes is not good for the community, not good for that individual, and we would prefer to have people in treatment rather than jail if that is there problem.
GA: What’s the next step with that. You know, the work that you’re doing. What’s an example of a program or something else that you take to the next step now. As far as handling this issue.
MK: Well, we also have implemented a workforce program for young adults. This is a very good program that’s been developed over the past year. It’s a new program. We’re trying to get individuals who have committed a crime, a low-level offense, non-violent offense to get into the workforce program. The workforce program teaches individuals job skills, they’ll help individuals put a resume together, get clothing if they need to to go on a job interview, and we’ve worked with several employers to try and get them to sign up with us to get individuals work. Because if you’re working and collecting a paycheck, you’re less likely to be committing a crime.
GA: A lot of has been made especially in recent years, in recent weeks, about the relationship between police and people of color in the City of Binghamton and the surrounding areas. And then there’s the issue that’s sort of bubbling up about the deaths with Broome County jail inmates. Now, I know you can’t speak about any specific case, but what’s the role of the D.A. in handling these kind of race-related issues.
MK: Obviously, if there’s any bias crimes committed the D.A. looks into that. One of the best things that’s happened, as far as the District Attorney’s office goes with law enforcement, is the use of these body cameras. Every arrest is recorded. We had an incident down I think outside the YWCA, earlier this year or the end of last year, where there was an incident and there were accusations leveled. We were able to get the body cameras and review the whole thing. All the officers involved had body cameras on.
I think this is very important because this information starting January 1st, with the Discovery Reform laws, will have body cameras turned over to defense attorneys and defendants within 15 days of when they’re originally charged.
GA: And that’s a state law.
MK: That will be the state law and that’s implemented January 1st. So that way, defense attorneys and the defendant, his or herself, will have the video of their arrest. It can be reviewed by outside agencies it can be reviewed by the defendant or defense attorney as well as the D.A.’s office to see if there’s any improper conduct that occurred on the part of anyone during the course of an arrest.
As far as the jail deaths go, I think what’s important to point out to the public is there’s a difference between criminal liability and civil liability. A lot of individuals go into the jail and they’re not in the best of health. It’s appears to me self-reported. When they come in, they fill out paperwork, they indicate what physical problems they have, if they need to receive any medication. But if that information doesn’t get to the medical unit, that’s going to be a problem for that person that they don’t receive the medication or the treatment that they need. Obviously if there’s any involvement in criminal activity, the Broome County D.A.’s office and local authorities will investigate that to see if there’s any criminality involved.
GA: Mike Korchak is the Libertarian candidate for Broome County District Attorney. Mike, thanks so much.
MK: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Early voting is underway in New York and runs through November 3rd. Election Day is November 5th.