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Republican by party: Rensselaer County district attorney candidate Greg Cholakis says nobody owns him.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Prosecutorial Conduct

Two seemingly well-qualified candidates duke it out for a chance to be Rensselaer County’s DA

 

In the mostly low-key race for district attorney in Rensselaer County, the oft-cited faults of the current embattled District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis, and her predecessor, Ken Bruno, loom large. Both attorneys, bidding to fill the position DeAngelis will be leaving at the end of this year, say that they have entered the race driven by a desire to fix a “dysfunctional justice system.”

“The last 10 years has either been degrading micromanagement or absent—M.I.A.,” said Republican candidate Greg Cholakis. “That needs to change.”

Cholakis has spent the past 14 years working in the Public Defender’s Office in Rensselaer County—10 of those years as the chief assistant public defender.

The prime source of the problem with the district attorney’s office will be gone at the end of this year regardless of who wins, Cholakis continued, but the most pressing issues with the office can be seen in the office’s turnover rate. Out of an office of 15 lawyers, he pointed out, there has been a turnover of 12 to 13 attorneys in the past three and a half years.

“That’s staggering,” he said. “Two-thirds of those were experienced prosecutors.” And with the exception of two people, both of whom have left, he said, the 12 people who have been hired have had no more than 18 months experience. This rate of turnover creates a hurried, unsure work environment, he said, and is symptomatic of deeper organizational failures.

Richard McNally, Cholakis’ Democratic opponent, agrees that the office needs serious overhaul: “The district attorney’s office shouldn’t be about chasing headlines,” he said. “We aren’t supposed to be looking over our shoulders, worrying about what [Metroland] is going to write, or what the Troy Record is going to write, or what the Times Union is going to write.”

“I think that that has been an issue. I think they decide on how they are going to pursue things based on a cynical, political analysis as opposed to the rule of law,” McNally continued. “The Republican party has a dominance [in Rensselaer County], but quite frankly, the enrollment isn’t reflective of that. They have been effective in using state money. My opponent is using state money. . . . That is what I am up against.”

It doesn’t take very long for a discussion of Rensselaer County politics to turn to the subject Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick).

“If you don’t see the pattern,” said McNally, “then I don’t know how you don’t see it. I think voters in this county are sick and tired of . . . the other side of the aisle running candidates based upon name recognition and not qualifications.”

“Go walk into the courthouse and find five people at random, and ask them this question,” Cholakis said, referring to the insinuation that he will be a political pawn of the Republican party, “and when they stop laughing, I think they will tell you that ‘Greg is one of the most independent people in this courthouse and always has been.’ Right is right; friends and family are one thing, but right is right and wrong is wrong. Rich has been backed by a party. I have been backed by a party.”

To date, McNally has raised $55,178, with the Rensselaer County Democratic Committee donating $1,000. Cholakis outpaces his opponent, having raised $82,232, with a $20,000 donation from the Rensselaer County Republican Committee. The Republican committee has enviably more money than the Democrats to throw at the race; at $463,003, the Republican fundraising in the county has outpaced the Democrats nearly 5 to 1.

“What you are dealing with is someone who has recognized that it is not a great year to be a Republican, from the president on down to Patricia DeAngelis, and the way to win this is, regardless of what he knows the truth to be, is to paint me as a—” Cholakis said, stopping himself. “He has done everything short of blaming the war in Iraq on me.”

McNally started out in Rensselaer County, working under then-District Attorney Jim Canfield, as an assistant district attorney, becoming chief assistant district attorney in 1989 after Canfield was elected to the bench.

“I have prosecuted every type of crime that has come through the office,” McNally said. “I have been practicing criminal law in the county for 20 years. I started out as a prosecutor, and I have been a public defender as well as an assistant district attorney.”

“That is why I am in this race,” McNally said. “I have got head and shoulders experience over my opponent.”

On the question of experience, Cholakis countered: “He likes to say that you can’t learn on the job, and that he learned from Jim Canfield. Jim Canfield, before he was elected district attorney, was a public defender; he was not a prosecutor.”

If you want to learn how to defend, Cholakis continued, you prosecute. And if you want to learn how to prosecute, you defend. “Because once you learn one side, you learn the other. The job of the defense attorney means that you necessarily know how to prosecute.” If you don’t know how to prosecute, he said, you have no idea how to knock holes in the opposing attorney’s case.

“I have been the chief trial lawyer for the past decade,” Cholakis said, adding that McNally has spent the same time in a private practice.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Investigation? What Investigation?

Saratoga Department of Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue held a press conference Monday after The Saratogian ran a story about allegations of an FBI investigation directed at McTygue, a story that Metroland first reported on Aug. 30 [“Investigation Overload,” Newsfront]. McTygue insisted that Mayor Valerie Keehn was behind the “rumors” of an FBI investigation and blamed his longtime political enemies for spreading them. McTygue held the conference on his 60-acre Saratoga horse farm that is outside the city limits.

Where Now Ripped Tunes?

Officials with Interpol and other national and international police agencies raided and shut down the Britain-based OiNK’s Pink Palace Monday. The well-known BitTorrent tracker was populated at one point by more than 180,000 members. The next day, an entry was up at Wikipedia stating that “Oink was the largest source of leaked albums in the world, claiming that it was responsible for leaking more than 60 major album releases in 2007 alone.” The Pink Palace was an invitation-only site and charged no fee for its members.

No Amnesty

Presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) garnered great public support and boatloads of donations this week when he announced he would put a hold on a FISA bill that would grant amnesty to telecommunication companies that provided the Bush administration with the private information of their customers. Dodd insisted that his first move as president would be to “restore the Constitution.” Other presidential candidates such as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) have yet to take a firm stance on the issue.

Prometheus Binding

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Prometheus v. Federal Communications Commission that then-Chairman Michael Powell’s attempts to further relax consolidation rules governing media corporations were illegal. This past week, current FCC Chair Kevin Martin took up the cause again, this time proposing the removal of rules forbidding the same media company from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market. Critics of Martin’s proposal say that such a move would lead to even less diversity in U.S. mainstream media.



Board of Exasperations

The frustrations of an Albany County Legislature candidate shed light on problems with the county election system

Anton Konev was annoyed afterthe Albany board of elections told him that they had lost his first Freedom of Information Act request to see the ballots he had received in his race for the Albany County Legislature in the 32nd District. He was angered when he put in a second request and was told he would have to FOIL that request if he wanted a copy of it. But what finally exasperated Konev was being told by election commissioners that hundreds of students from the University at Albany that he had registered to vote would not be listed on the eligible-voter list because they did not give their PO box on campus.

According to Konev, he had spent a great deal of time registering more than 100 students on the UAlbany campus to vote, only to have a number of students not added to valid voter lists because they gave their physical address on campus and not their PO box. (All students living on campus are assigned a PO box when they enroll.)

“They told me some of them would not be registered because they think if they send the mail to students that it will come back to them, which is not true because students are in the database, and the university will process them as long as they have a quad,” said Konev. “There is no reason to disenfranchise those voters.”

Albany County Republican Board of Elections commissioner John Graziano said that the problem with registering UAlbany students is one that has existed for years.

“In the SUNY Albany mail system, if you don’t put the box number on there, they don’t get their mail,” he said. “There are two different election districts on campus: One is Guilderland and one in the city. So they need to have a box number to get their mail. It has been a seven-year problem. We’ve talked to SUNY. We’ve talked to everybody.”

Konev has rallied students, politicians and members of a number of activist organizations to draw attention to what he sees as a violation of students’ rights, a violation he said should have been addressed years ago. He insisted that other transient populations are allowed to register, such as nursing-home patients. Konev wonders if the “problem” has been allowed to exist to keep student registration low in the district. Konev has also received a letter from Diane Cardone of the UAlbany Services Department that states that mail can be delivered to students who do not list a PO box number, but that it would take more time than usual.

Graziano, however, insisted the problem is one of logistics: “They are a transient population. It is hard for us to keep up with them. It is hard for the SUNY system to keep up, let alone us and the post office. We want them all to be able to register if they want to.”

In a separate issue, Konev, a Republican and the Citizens for Change candidate for Albany County Legislature, watched as the ballots were counted for the Independent and Conservative lines after the September primaries. When presented with the final tallies, he had clearly lost on those lines. However, the number of votes tallied by the Albany County Board of Elections was less than the number he had counted himself. So he requested to reinspect the ballots.

Konev was informed that he would have to file a Freedom of Information Law request, and he did. Seven business days later, Konev inquired about his FOIL request and was told it had been lost. He was instructed to fill out a second request for the same information. After his last experience with the board, he realized that he should ask for a copy of the request; he was told that to get a copy of his second FOIL request, he would have to fill out a third FOIL request.

“I spoke to the commissioner, and he told me they had already packed away the ballots in the back and I can’t see them, I can’t examine them, and it will take them months to make copies of them for me,” said Konev, exasperated. “But there are only around 50 ballots.”

Graziano told a different story.

“He was here when they were looked at,” he said. “Now he wants to FOIL ’em. I told him, ‘Why don’t you just come look at them again?’ It would be very difficult for us to go and get them, to pull them out by district as he crosses many election districts. It is very difficult for us to photocopy and give them to him. We will give him anything he wants, but everyone wants instant gratification.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net





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