say Roger Cusick needs the sky to fall in on incumbent Albany
District Attorney David Soares to have a hope of beating him;
Cusick says all he needs is time
Clyne didn’t even have the guts,” a man dressed in a gray
sweatshirt and a baseball cap is telling Roger Cusick, candidate
for Albany County district attorney. The man in the sweatshirt
is referring to former Albany District Attorney Paul Clyne’s
decision not to run against incumbent District Attorney David
Soares this year. In fact, up until Aug. 19, the last day
for independent candidates to file, it didn’t seem that anyone
had the nerve to do so.
on a stormy day in September, Cusick has stepped out of a
pick-up truck pulling a long, wide, white trailer that features
a Cusick/Integrity banner on its side (the campaign has dubbed
it the “Integrity Express”) to visit to the Bethlehem G.O.P.
picnic and begin rallying his base.
A group of elderly women sit at picnic tables, some slurping
soup, others munching burgers, as Cusick, dressed in a gray
suit and a cap that reads “Texas”—resembling a younger, healthier,
and more even-mannered John McCain—cranes his neck to speak
to them. The conversation begins awkwardly with Cusick trying
to introduce himself over the P.A. system, which blares John
Cusick, a former prosecutor who has taught law and political
science at local universities, admits that he has a tendency
to talk at length about issues in a wonkish
There is no doubt that he has professorial tendencies, but
Cusick knows how to get to the heart of his point.
I ran to replace Paul Clyne. I wanted to take his job,” Cusick
reminds the man who is zealously encouraging him to defeat
Ask Cusick about that race, and he will tell you he didn’t
lose—he just “ran out of time.”
In the article breaking the news of Cusick’s entry into the
race, Albany Conservative Party chairman Richard Stack told
the Times Union, “At the end of the day, Roger’s a
long shot. But he has a shot. He has a puncher’s chance.”
Cusick says the citizens of Albany County took a gamble on
Soares. “They are getting to know the man they voted for.
And a lot of them don’t like what they see,” says Cusick.
Soares says he does not feel he is running against Cusick.
He says he feels he is running against “the political apparatus”
he had to defeat four years ago to become district attorney.
you told me three and a half years ago we would be here now,
having this conversation, I would have been shocked,” says
Soares. “I am prepared to stand by my record and talk about
the accomplishments of my office.”
Cusick introduces himself to attendees at the Bethlehem G.O.P.
picnic, and as soon as they realize he is running for district
attorney they light up, ready to gripe about Soares. “This
is where it starts,” Cusick says.
A man pulls a NASCAR jacket over his head to protect himself
from a steady mist of rain that has begun to fall as he ventures
out to the grill.
Only a day earlier, Albany County Judge Stephen Herrick had
dismissed Soares’ case against Signature Compounding Pharmacy
in Florida—by nearly all interpretations, handing Soares a
defeat (at least temporarily) in the nationally reported steroids
prosecution that is his highest-profile case to date. That
blow to Soares came only a month after an audit by Albany
County Comptroller Michael Conners revealed fiscal mismanagement
and irresponsibility in Soares’ office.
Despite Soares’ two very public failings, Cusick is still
considered a long shot. Why?
One: Cusick is a Republican. Although running on a hastily
put together Integrity Party ticket, Cusick has been registered
as a Republican for years in a county that is known as a Democratic
And for that matter, Cusick acknowledges that he hasn’t been
terribly involved with the G.O.P. “I don’t owe them anything.
And I don’t owe the Democrats,” he says proudly.
Second: Cusick is a two-time loser. Cusick is seen in some
circles as a politician in theory—more accustomed to teaching
politics than actually practicing it.
Cusick lost to Soares in 2004, even after incumbent Clyne
dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Cusick.
Cusick took home 57,202 votes to Soares’ 75,610. Clyne received
about 5,000 votes despite having dropped out.
And last year Cusick ran against Albany County Executive Mike
Breslin. Cusick campaigned methodically, outlining his criticism
of Breslin’s status as an entrenched insider. In the end it
was futile. The count was 17,560 for Cusick to Breslin’s 48,599.
Although Breslin’s name recognition and long-term presence
in county politics might be taken as an excuse for Cusick’s
sound defeat, it’s not likely Cusick will have an easier time
running against Soares, who has garnered intense national
attention over the last year for his steroid prosecution.
Soares’ campaign coffers are stocked, while Cusick has barely
That said, thanks to a scandal over finances, the dismissal
of the pharmaceutical case, and the barrage from New York
City media about Soares’ investigation into Troopergate, Soares
appears more vulnerable now than at any other time since his
speech in Vancouver, Canada, in 2006, when he said that the
war on drugs provides “law enforcement officials with lucrative
Although Soares has become more of an established figure in
Albany, Cusick thinks he has enough ammo to give Soares a
few more wounds.
There are some who insist that Cusick is simply waiting for
another scandal to shake up Soares’ office. They are sure
Fred Dicker of the New York Post is feeding Cusick
with ammunition and innuendo to level against Soares. But
Cusick says his criticisms of Soares and the job he has done
as district attorney are fundamental.
His most basic criticism is that convictions under Soares
have decreased. According to the Division of Criminal Justice
Services, the drug felony conviction and incarceration rates
under Soares have declined. They show a 90.1 percent rate
in 2003 under Clyne, 86.6 percent in 2004 under Clyne and
a decrease from an 87.7 percent conviction rate high for Soares
in 2005 to an 81.4 percent conviction rate in 2007.
The conviction rate in Albany County for violent felony arrests
also declined under Soares, going from a high of 85.4 percent
under Clyne in 2002 to 77.8 percent in 2007 under Soares.
DCJS warns that these percentages should be taken with a grain
of salt because of alternative sentencing programs. Furthermore,
decline in crime rates also affect prosecution rates, and
New York as a whole has seen a decline in crime rates over
the past few years.
number of assistant D.A.s went from 34 to 43 under Soares,
while his budget went up,” says Cusick. “Meanwhile, his conviction
rate is down, so he is effectively doing less with more.”
Cusick says he finds it interesting that the Albany County
District Attorney’s Web site lists crime stats only until
the year 2004.
Soares says Cusick’s assertions are absurd. “I’ve always laughed
at this notion where people say in order to be a great prosecutor
and to demonstrate the public safety apparatus is working
fine you need more arrests and more indictments. It’s just
the opposite,” says Soares. “If things are getting better
you are going to see a decrease in violent felonies and crime.
I think we have seen a decrease in violent crimes and recidivism
over the last few years, thanks to a healthier working relationship
with all law enforcement and an increase in shared information.
Furthermore, alternatives to incarceration contributed to
that. These are cases that instead of sending people to state
prison we are sending to drug court. If people are not re-offending
we don’t have any new cases to prosecute.”
Perhaps the most striking of Cusick’s contentions is that
Soares has taken the prosecutorial office that was run by
Clyne and turned it into a political office where prosecutors
are separated from the district attorney by the director of
administration, director of operations and director of communications.
Cusick carries around the diagrams from Clyne’s and Soares’
administrations. In Clyne’s chart, the office is organized
with Clyne at the head of the office with the assistant district
attorney under him and the separate prosecutorial units under
The diagram of Soares’ office is more complex, adding the
director of operations, director of administration, and director
of communications positions under Soares, as well as the Public
Integrity Unit, on top of the assistant district attorney
through whom the prosecutorial units run.
Cusick alleges that the directors positions were all positions
created to reward Soares loyalists.
got his three musketeers,” says Cusick: “The director of operations
is his buddy, the police officer Chris D’Allesandro; the director
of administration is Richard Arthur, former or present Working
Families Party leader: the director of communications is the
successor to Rachel McEneny, daughter of the assemblyman.
These are all political payoffs. These are his political cronies.
He reorganized the office to create these positions.”
Soares does not take Cusick’s accusation lightly.
would say it is awfully dangerous for a person vying for the
district attorney’s office to make scurrilous allegations
without evidence and facts to support it,” says Soares. “Is
this what you would expect of his prosecutions?”
Furthermore, Soares says the political affiliation of his
staff members is not an issue. “I have never asked members
of this office for their political affiliations. I have never
asked any member of the staff for their affiliation. It does
not count for anything as far as this office is concerned.”
More attention has been focused on the makeup of Soares’ office
lately, thanks to the audit by Conners’ office, which found
Soares’ petty-cash account to have been grossly mismanaged
The audit stated: “In over 130 petty cash audits during the
past 12 1/2 years our office has never encountered the problems
with basic bookkeeping, accounting and petty cash account
management that the director of administration for the office
of the district attorney presents.”
The audit led to the conclusion among local insiders that
Arthur would have to be dismissed. However, Soares has taken
responsibility for the accounting errors and has not publicly
admonished Arthur. Arthur had previously served as communications
director for Soares.
Conners told Metroland that relations with Soares’
office have improved since the audit came out; chiefly, he
said, because he was no longer dealing with Arthur, who he
found to be argumentative.
said in the audit that Arthur’s responses are more damning
than his original efforts to handle the financial affairs
of the office,” said Conners. “Richard never even opened bank
statements. The basic principle of managing your finances
is when you get a statement you open it. It is ineptitude,
and an unwillingness to conform with accepted accounting practices.
Everybody has to make a living, but you shouldn’t have this
guy handle the money.”
Conners’ office is currently working with Soares’ office on
further financial matters and audits, but Conners says he
is in a hurry to move on to “more important matters.”
sure Mr. Cusick would like me to say something that I can’t
say,” concludes Conners.
Soares says his office has increased its efforts to properly
manage the office’s finances. Soares has also created a fiscal
work group to scrutinize his office’s finances.
integrity is always important to me,” says Soares. “If there
are fiscal issues that need to be addressed they will be.
At the end of the day, we are crime fighters. This operation
has grown financially, and the office has expanded. With that
expansion comes additional responsibility. If we need to shore
up procurements and look at how we are spending money, this
is the kind of information the fiscal work group will help
Cusick, however, says he expects the scrutiny of Soares’ finances
to turn up more discrepancies. He also notes that Albany County
legislator and Republican minority leader Christine Benedict
has made public her frustration in dealing with Soares’ office
while trying to get information about the office’s travel
expenditures and purchases and its communications with the
At the G.O.P. picnic, an elderly woman interrupts Cusick to
tell him, “The police chief supports you!” “The cops don’t
like him!” He responds, “Everybody knows somebody who knows
someone in law enforcement, and they have had enough of him.”
Cusick pauses for a moment, smiling, and says, “I’m preaching
to the choir here.”
Earlier in the day, before the picnic at the headquarters
of Council 82, Cusick stands in front of a podium, framed
by the wall behind him, which is plastered with yellow-and-blue
A representative of the police union announces its endorsement
of Cusick, and the two men move to take questions. A reporter
from the Times Union asks what the union’s relationship
with Soares is like. The representative declines to comment,
citing the fact that members of the union have to work with
Soares on a daily basis. The representative says the endorsement
“speaks for itself,” backing away from the question. Cusick,
however, jumps at the chance to infer that Soares’ relations
with police are sour.
have a wonderful working relationship with the Albany police
department and members of the Council 82 union,” says Soares.
“What the union is espousing is not necessarily indicative
of all of their membership. We work together every day. The
notion we don’t get along is not true.”
However, Soares says he would have declined Council 82’s endorsement
had they offered it to him. “I don’t agree with the policies
and philosophies of Council 82. I wholeheartedly disagree
with them about their contention that officers should be allowed
the consumption of alcohol before their shifts. I would have
declined their endorsement if they had offered it.”
Soares’ relationship with the Albany City Police Department
has indeed been contentious at times. Chief James Tuffey and
Mayor Jerry Jennings slammed Soares after his speech in Vancouver
for calling the fight against drugs “lucrative” for some officers
of the law. However, Soares says he feels the incident was
Albany County Sheriff James Campbell, who came out against
Soares after his Vancouver speech, appeared at Soares’ campaign
kickoff this year. Campbell told Metroland, “I was
initially part of the group who were annoyed by what he said
in Vancouver . . . but since that time he did apologize. We
get along. We’ve had a few rough roads, to be honest with
you. We’ve had some communication gaps, but it’s nothing we
Soares also has the endorsement of the New York State Troopers
And Soares said he thinks he and the APD have worked well
together, taking down and prosecuting “networks, instead of
a straight focus on lower-level dealers,” because of their
healthy working relationship.
whole steroids thing is nonsense,” a man at the picnic tells
Cusick. “He has other things to worry about.”
never heard of a steroids house in Albany,” Cusick responds.
“He needs to be fighting real crime. People are killing each
other in Albany, and he’s off on vacation in Florida. I don’t
want to catch a stray bullet driving down Henry Johnson Boulevard.”
Cusick points to the steroid prosecution that saw Soares travel
to Florida to announce Operation Which Doctor. Soares’ prosecution
of those involved in pharmacies that illegally sell steroids
over the Internet has been a rallying cry for those who oppose
Cusick says that the case was “simply headline chasing,” adding,
“The problem with this particular act is how much of a drain
it was on Albany County assets. There are only so many prosecutorial
hours, and you’ve got to decide if this is where it is best
Soares says that Operation Which Doctor netted the county
nearly a million dollars in forfeiture funds while combatting
illegal drug sales that were made to citizens of Albany County.
The dismissal of the crowning prosecution of Operation Which
Doctor has only increased the criticism, and Cusick says it
has validated his accusations that Soares is an inexperienced
Herrick’s decision indicated that the grand jurors who were
hearing the counts against Signature Pharmacy were not given
the proper information. The decision explained that the grand
jury was not informed that certain counts had been dismissed
and that the jury members were not given competent instruction.
its best, it is sloppy prosecutorial behavior to allow your
indictment to be thrown out,” says Cusick. “At its worst,
it could be deemed to be prosecutorial misconduct.”
Soares says he finds Herrick’s dismissal of the Signature
Compounding Pharmacy case “hard to swallow” in light of the
success his office had in obtaining guilty pleas from a majority
of the 24 defendants. “I don’t agree with Judge Herrick’s
decision. And that’s why we moved steadfastly in appealing
the decision. A case that had such scope and took out a number
of clinics that had an impact on Albany County—for 17 of 24
people to plead guilty who also pointed the finger at the
principals involved—it’s hard to swallow that the same judge
can turn around and say the case was complex and there were
errors committed in the grand jury.”
Cusick says very simply that he disagrees with the direction
Soares has taken the district attorney’s office. “He is a
wanna-be legislator and policy maker,” says Cusick. “D.A.s
can be policy makers, but they cannot be legislators, and
that is part of his problem.”
Cusick says Soares’ “headline chasing” and commitment to abolish
the Rockefeller drug laws have distracted the office from
Cusick also considers Soares’ “Enough” initiative, which offers
owners of illegal guns gift certificates for turning them
in, a hollow gesture that creates headlines without truly
addressing the problem.
office has got to get to its basic task of prosecuting crime,”
says Cusick. “The other D.A.s of the other 61 counties in
this state are not out chasing headlines.”
Soares says he is not chasing headlines. “I don’t control
the media,” says Soares. “I didn’t send out a press release
for the Sandra Beth Geisel case. I didn’t send a press release
when Chris Porco committed the acts we prosecuted. I didn’t
create the acts that brought Mr. Hevesi before the Albany
County district attorneys office. I believe that over the
course of the last four years we have seen things in this
county we haven’t seen before, and I did not create those
circumstances, but my office had to deal with them under a
tremendous amount of scrutiny.”
Despite his criticisms, however, Cusick understands that Soares
has filled a void critics say has been left by other prominent
Albany politicians. Soares is in a position of considerable
power, and he speaks about the troubles that affect the communities
that other politicians ignore. Soares has come to represent
more in Albany than a typical district attorney might. Cusick
says he feels that Soares has simply chosen the wrong position
to enact the change he wants.
And while Cusick calls for a return to straightforward prosecution
of crime, Soares says he will not ignore the fact that, as
Albany County’s district attorney, he has oversight over the
most powerful politicians in the state and influence over
policy made there.
county is so important geographically,” says Soares. “It is
so important politically. And honestly, I have watched people
in leadership refer to this as little Smallbany. I don’t think
they have created a vision for this community. We are two-and-a-half
and three hours away from three of the world’s most important
markets: New York, Montreal, and Boston. We have a vital role
to play in everything from economics to government policy.
We should be shaping policy for the entire state, yet we still
have leaders that bicker over little tribal issues. As long
as we have that kind of attitude that exists here we are never
going to really fulfill what I believe Albany is destined
Cusick and pundits in New York City may not like Soares’ insistence
on using that power in the Hevesi case or Spitzer investigation
(cases that Cusick insists Soares whitewashed for his party),
it is likely that many residents of Albany don’t mind that
their hometown district attorney has that influence.
One of the largest issues of the campaign is that Cusick is
working on short time. Having only joined the race in September,
Cusick has yet to do very much door-to-door campaigning. So
far, he has spent most of time preaching to the choir.
Meanwhile, Soares has been actively campaigning in suburban
communities like Delmar, as well as more urban areas in Albany.
A debate between the pair is scheduled for Oct. 7 at Albany
While Soares has been seen as a candidate focused on urban
issues, he has strong support from the progressive communities
that live in Albany’s suburbs and surrounding rural areas.
As Democratic Assemblyman and Soares supporter Jack McEneny
wrote about the first contest between Soares and Cusick in
his book, Albany Capital City on the Hudson, “David
Soares was a black man sent to a top law-enforcement job by
overwhelmingly white votes. The truth is that if every person
of color had stayed home on election day, or even that, of
those who voted, 100 percent had voted for his opponent, David
Soares still would have become DA.”
It is up to Cusick to catch up to Soares’ wide base of support,
and so far Cusick seems to be pacing himself. Cusick says
he would like to start meeting with neighborhood associations
are going to ramp up voter contact, and we expect serious
endorsements shortly,” says Cusick. “It’s retail politics—one
step at a time. This is really a referendum on David Soares.
A lot of people are interested in my ideas, but the vast majority
are interested in what is the problem with him?”
am running against the same political apparatus that has maintained
control in various offices within the county for quite some
time,” says Soares. “I pose a significant problem for these
apparatuses because I am truly independent, and they haven’t
figured out my motivations. They can’t control me or make
a phone call to clear the way for things they want.”
think I am going to get a lot of Democratic votes,” says Cusick.
“I am going to get the base Republican votes. And I know I
am going to get a lot of independents. People are going to
tune in, and what’s happening now is that those in politics
are reenergized to a reality of a race that wasn’t there two
Soares says, in the end, despite talk of his being a headline
grabber and a statewide political player, his future plans
am going to be district attorney of Albany County as long
as my constituency agrees with the direction we have created
for this county. I think Albany County has so much more to
offer to the rest of the state. So, as long as I am here,
I am going to be a proud supporter of our upstate counties
and communities and continue to do my job faithfully and honestly.”
A woman laughs with Cusick as she brings up Soares’ Troopergate
investigation. She mentions something she heard about Soares
on a talk-radio show. Another woman tells Cusick she was excited
to see the news about the pharmaceutical case being case dismissed.
Cusick smiles, reassured that people are paying attention.
He later tells Metroland, “Those are the perils of
chasing headlines. You take on a case like the steroids case
and you get headlines. But if it fails, you get headlines
all over the country that call you a failure.”