HERKIMER — With only one candidate present, it couldn’t be called a debate, but Michael Daley, who is challenging incumbent Jeffrey Carpenter in Tuesday’s primary for the Republican nomination for Herkimer County district attorney, addressed supporters and the public at a forum Wednesday evening at the Herkimer VFW.
"I believe the people, the voters, deserve to hear from both candidates," said Daley.
He criticized Carpenter for refusing to take part in a debate.
Carpenter said in a news conference Tuesday he had not been asked to participate. Daley said that wasn’t true; he had asked Carpenter through radio interviews, through Herkimer County Republican Chairwoman Sylvia Rowan, in a posting on Carpenter’s Facebook page and through a written request delivered to his office. When contacted Tuesday, Rowan confirmed Daley had requested a debate, but said the county Republican Committee had already endorsed Carpenter for DA and would not be sponsoring a debate between the candidates.
"I am a firm believer that anyone running for an office at this level, the highest law enforcement position in the county, owes the public an opportunity to ask relevant questions in a public arena," Daley said in a news release sent out Wednesday to notify the media the forum would take place despite the fact Carpenter would not be participating.
When reached by telephone on Thursday, Carpenter said, "I believe he did request of Sylvia Rowan that the Republican Committee sponsor a debate. I do not sit on the Republican Committee and they do not run my campaign. They made their own independent decision that I had nothing to do with."
He added the letter Daley referred to was sent at 3 p.m. on Tuesday after Daley had announced the debate at 10 a.m. that same day.
"He set it up the week before, but didn’t invite me until 3 p.m. Tuesday. I don’t think anyone can set up a debate, forget to tell the opponent about it and expect them to come," said Carpenter.
"The only person who wants a debate is Mike Daley. I do not see a need to engage in a debate with the Democratic candidate prior to the Republican primary," he added.
In addition to criticizing Carpenter for not taking part in a debate, Daley criticized his record, saying he allowed defendants’ attorneys to plea bargain for lower sentences, even for defendants charged with major crimes such as child molestation. He said a Cub Scout leader in Dolgeville had molested young boys — "There are 20 victims that we know of" — but was convicted on only one felony count and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
"He’ll be out in six years and back in the same community before the youngest victims are out of high school," he said.
Daley contrasted this to the way he had handled a similar case when he served as district attorney, bringing two young boys into the courtroom several times prior to their court appearance to make sure they were comfortable there. The defendant was sentenced to "130 well deserved years" in prison, he said. He added the boys’ counselor said they made the biggest leap in their recovery after they had testified in court.
"This case infuriates me," Carpenter said when asked about the Cub Scout molestation case in a telephone interview. He said he had resolved the case with the individual admitting his guilt and in addition to a nine-year prison sentence, the accused was sentenced to 20 years of post-release supervision. "That plea and sentence has established that he can be civilly confined potentially for the rest of his life." That means he would have to be examined and a doctor would have to confirm he would not be a danger to the community before he could be released, he said.
"What infuriates me is that I made that decision without any regard for the effect it would have on Jeff Carpenter," he added. "It was based solely on the effect it was having on the children involved and what was in their best interest and I met with those children and I met with their parents. When children are victimized by adults they are thrust into adult criminal justice system where the offender has constitutional rights to confront his accusers. This is very traumatic for children. Some can handle it and some cannot. And it is not the job of the DA to further victimize children. That has already been done. It is my job to look out for these children and that is what I did."
Daley said he is concerned for the victims, for those in the community who could be in danger in the future and for the defendants themselves, particularly young people. Unless a teen committed a violent crime, he said, he worked with the youth and the family to get the young person on the right path.
He also said cases involving defendants being held in the county jail are not being moved along quickly enough and because many prisoners are being boarded out to neighboring counties the high cost is being borne by county taxpayers.
"The old saying ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ is true," he said.
"We have a jail situation which does not have anything to do with the district attorney’s office," said Carpenter when reached by telephone. "Defendants have speedy trial rights. We are held to a standard and we operate within that standard. Do some cases take longer than others? Absolutely. It depends on the facts and circumstances of the case."
Daley said people have asked why he chose to run for district attorney again and he is running to serve the community.
"What needs to be corrected will be corrected immediately," he said. "I do it because it’s right, not because it’s easy."
Little Falls Mayor Mark Blask asked what Daley would do as DA to combat the heroin problem.
Daley said when he was DA he worked with area police agencies to screen people being arrested for potential informants so law enforcement agencies could identify and arrest drug dealers.
"Every time you convict one drug dealer, two others leave the county," he said.
When asked about the heroin epidemic, Carpenter said, "Heroin is national crisis and Herkimer County is not immune. We are out there conducting investigations and making arrests every single day to try to address the problem. I’ve got a strong law enforcement community which is actively conducting these investigations. In most cases we provide the buy money, assist in equipment purchases. We work closely with them to apply for and in the execution of search warrants."