With the new year, comes a new position for Kathleen Rice, who left her post as Nassau County District Attorney (DA) to take on the role of Congresswoman for the Fourth District at the beginning of this month.
Rice will be replacing Carolyn McCarthy, who after an 18-year-term, decided not to seek reelection last November.
“I’m very comfortable [with Rice],” McCarthy said. “I sat down and talked to her after her election. She and I worked together for many years in the schools on bullying, gun violence, drugs.”
Rice says leaving her position as DA was “bittersweet,” but she’s happy with what she accomplished over the last nine years.
“It has been my great honor to serve the people of this county. I think I succeeded in what I promised to do back in 2005 when I was first running, in making this one of the best DA’s offices in the country,” says Rice. “I set out to make this office more proactive and progressive, and find innovative ways to solve problems.”
During her tenure, Rice has made strides in combating drunk driving and her efforts have led to statewide changes in DWI law and Long Island’s first DWI-related murder convictions. She also implemented the Terrace-Bedell Initiative, a non-violent offender-rehabilitation program that partnered with the community to reduce neighborhood crime. The initiative, which was rolled out in Hempstead, led to an 82 percent reduction in drug-related crime in what was for many years known as a prolific open air drug market.
“We showed we can be both tougher and smarter about crime. We worked with community elders to divert nonviolent criminals to social services,” said Rice. “Once we did that, the state and federal government took what we did and implemented similar programs on both levels, so I’m very proud of that.”
She’s also taken on cases that may typically be unconventional for a DA, including an SAT cheating scandal in 2011, which resulted in a series of convictions and changes in national test-taking security measures, and the trampling death of a Valley Stream Walmart employee during a Black Friday in 2008. That case led to increased safety protocols in Walmart stores nationwide.
“The expansive view I took was probably my proudest accomplishment. I took on a lot of cases DAs wouldn’t have done,” said Rice.
She says part of the reason she was able to accomplish so much is the “political independence” she’s maintained and not letting party politics get in the way of change.
“People don’t want to hear why things aren’t getting done. They want safe communities and quality education. They don’t want to hear the partisan bickering that has led to historic gridlock,” Rice said. “People don’t want gridlock to prevent them from building a better life for themselves.”
Helping her constituents get closer to the American dream will be one of her main goals as Congresswoman.
“There are so many obstacles keeping people from achieving that American dream—educational disparities, the high cost of education, stagnant wages. I want to help people overcomes those obstacles,” Rice said. “We have to grow economically from the middle out, support small business, fight outsources and make college more affordable. That’s the best way to support family—supporting jobs and increasing aid to low-income students.”
McCarthy was known for being a major gun control advocate, having lost her husband in the Long Island Rail Road Massacre in 1993, and Rice is confident she can pick up where McCarthy left off.
“Carolyn came at this issue from the victim perspective, what her family endured, no family should have to, and I give her enormous credit for turning that into a record of public service that is very admirable,” Rice said. “From my 25 years as a public servant in law enforcement I bring credibility to this role. It’s a different perspective, but it’s no less effective. It’s about gun violence. We want to get the guns off our street so kids can get a quality education that they deserve.”
Rice has pushed for her chief assistant Madeline Singas to take over as acting DA prior to being sworn in as congresswoman on Jan. 6. Singas was appointed acting DA the same day.
“My hope is that until there is an election (in November) this office is given the ability to run as it has under my leadership. The work we do here is critically important to the day-to-day life of people in the county,” Rice said.