With just 13 days until the election for the Broome County District Attorney seat, SUNY Broome Community College (BCC) held a formal debate between district attorney candidates Paul Battisti, Debra Gelson and Michael Korchak at the Angelo Zuccolo Little Theatre in the Student Center on Wednesday night.
At the debate, each candidate discussed their ideas and visions for improving the legislative framework of Broome County Family Court, and their thoughts on how to decrease the amount of crime that occurs within Broome County.
The November election contains three candidates: Battisti for the Republican party, Korchak for the Libertarian party and Gelson for the Democratic party. The debate was made possible through the collaborative efforts of SUNY Broome, the League of Women Voters of Broome and Tioga Counties, the Binghamton University Center for Civic Engagement, the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere at BU and WSKG Public Media. For many BU and BCC students, the debate was their first encounter with the candidates.
Korchak, a graduate of Holy Cross College and the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, touted his insider experience as the current chief assistant district attorney of Broome County.
“I took my first job back in 1989 at the Bronx County District Attorney’s office because I wanted to work in the most challenging environment that I could find,” Korchak said. “I’ve been a prosecutor for 21 years, 30 years as an attorney. I’ve been chief assistant for the last four years and have been supervising the violent crimes drill. This is the type of experience you need to be district attorney. You need to be a trial attorney. You can’t just handle cases, plead cases out in court. You have to be prepared. The job is to protect the community, evaluate cases, but most of all to get justice for victims and that’s what I’ve been doing for 21 years.”
Battisti focused his opening statement on how crucial it is to improve the lives of Broome County citizens for the next generation, and noted he is the only candidate who was born and raised in Broome County.
“Since a very young age, I’ve always given back to the community,” Battisti said. “I set out numerous boards throughout the community, and then I became an attorney, and after becoming an attorney, I began a very successful law practice here in Broome County. That practice [brought] me throughout the state of New York. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work.”
Battisti opened up on the current state of communities in Broome County, asserting he will aim to do what he was taught by his parents: to give back.
“I see the community that [my children] are currently living in,” Battisti said. “You can’t open up the paper in the morning and listen to the radio without hearing about gunshots, robberies [and] we’re losing the opioid epidemic battle. Things must change. I’m committed to being that change agent. I’m committed to doing everything I can do, implementing a team approach, to always do what I was always taught by my parents — give back to the community and make it better for the next generation.”
After Battisti claimed the Republican nomination in July over Korchak by 173 votes, Korchak decided to relaunch a new campaign under the Libertarian Party.
“I will continue to run my campaign based on experience,” Korchak said. “My belief is that the voters in Broome County are very smart. They will do their research, they will do their homework, they will look up the candidates and make an informed decision in November.”
Gelson, who has worked in criminal law for 35 years, as a prosecutor for 15 years and as a judge for 10 years, said her experience in children and women’s rights law and understanding of the need for collaborative services in the community makes her the most qualified to be Broome County’s newest district attorney.
“I became an attorney growing up from upstate New York because I wanted to protect children, and I went on to do so,” Gelson said. “I became a prosecutor in New Jersey, working my way up and handling some of the most serious and violent criminals that you could imagine. I am proud to have taken part in creating the first Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit in the state, and one of the first in the nation.”
Gelson also said she aims to combat the drug addiction crisis through her experience creating assistance programming for drug-addicted mothers.
“What I learned from that experience is that there is hope, but we need to have collaborative services,” Gelson said. “I am the only candidate that sits up here that has the understanding to be able to implement the change that we need, for we have individuals who need help who are no longer going to be incarcerated because the legislator has already recognized that mass incarceration does not work.”
Gelson recently called on Republican candidate Battisti to pull a campaign commercial she claimed was filled with false information about her. The ad asserted that Gelson had handled only a small number of criminal cases since she moved to Binghamton in 2017 to work at the local office of Tully Rinckey, PLLC. Gelson rejected this assertion and said she has been assigned to over 50 cases of serious felony criminal matters since she had started her new position in Binghamton.
General elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5.