BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (WIVT/WBGH) – The race for Broome County’s top prosecutor features two men who have never prosecuted a case.
District Attorney candidates Republican Paul Battisti and Democrat Matt Ryan share other similarities and some stark differences. Both men support adding crime prevention programs and say they’re focused on unity.
Both men were born and raised in Broome County and graduated from Catholic schools. Battisti has been a criminal defense attorney for 15 years, including volunteering for drug court, and has represented major police unions. A major goal of his is to heal a rift between the DA’s office and officers on the street.
“There’s a principle that unity is strength, division is weakness. I want to work together because if we work together, the benefit of that is a safer community,” said Battisti.
Matt Ryan also worked criminal defense in the Public Defender’s Office before serving two terms as Binghamton Mayor. He wants to be a progressive DA with a focus on social justice. A major goal of his is to improve relations between law enforcement and communities of color.
“The biggest thing I have is that I surround myself with good people. I’m not the most brilliant person in the world, but I’m tenacious and I fight hard, and I do things ethically,” said Ryan.
Both men would like to bolster diversion programs aimed at getting more defendants into treatment for mental illness or substance abuse, rather than prison. Battisti, who is a board member of the Addiction Center of Broome County, wants to establish a mental health court as well as an option for opioid addicts to go right into treatment from arraignment.
“We can’t set bail on them, we can’t remand them, but we can offer them the opportunity to go dramatically that day, right into a treatment program right here in Broome County. By collaborating with Helio Health, the Sheriff’s Department, ACBC, we can save lives. We’ve got to start saving lives because this is not a situation we can arrest our way out of it,” said Battisti.
Ryan says his focus will be on preventing crime in the first place by offering alternatives. He wants to expand job opportunities through apprenticeships with trade unions.
“I’m going to have a grant writer, just like I did when I was mayor. We’re going to create a pot of money and I hope they’re going to let us use some of this traffic diversion money, to do things that will prevent crime in the first place,” said Ryan.
Battisti says he’ll also pursue grants to support staff to handle the increased demands created by discovery reform. He says failure to prosecute some defendants due to discovery errors has lead to discontent among arresting officers. Battisti says that’s one reason many local police unions have supported him. Ryan and others have criticized those endorsements saying it compromises Battisti’s ability to investigate police misconduct. Battisti insists he would follow his ethical duty.
“I don’t think it’s an issue, it shouldn’t be an issue. I think a positive working relationship with the men and women of law enforcement only benefits our community. We don’t have that now,” said Battisti.
The candidates disagree on the issue of school resource officers. Battisti wants to expand the program within the DA’s office while Ryan is skeptical about the value. Some have criticized Ryan for cutting the number of Binghamton police officers while he was Mayor. Ryan says it was part of spending cuts across the board to fix the city’s finances. Plus, he suggests other ways to address people in crisis.
“When we hire mental health teams to go out and deal with people in our community that are on the streets that have mental health problems, that takes that off the police, that takes that off their plate,” said Ryan.
For Battisti, it ultimately comes down to an unacceptable level of crime in our community. He says his number one goal is to make Broome County safer for his family and every family for generations to come.
“Broome County is blessed to have incredible community partners but you’ve got to work with them. You’ve got to reach out. You’ve got to extend the olive branch. If we collaborate, the possibilities are endless. I am so excited to see what we can do when we all work together and that’s going to start on January first,” said Battisti.
Ryan accuses Battisti of using a common Republican scare tactic of exaggerating crime. And he argues that locking more people up does not make the community safer. Ryan says he has plenty of gas in the tank for this new venture.
“I still have a lot of energy. I swim a mile and a quarter every day. I eat healthy. It’s a little harder to get out of bed in the morning, but I don’t think anybody thinks I’m not vital and that I can’t handle this. I plan on doing the best job possible and putting together the best team possible when I’m elected,” said Ryan.
With assistant DA’s leaving the office while current DA Mike Korchak’s term winds down, both men acknowledge that hiring a staff quickly will be a top priority for whomever succeeds in switching tables in the courtroom.
The election is November 7th, although a nine day early voting period begins tomorrow.
For hours and polling places, go to broomevotes.com.
Full Interview with Paul Battisti:
Full Interview with Matt Ryan: