Illuzzi and McMahon Debate Recap
By Clifford Michel
Joan Illuzzi and Michael McMahon argued over gun control and budget issues during the only televised debate in the race for Staten Island district attorney on October 6.
The two candidates revealed that they had a fundamental difference in how they viewed the qualifications for the office in front of the over 400 people who packed out the Williamson Theater at the College of Staten Island.
The event was sponsored by the Staten Island Advance and NY1.
Illuzzi, a Republican, argued that prosecutorial experience was key and referred to her 27 years as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
“That is job of the DA’s office, to seek justice without fear or favor,” said Illuzzi, “It’s not a popularity contest.”
Illuzzi also attacked McMahon’s lack of experience, providing an analogy that received heavy laughs from the audience.
“The gap of his knowledge of what it means to be a prosecutor would be staggering,” said Illuzzi. “Can you imagine having a dentist run the cardiology department of a major hospital?”
A former Congressman and City Councilmember, McMahon shot back, saying that the DA’s office also has to deal with the community it serves.
“I’m not applying to be the dentist or the cardiologist,” said McMahon. “I’m trying to be the administrator of the hospital and everyone knows that the head of the hospital has to know every facet of that hospital and the community it serves.”
“There’s a reason that a district attorney is elected,” McMahon said earlier. “You have to be answerable to the community that elects you—you have to be the face of that community.”
In response to a question about gun control, Illuzzi said that in the case of mass shootings, the issue lies in mental health, though she acknowledged last week’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon was the result of “guns in the hands of criminals.”
“I do believe that the gun crimes that we have seen are the result of mental illness,” Illuzzi said. “So that’s something that we should be addressing rather than increasing restrictions on legitimate law-abiding people.”
McMahon, a Democrat, said the solution to gun control “is to bring to Staten Island the methodologies and best practices that they use in the rest of the city of New York.”
The two candidates disagreed on whether the Staten Island DA’s office needed a bigger budget.
McMahon said he would call on City Hall for a “fair share” budget for the DA’s office.
Illuzzi expressed that the borough has to make do with the resources it has, saying later that “Staten Island has 3.3 percent of the crime, that’s why we get 3.3 percent of the total budget. It’s that simple.”
The candidates also traded attacks on topics they previously sparred: Illuzzi on McMahon’s vote to decrease the Staten Island DA budget as a Councilman; and McMahon on Illuzzi’s failure to vote in city elections.
Illuzzi attacked McMahon for voting to decrease the budget for the Staten Island DA’s office shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
McMahon pressed Illuzzi on her failure to vote in a number of city elections over the past 25 years.
Illuzzi blamed her failure to vote on the unpredictability of her job.
“The times where I forgot to come back to vote, it was because I was a public servant and…your life is very uncertain,” she said.
“On Election Day, the courts are closed,” McMahon retorted.
On his Council vote to cut the DA’s budget after 9/11, McMahon said tough decisions had to be made.
“We had to run the city on half the money that we had in the year before,” he said. “And just like at home when you don’t have enough money, you have to make cuts.”
During a short period of time where moderators asked candidates “yes “ or “no” questions, Illuzzi declined to answer whether she was pro-choice or if there should be a death penalty in New York.
“That is not for a DA to answer,” said Illuzzi.
Both candidates did agree that recreational marijuana shouldn’t be legal in New York and said that they’d be rooting for the New York Yankees in the playoffs this year.