Michael McMahon, Staten Island’s incoming district attorney, says the biggest change in his approach as the borough’s top prosecutor will be an emphasis on securing more funds to combat drug overdoses and other public safety threats.
“We have the worst death from overdose statistics in the city, and arguably in the state,” McMahon, who takes office early next month, told City & State. “About once every five days a Staten Islander dies from a drug overdose of either heroin or prescription painkillers or prescription drugs. It’s a terrible, terrible problem.”
McMahon, a Democrat who previously served in Congress and in the New York City Council, succeeds Daniel Donovan, who had kept the office in Republican hands since 2004. Donovan stepped aside in May after getting elected to Congress and replacing another Republican, the disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm.
Echoing a line he used on the campaign trail this fall, McMahon argued that Donovan had failed to fight for a fair share of resources for the district attorney’s office. McMahon said the message resonated with voters.
“They understand that we should have a dedicated narcotics unit that goes after the drugs on the street and at the source of the traffickers,” he said. “We should have a domestic violence unit. We should have criminal court attorneys who go to court, try cases, and get the criminals off the street. And we should have things like a community partnership unit that goes out into the community and does things like Begin Again, to get people’s violations off their records, and to do programs to buy guns and get them off the street, to build better relationships with the community. Other boroughs have that, Staten Island doesn’t.”
In a rare race for an open district attorney post in New York City this fall, McMahon won by 10 percentage points against Republican rival Joan Illuzzi, a career prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
McMahon’s victory in November marks his first return to elected office since losing his congressional seat to Grimm in 2010. Grimm was eventually forced out of office after pleading guilty to tax fraud.
Guy Molinari, a veteran Staten Island Republican who served in several offices in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, was a mentor to Grimm and also helped run Illuzzi’s campaign against McMahon. In an interview with City & State last month, Molinari claimed that McMahon’s success depended on his wife’s position as a judge and substantial contributions from lawyers.
“First of all, he got a ton of money, far outspent us, 3 or 4 to 1,” Molinari said. “The fact that his wife was the administrative law judge helped them raise a lot of money. The lawyers contributed rather heavily, as the filings would show. So he had a lot of money to play with.”
McMahon dismissed the accusation as “sour grapes,” saying that he had built a diverse coalition that spanned Democrats and Republicans, the island’s North Shore and South Shore, and law enforcement groups as well as African Americans and immigrants.
“For Guy Molinari to somehow bring my wife into this, or some tangential thing, is ridiculous,” McMahon said. “This is an election that we were expected to lose. At the end of the day we won overwhelmingly, by 10 percent or more points, which for a Democrat on Staten Island, who did not have the Conservative Party as well, has not happened in a generation.”
McMahon also argued that Molinari, who had successfully groomed a political newcomer in Grimm, tried but failed in an attempt to replicate the strategy in the district attorney race.
“So once again Molinari tried that,” McMahon said. “He brought in someone from the Manhattan D.A.’s office with a résumé to say this is my candidate. This time the people of Staten Island said, no, wait a minute. We know who Mike McMahon is. We’ve known him his whole life.”