One of the more hotly contested races this election year is for district attorney in Livingston. It's been in the spotlight since the Republican Primary ended in a dead heat. After asking the court to declare a winner, a judge put that decision in the hands of the Livingston County Republican Committee resulting in what is now a three way race. YNN's Mike Hedeen spoke with each of the candidates who are vying to permanently replace longtime District Attorney Tom Moran, who is now State Supreme Court Justice.
LIVINGSTON COUNTY -- "I appointed him. I think he was the right man for the job," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.
That man is Greg McCaffrey. Governor Cuomo appointed him in May to serve as Livingston County District Attorney. He has the backing of both Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and received some encouraging words from the governor at a recent political rally in Rochester.
"The biggest thing he said is 'do us proud, keep representing, fight for everyone equally' which is something I actively preached to his staff when I was looking at the appointment," said McCaffrey. "He was our former Attorney General and as Governor, he's represented everyone equally. That's kind of been my goal going into this whole thing is to represent everyone equally and I take the lead from the Governor."
McCaffrey is Livingston County's first Democratic district attorney since the late 1800s. He's banking on his short time in office to carry him to victory next week.
"The party label's never been a part of my plan," stated McCaffrey. "I'm proud I'm district attorney, I'm proud of the things I've accomplished in five months and I look forward with what I can do with four years."
While McCaffrey's been running the district attorney's office, his opponents have been grabbing headlines in their drawn out battle for the Republican nomination.
Former Assistant District Attorney Eric Schiener and Steve Sessler, his then opponent in the Republican Primary, were tied following the primary vote and went to court to have a judge rule on a winner. After questionable absentee ballots were counted, the race was still deadlocked and State Supreme Court Justice John Ark sent the decision to the Livingston County Republican Committee. It selected Schiener as the party-backed candidate.
Schiener who served as acting district attorney until McCaffrey's appointment, believes publicity from the primary race is helping his cause and says that's evident when on the campaign trail.
"There was a silver lining to it, absolutely," said Schiener. "I think it got my name out there, people recognize me when I go to their door. They recognize me and they wonder how that turned out because a lot of them never really heard, I guess, the end result that I'm on the ballot, that they can vote for me on November 6th. So, yeah, that experience was difficult and being drawn back and back again by Mr. Sessler into court may have a silver lining."
Sessler remains on the ballot as the Conservative Party candidate. Like Schiener, Sessler also believes that drawn out primary race and the publicity it garnered, is good for his campaign.
"In a race like this, people have to get to know who the candidates are," said Sessler. "This is not about voting by party politics, this is about choosing which individual you want to be the chief criminal prosecutor in the county. The more that people know about me, I think the more likely it is that they're going to vote for me."
Schiener said the time he spent in the district attorney's office gives him an edge in experience over both Sessler and McCaffrey.
"It's really between a career prosecutor, someone who's worked with Livingston County law enforcement for 12 and a half years against two individuals who for the majority of their career have been defense attorneys, calling into question those law enforcement officers, calling the credibility of victims into question on the stand in order to get their paying clients off," said Schiener.
Sessler, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and Livonia Town Judge, believes he's the most experienced to serve the citizens of Livingston County.
"I have been a judge for ten years so I bring the judicial perspective to the office," said Sessler. "I've also been a prosecutor and I've been a defense attorney. I've been practicing law in total for 23 years and that gives you really a seasoning that I think is important when you go in and make serious decisions about people's lives."
With voters split in the Republican Primary, and with a sitting Democratic district attorney in the mix, that could mean a close finish come Election Day.