Above: Delaware County Family Court candidate Gary Rosa delivered a fiery speech attacking his opponent, Delaware County Attorney Porter Kirkwood, on Saturday at the annual dinner of the Delaware County Democratic Committee. Photo by Robert Cairns.
The race for a new family court judgeship in Delaware County heated up on Saturday, May 30 when Democratic Party candidate and town of Middletown Justice Gary Rosa delivered a strong critique of the qualifications and actions of his opponent, Delaware County Attorney Porter Kirkwood.
Left: Delaware County Attorney Porter Kirkwood, in a photo posted on his campaign's Facebook page.
Kirkwood is endorsed by the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties for the new judicial position, which was created by the New York State Legislature last year.
Speaking at the annual dinner of the Delaware County Democratic Committee at SUNY Delhi, Rosa referred to an audit by the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, issued in March, which found that Delaware County paid millions of dollars to contractors without soliciting bids.
“I dare say there’s not a person in this room who doesn’t know that not only is that unwise, but it’s unethical and it’s illegal,” Rosa said. “And yet Delaware County paid out millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts that were all approved and signed by the county attorney without the benefit of bids.”
Rosa said county leaders made matters worse by claiming that it is difficult to solicit bids because of the county's geography.
“I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing that disgusts me more than a government official trying to insult my intelligence,” Rosa said. “It’s exactly this kind of arrogance we can no longer accept.”
Rosa also drew a contrast between his and Kirkwood's ties to the community and questioned Kirkwood's commitment to the county. Rosa said his own family has lived in Delaware County for over 200 years, while Kirkwood “came here less than 20 years ago to work for the commissioner of social services.”
Kirkwood “has no ties that bind him to Delaware County other than a good-paying job at taxpayer expense,” Rosa said. “I predict that when he no longer has a good job at taxpayer expense, he will no longer be in Delaware County because other than a job he has no stake in Delaware County.”
Rosa also took aim at the idea that Kirkwood has more experience in family court that he does.
“The fact is, each and every time [Kirkwood] appeared in family court it was to represent the commissioner of social services. Regardless of how many times he has been in family court, it has always been on behalf of the same client,” he said. “In contrast, my trips to family court have been on behalf of people – Delaware County families.”
Speaking of his own experience, Rosa said, “I’m the only candidate with 23 years of experience as a judge.”
Rosa said voters should hold both candidates accountable for their rhetoric and specifically said Kirkwood should not be allowed to say he has saved the county money.
“When my opponent gratuitously says he has saved your taxpayer dollars, ask him how. How do no-bid contracts save taxpayer dollars?” Rosa said.
Rosa also took issue with Kirkwood's salary, which he said was $93,000 when he was assistant county attorney in 2013.
“That’s more than our sheriff, more than our county clerk and more than our treasurer. Not just a little more, but a lot more,” Rosa said. “The very first thing he did upon becoming county attorney was ask for a $40,000.00 raise.”
Rosa said Kirkwood received a $30,000 raise. “And yet, when the county gets sued, we still hire outside counsel at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars,” Rosa said.
The Empire Center for Public Policy Inc., an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank based in Albany, listed Kirkwood's 2013 salary as $95,776 and his 2014 salary as $114,917 on its website, seethroughny.net.
“Ask how that has saved your tax dollars. I’m a Delaware County taxpayer, too, and I don’t feel I’ve been saved anything,” Rosa said.
Rosa touted his own public service to various community groups, as well as in the Middletown court, and drew yet another contrast with Kirkwood.
“When my opponent brags about his public service, ask him what public service he has contributed beyond his well-paying 37-and-a-half-hour-per-week job with benefits,” Rosa said. “I’ve been hauling my backside out of bed at two and three o’clock in the morning for 23 years to issue orders of protection and to arraign criminal defendants, keeping our community safe. That, ladies and gentlemen, is public service.”
Reached on Monday, June 1, Kirkwood addressed Rosa's critique and dismissed some of it.
Kirkwood confirmed the salary numbers on the Empire Center website and said that, upon succeeding Richard Spinney as county attorney in 2013, “I lobbied for the county attorney's position to be paid equal to the district attorney's position.”
The Empire Center website lists Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup's 2014 salary as $145,605.
Kirkwood said that he compared the number of employees supervised by each of those positions when making his case for a higher salary. “I thought that was not an unreasonable request,” he said.
Kirkwood said that Delaware County uses outside counsel, but denied that it happens whenever the county is sued. Instead, he said, outside attorneys are brought in for specialized work, such as contract negotiations. Kirkwood noted that raises and benefits for non-union county employees are tied to union contracts and said, “It would really be a conflict for us to be negotiating against the unions when we benefit from those negotiations.”
Kirkwood said he was hired as an attorney in the social services department on July 15, 1996 and was immediately appointed as a deputy county attorney. “I've always been part of the county attorney's office,” he said.
The county's attorneys were all placed under the supervision of the county attorney, rather than the commissioner of social services, in 2008. At that time, Kirkwood said, Delaware County gained “true, independent legal offices.”
While Kirkwood said that “absolutely” he has handled the majority of his cases in family court as a representative of the commissioner of social services, he said he also handled juvenile justice cases where “my client is all the people of Delaware County.” He said the variety of his work “is unquestioned,” and said, “I'll put my résumé up against anybody's.”
In regard to the no-bid contracts criticized by state auditors, Kirkwood said, “There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of my work with respect to any of those contracts.” He said the audit reports did not include any criticism of his role.
When asked about Rosa's assertion that Kirkwood has no ties to the community, Kirkwood replied, “That's just not worthy of a response.”
Despite a large disadvantage in party enrollment, Rosa narrowly lost a 2012 election for Delaware County Judge to the Republican incumbent, Carl F. Becker. Becker announced last month that he will retire from his position as county judge this July, and District Attorney Richard Northrup has announced that he is running to replace him.