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Meet The Unknown Who Wants To Cook Rice

Howard Sturim can’t be naive. After 22 years in the criminal justice system dealing with hundreds of examples of just how evil, stupid, crazy, crazed and victimized people can be, he must be a realist. Yet Sturim has decided to challenge incumbent Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice in the November election.

“The reason I decided to run this stressful race is because I can do a better job,” said the 54-year-old Great Neck resident. “And I think Kathleen Rice can be beaten.”

You probably haven’t heard of Republican candidate Sturim. A graduate of Hofstra Law School, he spent 13 years as a prosecutor under the late, former D.A. Denis E. Dillon, rising through the ranks to head the Arson Unit. For the past nine years, he has been law clerk to Alan L. Honorof, acting justice, Supreme Court, Nassau County.

So far, his campaign has consisted of grassroots glad-handing and fund-raising. He hasn’t created even a blip on the media radar. But Sturim insists that will change in the weeks just before the election as his modest campaign budget, consisting of his own money (he declined to say how much) and donations from supporters, is poured into a print and TV blitz. Also, he and Rice are slated for an Oct. 16 debate on News 12.

“I’m not a politician. I’m a former homicide prosecutor who works for a judge,” said Sturim, who ran losing campaigns for District Court Judge in 2005 and 2011. “I’m looking to be the D.A. in Nassau, and that’s it. Therein lies the difference.”

There’s no question that Rice is a certifiable rock star of Nassau politics. And her star is rising, probably far beyond Mineola. Her failed run for the Democratic nod for state Attorney General and her current spot on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s powerful and controversial Moreland Commission on government corruption have given her statewide recognition. Her handling of the 2011 Great Neck SAT cheating scandal brought the national spotlight, as have her stands on issues such as DWI, human trafficking and juvenile justice. Congresswoman and federal prosecutor are among the many potential next steps observers see for the tight-lipped Rice.

Sturim, on the other hand, positions himself as the stay-in-Nassau D.A. who will focus on fighting violent crime.

“People want to be safe in their homes and safe on the streets,” he said. “I learned under Denis Dillon to prosecute the violent cases, because that’s what keeps people safe.”

Sturim cites state statistics showing that in 2012, almost 70 percent of the violent felony cases that came before the D.A.’s office were plea-bargained down to lesser charges, even to misdemeanors or less. That’s a far higher plea-bargain rate than in Suffolk and similar areas, said Sturim.

“Over 81 percent of those charged with violent felonies never saw a day in prison,” Sturim said.

"According to independent court records, since District Attorney Rice took over, plea bargaining is down and more violent felons are going to jail and prison," said Eric F. Phillips of the Rice campaign. "This election is simple. People can vote to continue this progress with an independent DA who's also made the office a model for corruption busting and DWI prevention. Or they can vote for her opponent and take the office back in time, to old days, old strategies and old prosecutors that will fail to keep us safe. It's a simple choice."

“It’s not glamorous to put people in jail for robberies and burglaries,” Sturim said. “You get headlines for being tough on DWIs and prosecuting ‘Johns.’”

Instead of busting those responding to sex ads on Craigslist, the county’s limited budget for sting operations would be better spent on stopping gangs, he said.

“Prosecuting the violent predators — that’s the DA’s job,” Sturim said.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers.