From the beginning, Jason Schmidt has been a thorn in the side of District Attorney Patrick Swanson. Schmidt stepped up in 2016 to challenge Swanson, who was named to head the office after David Foley was elected Chautauqua County judge.
It was a bitter, emotional campaign then and it has been more of the same this year. It is plain as day when Schmidt and Swanson have had to share the stage or the spotlight during Zoom meetings or distanced debates. The dialogue gets testy and emotions run high.
It becomes a contentious showdown. But we are not offering an endorsement in this race. We will, however, give our take in regard to the candidates.
Swanson, despite missteps in high-profile court cases, has overseen the office during major changes in the criminal justice system. Changes in our discovery rules and bail reform has made this — even according to local state Republican lawmakers — a much tougher landscape that appears to give those charged in offenses the upper hand. He also is highly respected as a voice on the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York Board of Directors, which carries some clout when it comes to state legislation.
In his campaign literature, the incumbent also touts integrity and ethics while overseeing a staff of 12 1/2. No one has ever questioned his values.
Instead, his office’s 17.4% felony conviction rate in 2019 — down from 31% in 2015 — is what his opponent correctly points out. Schmidt, who comes across as a fierce battler and advocate, is highly prepared in the court.
He has a proven record — even against the incumbent — when it comes to winning major cases in court. He also gives a great amount of time to those he represents and to winning cases.
On those merits, we can understand why previous Swanson supporters have changed their allegiance. But handling your own caseload — and having to manage another 3,600 arrests countywide — is not easily said or done.
This race is shaping up to be the most closely contested and most controversial. Even retired staff members of the Dunkirk Police Department and the former Fredonia police chief have differing beliefs on who should be overseeing the top office for law enforcement in the future.
In this instance, voters — through mail or at the polls — can be assured their ballot will count in the race for this significant local office.
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