On election night last November, the race for the Ulster County District Attorney was too close to call as Democrat David Clegg and Republican Michael Kavanagh were only three votes apart. During the following weeks of counting all of the absentee ballots the difference eventually rose to 78 votes and stuck at that number. Late last week David Clegg was declared the official winner of the race for District Attorney.
The official totals came to 26,333 votes cast for Clegg and 26,255 votes for Michael Kavanagh. Tom Turco, Republican Commissioner at the Ulster County Board of Elections, said there were also 999 blank spaces, revealing that these voters failed to cast any vote for District Attorney. In addition, there were 35 votes that were voided in the recount and 8 write-ins, which came to a grand total of 53,630 county-wide.
In a statement released to the media, Kavanagh conceded the race.
“I am fully confident after the legally required hand recount of all ballots that all valid votes have been counted. I have instructed my legal team to withdraw all objections and discontinue all legal proceedings. I thank the Ulster County Board of Elections for their professionalism. I want to congratulate my opponent, David Clegg, and wish him well. I am humbled and grateful for the honor of serving the citizens of Ulster County as the Chief Assistant District Attorney.”
David Clegg attended SUNY New Paltz, went on to earn a law degree in 1977 from the Buffalo Law School and in 2011 he received a Master’s Degree from the Yale Divinity School and was ordained as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.
Clegg campaigned on his record of commitment to public service, social justice and victims rights. He began his career as a clerk for the NAACP Legal Defense team working on appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court on death penalty cases and later joined the Volunteers In Service To America [VISTA] representing Lakota Sioux communities in Nebraska and South Dakota. In 1982 Clegg returned to the Hudson Valley and started a private law practice, while also serving nine years as a part-time Assistant Public Defender in Kingston.
Clegg stressed his commitment to rehabilitative approaches to non-violent crimes and helping those addicted to heroin and other drugs find appropriate treatment programs rather than serving jail time. He has worked to end the school-to-prison pipeline, defended immigrants and the civil rights of the LGBTQ community.
In his first interview with the Southern Ulster Times as the new Ulster County District Attorney, Clegg said after learning that he had won, he hit the road running.
“I then had a turnaround of less than 24 hours to take over the office, so quite a whirlwind,” he said. “My county friends thought we should have a DA in place, so they officially asked me to be sworn in by the County Clerk.” He said a ceremonial swearing-in will take place on January 17 at 11 a.m. at the Ulster County Courthouse, 285 Wall Street in Kingston.
Clegg said there is so much to do, starting on the Law Enforcement side.
“There is really a lot has to be done starting right away to set up protocols and working with all of the 19 different Law Enforcement agencies in the county to make sure that they’re getting the input and that we’re receiving it and that we’re giving it out to the defense bar [lawyers who primarily represent defendants],” he said.
Clegg said he will begin to restructure the DA’s office.
“I have to add some people and we have to decide how exactly we’re going to be staffed,” he said. “We’re going to set up some Task Forces, reach out to the community on the opioid crisis and also on Restorative Justice. There’s a lot on the plate and there’s no time like the present to get started.”
Presently the Office of the District Attorney has 16 full-time and 7 part-time Assistant District Attorneys.
Clegg said they also have to address some provisions that took effect this month..
“You only have 15 days to get all of the Discovery to the Defense Attorney once the case is arraigned and that’s more than was ever required before,” he said. “The Discovery Rules are well-intended and they address some unfairness in the system, but at the same time they require a whole lot of work upfront in every single case. It started the first of January and everybody is trying to get up to speed with it.”
Clegg said that cash bail is another new initiative.
“There are qualifying and non-qualifying charges out there that a court can set bail on or not, and there are other non-monetary procedures you can use, whether it be electronic monitoring depending on the circumstances or supervised detention during the dependency of the case or they’re just released on their own recognizance,” he said. “All of that is happening right now as we speak. We have to work at super speed to get on top of everything.”
Clegg said running for District Attorney was a natural progression of his work for the last five years on Restorative Justice approaches through the Human Rights Commission.
“The concept is we can do more to prevent crime by rehabilitating and also by giving people a chance to redeem themselves, repair the harm, work back into the community after being accountable and things of that nature, that have worked with youth primarily,” Clegg said.
Clegg said the goal is to keep youths out of long-term contact with the criminal justice system.
“That is something I believe in strongly and is something the DA can do to implement and support,” he said.
While serving as a Public Defender, Clegg said he saw “systematic things that were not fair to every aspect of our community and I think we can do a better job for that too.”
Clegg is looking forward to his new position as District Attorney of Ulster County.
“Yes, I’m totally committed. It is a job that requires every ounce of your energy, I see that, and especially right now, and as they say it will be 24/7. I know it’s been talked about a lot, but it is really something that can require your attention at any given time of the day or night. I’m here, I’m ready and I’m gonna do this,” he said.