ITHACA, N.Y. — District attorney candidates Matt Van Houten and Ed Kopko have laid out their final campaign positions in letters to The Ithaca Voice.

Kopko is running as an Independent candidate. You can read more about him here.  

Van Houten is running as a Democrat. You can read more about him here. 

It’s been a particularly contentious election season for the District Attorney position after longtime DA Gwen Wilkinson resigned from the post in July due to health reasons.

Since then, the candidates first squared off in mid-September, vying for the Democratic nomination, which Van Houten won in an vote by the Tompkins County Democratic Committee.

Shortly afterward, Kopko won the Independence party’s nomination and promptly attempted to sue Van Houten and the Democrats over what he said was unfair voting practice.

A judge, however, sided with the Democrats saying that while there were inadvertent errors in the election process, even if the errors had been rectified it would not have made a difference in the outcome of the vote.

Both candidates participated in a Q&A — hosted by The Ithaca Voice and The Ithaca Journal last month. A live-streamed video of the debate can be seen below.

Related — Editorial: Why you should really, really care who the next Tompkins District Attorney will be

Final campaign positions can be found below:

Ed Kopko

Photo by Benjamin Torrey/The Ithaca Voice

“I do not have any criminal prosecutorial experience,” says Matt Van Houten, the Democratic candidate for District Attorney. Many are wondering why a man with no experience in prosecuting crimes was even considered by the party. It takes an experienced attorney well-versed in investigating crimes and prosecuting offenders to be DA. The political hijinks started with a staged resignation and ended when just 64 political insiders hand-picked their candidate. In between, all voters were denied their right to a primary, when the qualifications of the candidates could have been evaluated. Bernie Sanders suffered a similar fate.

Mr. Van Houten’s lack of experience is obvious. When asked by the local press for his solutions to the drug problem, he offered none, other than to say that he would “think outside the box.” His statement reveals a profound misunderstanding of the problems, and likewise the need for innovative solutions. Without the need for on-the-job training, I can think and act like the district attorney from day one. As an assistant district attorney and defense counsel, I acquired a unique insight that molds my view of safety, justice, and fairness.

Recently, the court appointed me as a “special prosecutor” in a high profile case because of my experience. As a clerk in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I saw the methods of complex criminal investigations. As an investigator for the NY Commission on Judicial Conduct, I probed accusations against judges. As a former police officer, I know the challenges that our brave police face every shift. This experience distinguishes me from my opponent, and I will apply my expertise to prosecuting hate crimes against any of our neighbors, particularly LGBTQ and African-Americans, to provide a safer and fairer community.

Here are some of my ideas to make us safer:

Transition Team: I will appoint a team of leaders that mirrors the rich diversity of our community—rural residents, LGBTQ, African-Americans, police, teachers—to interview and recommend my assistants so that the community is invested in the justice system. This team and I will develop training programs to address bias in the criminal justice system.

Crime Prevention: I will work with communities and schools to help protect our families through crime prevention programs like bullying/harassment; distracted driving; teen dating/domestic violence workshops; internet safety; reentry; drug treatment; alternatives to prosecution and incarceration; conviction integrity; bias; and court diversion programs.

Fervent, Fair Prosecutions: The few truly persistent persons who hurt us, who threaten and disrupt our safety, will be energetically prosecuted within the bounds of the law.

Matt Van Houten

Photo by Benjamin Torrey/The Ithaca Voice

My name is Matt Van Houten and I am running for the office of Tompkins County District Attorney. I grew up in this area and graduated from Dryden High School in 1985. After graduating from West Point, serving in the Army, and attending law school, I returned to Tompkins County to practice law in 1995. I raised my daughter here, as a single father. Tompkins County is my home and it is a wonderful place to live and to raise a family.

The District Attorney, as the leader of our county’s law enforcement, has the ability to make a significant and lasting impact upon our community. The District Attorney must be more than just a prosecutor – he or she has a duty to the people of Tompkins County to pursue, above all, justice. I will work tirelessly to ensure that individuals are prosecuted firmly but fairly, and adjudicated without stereotypes or prejudices.

I will pursue innovative solutions to address the underlying issues with which so many people struggle, with the goal of making our community safer in the immediate future and in the long term. People who have been victimized by crimes must feel that the system is working to protect their rights, not just those of the defendant. I am committed to ensuring that Tompkins

County will not be an attractive place for criminal activity. That means holding people accountable for their behavior, with the safety of our community as the top priority.

The DA is responsible for acting on behalf of the community, which requires a meaningful and ongoing dialogue with the people of Tompkins County. This means listening respectfully to the public, taking their feedback seriously, and understanding their point of view. It means facilitating interaction between the public and our law enforcement agencies in order to improve the level of mutual understanding and respect. It means being aware of and vigilant for the inherent and systemic inequities which affect us here as they affect the nation as a whole.

My goal is to inspire a new level of public confidence in the criminal justice system in our community. Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen far too many families affected by criminal behavior. My extensive trial experience, not only in the criminal cases I have handled, but in Family Court representing parents and advocating for children, makes me extremely qualified to prosecute cases as the District Attorney. I bring the experience, judgment and perspective which the District Attorney needs to zealously pursue justice in Tompkins County.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.