ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone is retiring after nearly 33 years in office. Two of his assistant district attorneys are hoping to succeed him and are facing off in a Republican primary.

Election Day is Tuesday, June 25.

What You Need To Know

  • Orleans County District Attorney Cardone is retiring after nearly 33 years in office

  • Two of his assistant district attorneys, Susan Howard and John Sansone, are hoping to succeed him and are facing off in a Republican primary

  • Both candidates share decades of experience, a concern for current bail reform laws, and a will to partner with law enforcement to keep the community safe

  • County native, Howard, is endorsed by the Conservative Party and the Shooters Committee on Political Education (S.C.O.P.E.)

  • Longtime resident Sansone is endorsed by the Orleans County Sheriff and Minority Leader Bob Ortt

The current first assistant, Susan Howard, has been practicing alongside Cardone since the beginning of her law career 24 years ago. She started her career studying English education, but knew she wanted to pursue helping people as a career choice and went back to school to study law.

“My father has a bunch of things going on. He had a restaurant that we owned at Point Breeze," Howard said. "He had properties that he would buy and flip, you know, fix up and flip. And I’m sure there's a few more things I’m forgetting. But I remember as a child hearing my parents say, 'Oh, we've got to call the lawyer.' So the lawyer to me was this hero that came riding in and helping my dad fix whatever was going on. So I wanted to be the lawyer."

Howard became first assistant in 2011, after her opponent, John Sansone, held the position for four years. She says her experience will benefit the community in her hopeful future role.

“My experience... I have been a full-time prosecutor since 2011, and a part-time prosecutor, working full-time prior to that and I just feel like that’s what I do. I don’t do matrimonial law. I don’t do real estate. I don’t do municipalities. I’m a prosecutor. And I just feel like my experience far outweighs any other candidate. Just the sheer numbers and knowledge and all the things I’ve learned working side-by-side with Joe. It really can’t compare,” she explained. “Honestly I do not feel like I’ve worked a day since I started law school. I love what I do. Every day of it, and yes, of course, we’re all pulled in 100 different directions and the phones ringing and people are calling you out on things, but I love it. Helping law enforcement, and helping people. I feel like I’ve been able to make a difference. And I’m hoping to get the job as district attorney so I can continue to make those differences."

The Orleans County native is endorsed by the Conservative Party, as well as the Shooters Committee On Political Education (S.C.O.P.E.). She’s a Second Amendment rights advocate and hopes to serve justice as the county district attorney.

“I’m a very big Second Amendment person," she said. "I have two pistols that I inherited from my dad. I'm not a hunter or anything, but I did win a shotgun at a gun raffle, and I was so excited, but because of the Safe Act, I couldn’t take it home with me, and I was outraged. What do you mean I can’t take my gun home with me? 'You can’t take your gun home with you. You've got to pass a background check. You've got to do the paperwork.' I was like, 'Man.' I was so disappointed.” 

Howard leads her campaign with the goals of standing up for constitutional rights, including Second Amendment rights, and fighting opiates and the dire consequences of addiction while seeking alternatives like drug court for those who truly want to get clean. She also explains that bail reform laws have added challenges to prosecutors that she wants to improve. If elected, she hopes her prior relationships with district attorneys across the state will help her challenge new bail reform laws and discovery laws that she says have added monumental challenges to a prosectors workload.

“I’m big on working in Albany to try to get both of those, and probably not repeals, because let’s be realistic, but at least changed so that prosecution and law enforcement aren’t quite so put to the test in a situation that makes it almost impossible. So, it’s very difficult," said Howard.

“It’s extremely important. Let’s face it, nobody really cares what little Orleans County has to say. But if I can get shoulder to shoulder with the other DAs in the state, which I’ve already started to do the past few years, I’ve joined a couple groups from Albany, best practices committee, so that we can talk about how to, you know, manage these new laws. And that is actually nationwide," she added. "So that’s the only way our voice is going to be heard. And I already have those connections. You know, this job is all about leadership and relationships. And those are the things I think I excel at."

Howard explains the current discovery laws have pushed young people away from staying or returning to Orleans County because of the challenges and lack of resources to accommodate these additional challenges in court. That’s another thing she hopes to improve if elected.

“One of my goals is to either bring back or keep our kids home," she said. "So many children in this county feel like there’s no opportunity to have a career here. I know I can’t fix it for everybody, but I really want to focus on people who had to move away or people who are graduating from law school and want to stay and work for their community. I want to bring them back and bring them home. And I’m really going to fight to do that."

If elected, she plans to be committed to partnering with law enforcement, something she says has already aided her success as a prosecutor.

“I get phone calls from deputies and officers at all hours of the night and day, guiding them on how to handle their cases, and I love doing that. I absolutely love it so that’s what I’m hoping to do,” Howard said.

Her campaign also focuses on efforts to enforce school threat laws and prioritize victims' rights. But her most proud reason for running for District Attorney is the opportunity it provides her to serve her hometown.

“I’ve lived here all my life. This is my community, and there is nobody that’s going to work harder for Orleans County citizens than me. There just isn’t. And it’s pretty exciting to have this opportunity. Not many people have the opportunity to run for district attorney. And the fact that I do come from a small county, I’m sure has a lot to do with that. So I’m really excited and I can’t wait to start,” Howard smiled.

Howard’s opponent, John Sansone, has been an attorney for 29 years and has practiced in Orleans County for 28 years. He served as Joe Cardone’s first assistant from 2007 until 2011. The long-time resident says he's always enjoyed his position in the courtroom.

“At times it's frustrating," Sansone said. "What I like about criminal law is that there’s so much case law out there that you can make arguments for basically every issue. And, I feel like as a defense attorney, you’re doing the right thing. But I feel like sometimes it’s not the right result. And I feel like being on the prosecution side is really, I feel like I’m doing the right work because as a defense attorney, you’re protecting people’s rights. But as a prosecutor, you’re protecting people. You're protecting communities and I just feel like if you’re successful as a defense attorney, you did the right thing for your client. But I feel as a prosecutor, you’re doing the right things for the whole community. And that's why we represent the people of New York state."

His commitment to the community continues outside of the courthouse.

“I would say that when you see me at Tops, or you see me at the ice cream stand, I want you to pat me on my back and tell me that I’m doing a good job and that you’re proud of our office. And that’s really what I strive for. I want to, I want families to feel safe, the communities in Orleans County. And most importantly, I want people to know that we’re doing a good job, and we’re working very, very hard to protect them,” Sansone explained. “I’m very, prepared and I speak with the families and the victims, and I do what’s right by them. And, I feel that I have the right personality and attitude and experience and reputation to fill those shoes."

Sansone also says his experience is a strength of his campaign because it motivates him to find justice for the community in the courtroom.

“I feel that, besides Joe, I have the most trial experience in our office, and, I’m not afraid to do what it takes. I’ll do whatever hard work is necessary to get the right result because the key is to hold people accountable. And when you do whatever that means and in each particular case is going to be different, but I feel like if you have the trial experience, then you know what hard work you need to put into a difficult or complicated case. And, besides Joe, I have the most experience and I feel like that’s going to be a seamless transition into the office if I’m successful,” Sansone explained.

He credits much of his success in the courtroom to the relationships he has built with victims in the community.

“I don’t shy away from tough cases. I feel like I try to do what’s best for the families and the victims in cases. Sometimes that is putting the pedal to the metal and pressing the case on to make sure we hold people accountable. And, sometimes it’s making sure that I can get their young son or daughter that hasn’t listened to them over the years that might have a substance abuse issue or an anger issue that their families and friends can’t get them to go to get the help that they need. I feel like sometimes I can use the criminal justice system to force that person to help them go and utilize the resources that they need. And I feel like I’m helping families that way,” Sansone explained.

“We have to do what we can as DAs to have our voice heard to try to, make really simple and realistic changes to the bail reform. For example, I feel like, district attorneys need to have their voice heard in one simple change that we can make to bail reform is to give judges more discretion in certain circumstances to set bail. For example, if somebody’s out on a warrant for many, many years and they get picked up on a warrant, but it might not be a bail-qualifying offense, and they don’t have a lot of misses of court appearances in the past, I feel like the judges should have discretion, in that case, to make sure that the person shows up for their court appearance, and that’s not in the law right now," Sansone said.

If elected, Sansone commits his role to being firm and fair, and will work with law enforcement to keep crime outside of Orleans County. He is endorsed by the Orleans County Sheriff, and State Minority Leader Rob Ortt. Sansone says he plans to work collaboratively with all police agencies to keep families safe.

“Orleans County is unique because I feel like a lot of the crime comes from surrounding counties, from Monroe County, Niagara County, Erie County. And I feel like I have to do what I can and use my experience and, my toughness as a prosecutor to try to prevent crime from traveling into Orleans County. And I feel like I can do that through, efforts that I can make to hold people accountable for their actions. And I feel like that’s going to resonate with, the communities to keep families safe,” he said. “I’m partners with law enforcement, and I feel like they trust me and I feel like, together we can really make really great strides in Orleans County. And the DA is the leader of law enforcement. Every single case comes across my desk. And I feel that because I have the trust of law enforcement that we can work together to better and more efficiently handle those difficult cases."

If elected, Sansone has many plans for his first day in office, including thanking all of his supporters.

“The first thing I’m going to do is, I want to evaluate every facet of the office. I want to make sure that I put my own eyes on the budget, the, you know, Human Resources aspect of it. Staff, and every other aspect to ensure sure that I’m surrounding myself with the type of people that have the same attitude with me, and that are like-minded so that we can move in a positive direction for the DA’s office,” Sansone explained, “I feel like I’m a leader and I feel like if I surround myself with the like-minded people that have the same type of work ethic and attitude as me, I feel like that is going to be contagious and we can work hard together to get the right results in cases."

The two assistant district attorneys will face off on primary day, Tuesday, June 25. However, both opponents will continue their campaigning until Election Day in November because Howard is endorsed by the Conservative Party. Both names will still be on the ballot on Nov. 5.