ITHACA, N.Y. — A special election for the position of Tompkins County District Attorney is happening this November after current DA Gwen Wilkinson announced her early retirement this week.
Wilkinson cited health issues as the reason for her departure. She underwent chemotherapy and surgery for cervical cancer in 2010 and remains in remission. But she said the medical concerns are linked to issues stemming from her cancer treatment.
“It’s a crazy job and I dearly love it and would give a lot not not have to do this now,” she said.
Under state law, her retirement will trigger a countywide election for a full DA term of four years—meaning the race for the county’s top prosecutor will happen a full year before it was scheduled to occur. Wilkinson’s tenure was set to expire in December 2017.
According to Stephen DeWitt, the Tompkins County’s Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner, Wilkinson has until September 20 to formally vacate the position in order to set off an official race for the D.A. position.
Wilkinson said her last day on the job is July 8, meaning a race for the soon-to-be vacated position is definitely happening.
“The Board of Elections has to wait until the vacancy actually exists, but at that point, it will indeed officially trigger an election for the position for this November,” said DeWitt.
Once Wilkinson resigns, Governor Andrew Cuomo may appoint someone to serve as DA in the interim. Cuomo’s appointee would hold the post through the end of December, at which point the special election’s victor would assume the post.
The governor can also opt to not make a special appointment, meaning the DA’s responsibilities will presumably be taken over by personnel from her office.
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia has taken lead of the day-to-day tasks in the DA’s office while Wilkinson was hospitalized or recovering for her illness intermittently over the past few months.
Wilkinson confirmed that Bonavia has taken the reigns to help run the office, but she has ultimately had the say in all decisions and the two have been in contact almost daily.
She also noted that her staff is comprised of senior, experienced prosecutors who have all worked as a team to keep the workflow running smoothly.
Wilkinson was first elected into office in 2005 and ran unopposed in 2009 and 2013.
No attorney have officially confirmed their candidacy for DA as of Friday morning, but there are talks among the legal community that several attorneys are vying for the position.
Reporter Jolene Almendarez contributed to this story.