Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/elections 2019-04-25T10:16:01+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Special Election Provides Testing Ground for Push to Elect More Women to City Council 2019-04-18T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8462-special-election-provides-testing-ground-for-push-to-elect-women-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/womenscaucusnyc-pro-ground.jpg" alt="womenscaucusnyc pro ground" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>The City Council Women's Caucus (photo: @WomensCaucusNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2009, there were 18 women in the 51-seat New York City Council. A decade later, after resignations and members term-limited out of office, that number has dropped to just 11, most of whom are serving their second and final term. It’s a paltry ratio for a legislative body that prides itself on inclusion and diversity, and one that the “21 in ‘21” initiative is striving to address.</p> <p>The nonprofit organization is building a network to boost women seeking local elected office and could make its first mark in the city’s political scene next month in a special election for the District 45 Council seat in Brooklyn, recently vacated by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>The 21 in ‘21 initiative was launched in 2017 by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Margaret Chin, then-Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (she lost her seat later that year), and Effective NY, an advocacy group. The goal is to elect at least 21 women to the City Council in the next municipal elections in 2021, when at least three dozen Council seats will be up for grabs, along with the five borough president posts and all three citywide positions of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate.</p> <p>The group is set to make its first official endorsement of a candidate in the District 45 special election.</p> <p>“If women ran with the same frequency as men, we would have equal representation, not only in the City Council, [but] all over state legislatures and in the federal government,” Crowley, the chair of 21 in ‘21, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Wo56iEBZQw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said at a meeting</a> of its members at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens on Monday. The initiative was buoyed that day by a show of support from U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, who, as the new chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee, will play a powerful role in 2021 when 11 Council seats will be open in that borough alone.</p> <p>“We’ve got work to do. Instead of us progressing, we went back. Instead of us continuing to lead, we’ve lost our numbers,” Meeks said of the diminishing number of women in the Council. It’s not immediately clear what his actual commitment to the 21 in ‘21 effort is, however.</p> <p>The District 45 special election on May 14 will be the 21 in ‘21 initiative’s first outright foray into elections as the organization plans to endorse one of the five women running for the seat -- Monique Chandler-Waterman, Jovia Radix, Farah Louis, Xamayla Rose, and Adina Sash -- out of nearly a dozen candidates. The organization will hold a candidate screening on April 29 where its 235 members will have the chance to assess the five candidates before recommending an endorsement.</p> <p>“This is kind of going to be a pilot, test run for what’s going to happen in 2021,” said Moira McDermott, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview. “We’re looking to make sure that they’ll commit to helping the mission in the Council and that they’ll commit to mentoring women to run...or in general to prepare, and having more women on their staff and helping women into leadership positions on the Council.”</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams</a>]</p> <p>Till now, the organization has been building its base, recruiting would-be candidates and holding trainings on navigating the political process, including how to conduct community outreach and how to raise money for a campaign. Meeks’ support in Queens is also helping build momentum that could convince other elected officials and county Democratic organizations to support their efforts, McDermott said.</p> <p>“Our goal isn’t necessarily accepting all the endorsed county candidates but it’s a matter of working together to make sure that any women they have in the pipeline, to bring them into the organization and...encouraging them to work with the women that we have in our pipeline,” she said. “So it’s a joint effort to have the most viable and qualified candidates.”</p> <p>“We feel incredibly optimistic,” said Crowley, in a subsequent phone interview, confident that District 45 will elect a woman to the Council next month. “We want to make sure that candidates have been involved in their communities, that they understand how it takes a full investment of oneself to be a Council member, and certainly to have the opportunity to be a successful candidate,” Crowley added.</p> <p>She also emphasized the grassroots strength of the organization, which she said will boost its chosen candidates and sets it apart from other political action organizations. “It’s not like we give a check and walk away. We’re engaging other New Yorkers to believe in you and believe in your candidacy,” she added. Crowley herself doesn’t intend to run for the City Council in 2021, she said, but she wouldn’t say if she’d run for higher office. There may soon be a special election for Queens Borough President if the current officeholder, Melinda Katz, wins this year’s District Attorney race.</p> <p>21 in ‘21 is not the only organization pushing to get more women elected locally. <a href="https://www.amplifyher.nyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Amplify Her</a>, which launched with a similar mission and endorsed several successful female candidates for state Senate last year, is holding a candidate forum on April 23 for the District 45 race.</p> <p>Public Advocate Williams has emphasized that his successor should be a woman and he’s already endorsed Chandler-Waterman, a close ally and former aide. “While there are many good candidates running in this race, particularly women of more color, there unfortunately is only one position available and Monique is the best person for the job,” he said in a statement.</p> <p>“I like the idea of an endorsement, it does show strength, it does show unity, and it certainly shows power,” said Queens Council Member Adrienne Adams, another 21 in ‘21 supporter, in a brief interview outside City Hall. “The more we can show strength and at least try to get some balance, the better of course we’ll be as a city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/womenscaucusnyc-pro-ground.jpg" alt="womenscaucusnyc pro ground" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>The City Council Women's Caucus (photo: @WomensCaucusNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2009, there were 18 women in the 51-seat New York City Council. A decade later, after resignations and members term-limited out of office, that number has dropped to just 11, most of whom are serving their second and final term. It’s a paltry ratio for a legislative body that prides itself on inclusion and diversity, and one that the “21 in ‘21” initiative is striving to address.</p> <p>The nonprofit organization is building a network to boost women seeking local elected office and could make its first mark in the city’s political scene next month in a special election for the District 45 Council seat in Brooklyn, recently vacated by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>The 21 in ‘21 initiative was launched in 2017 by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Margaret Chin, then-Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (she lost her seat later that year), and Effective NY, an advocacy group. The goal is to elect at least 21 women to the City Council in the next municipal elections in 2021, when at least three dozen Council seats will be up for grabs, along with the five borough president posts and all three citywide positions of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate.</p> <p>The group is set to make its first official endorsement of a candidate in the District 45 special election.</p> <p>“If women ran with the same frequency as men, we would have equal representation, not only in the City Council, [but] all over state legislatures and in the federal government,” Crowley, the chair of 21 in ‘21, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Wo56iEBZQw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said at a meeting</a> of its members at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens on Monday. The initiative was buoyed that day by a show of support from U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, who, as the new chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee, will play a powerful role in 2021 when 11 Council seats will be open in that borough alone.</p> <p>“We’ve got work to do. Instead of us progressing, we went back. Instead of us continuing to lead, we’ve lost our numbers,” Meeks said of the diminishing number of women in the Council. It’s not immediately clear what his actual commitment to the 21 in ‘21 effort is, however.</p> <p>The District 45 special election on May 14 will be the 21 in ‘21 initiative’s first outright foray into elections as the organization plans to endorse one of the five women running for the seat -- Monique Chandler-Waterman, Jovia Radix, Farah Louis, Xamayla Rose, and Adina Sash -- out of nearly a dozen candidates. The organization will hold a candidate screening on April 29 where its 235 members will have the chance to assess the five candidates before recommending an endorsement.</p> <p>“This is kind of going to be a pilot, test run for what’s going to happen in 2021,” said Moira McDermott, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview. “We’re looking to make sure that they’ll commit to helping the mission in the Council and that they’ll commit to mentoring women to run...or in general to prepare, and having more women on their staff and helping women into leadership positions on the Council.”</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams</a>]</p> <p>Till now, the organization has been building its base, recruiting would-be candidates and holding trainings on navigating the political process, including how to conduct community outreach and how to raise money for a campaign. Meeks’ support in Queens is also helping build momentum that could convince other elected officials and county Democratic organizations to support their efforts, McDermott said.</p> <p>“Our goal isn’t necessarily accepting all the endorsed county candidates but it’s a matter of working together to make sure that any women they have in the pipeline, to bring them into the organization and...encouraging them to work with the women that we have in our pipeline,” she said. “So it’s a joint effort to have the most viable and qualified candidates.”</p> <p>“We feel incredibly optimistic,” said Crowley, in a subsequent phone interview, confident that District 45 will elect a woman to the Council next month. “We want to make sure that candidates have been involved in their communities, that they understand how it takes a full investment of oneself to be a Council member, and certainly to have the opportunity to be a successful candidate,” Crowley added.</p> <p>She also emphasized the grassroots strength of the organization, which she said will boost its chosen candidates and sets it apart from other political action organizations. “It’s not like we give a check and walk away. We’re engaging other New Yorkers to believe in you and believe in your candidacy,” she added. Crowley herself doesn’t intend to run for the City Council in 2021, she said, but she wouldn’t say if she’d run for higher office. There may soon be a special election for Queens Borough President if the current officeholder, Melinda Katz, wins this year’s District Attorney race.</p> <p>21 in ‘21 is not the only organization pushing to get more women elected locally. <a href="https://www.amplifyher.nyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Amplify Her</a>, which launched with a similar mission and endorsed several successful female candidates for state Senate last year, is holding a candidate forum on April 23 for the District 45 race.</p> <p>Public Advocate Williams has emphasized that his successor should be a woman and he’s already endorsed Chandler-Waterman, a close ally and former aide. “While there are many good candidates running in this race, particularly women of more color, there unfortunately is only one position available and Monique is the best person for the job,” he said in a statement.</p> <p>“I like the idea of an endorsement, it does show strength, it does show unity, and it certainly shows power,” said Queens Council Member Adrienne Adams, another 21 in ‘21 supporter, in a brief interview outside City Hall. “The more we can show strength and at least try to get some balance, the better of course we’ll be as a city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Rep. Serrano’s Retirement and a Looming Rumble in the Bronx 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8394-rep-serrano-s-retirement-and-a-looming-rumble-in-the-bronx Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rubendiazjr-richie-torres-cm.jpg" alt="rubendiazjr richie torres cm" width="600" height="483" /></p> <p>Rep. Serrano, BP Diaz Jr., CM Torres (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s time for a rumble in the Bronx. After 29 years in Congress and 44 years in elected office, Congressional Rep. José Serrano has decided to retire from office. Together with the likes of Herman Badillo, José Rivera, Robert Garcia, Gerena Valentin, and Ramon Velez in the Bronx, Serrano has been a pioneering figure within the Latino/Puerto Rican political landscape in New York City.</p> <p>Serrano fought at the frontlines for Latino political representation at a time when Puerto Ricans were left out of the political equation despite their burgeoning numbers. Serrano, and the rest, fought arduously for this long-sought-after recognition. Their hard work paid off. Serrano won an Assembly seat in 1975.</p> <p>While Serrano’s early work to gain Latino political representation is not debatable, the rest of his legacy is more dubious. Serrano has not been known for any sort of legislative prowess. The South Bronx, which he represents, has long been a poverty stricken area that has seen scant federal resources for decades, despite Serrano’s long tenure in Congress.</p> <p>As a result of this record, observers like long-time political operative Mike Nieves had surmised that a formidable and credible candidate could defeat Serrano. No one ever did.</p> <p>Serrano’s legacy notwithstanding, the eyes of our political world will now turn to the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx to see who will succeed him in Congress.</p> <p>The timing of Serrano’s retirement announcement coincides with City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ own recent announcement that he would challenge the incumbent representative for the seat. In <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6937-the-future-of-latino-politics-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a previous column</a>, I mentioned that Torres would be one to watch as we eye the future of Latino politics in the city. His intellectual abilities, grasp of public policy, and ability to articulate his view have deservedly caught people’s attention.</p> <p>Torres is clearly a formidable candidate for the “open” congressional seat. Most of his Council district, which he first won in 2013, lies within Serrano’s Congressional district. After six years in the Council, Torres has been able to gain some recognition among voters for his work on behalf of his constituents, particularly in areas affecting NYCHA residents.</p> <p>Various other names are being floated at this nascent stage. Among them are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito has just come off a dismal showing in her race for the citywide position of public advocate. Yet she still holds some name recognition, particularly among Latinos.</p> <p>Her home congressional district is currently represented by Adriano Espaillat but since there are no in-district residency requirements for a congressional seat, she could still make a play for the Serrano seat.</p> <p>Then there is Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is also the Bronx Democratic leader. Crespo’s Assembly district lies entirely within Serrano’s Congressional district and he would therefore potentially go into a race of this sort with a natural base of followers. Some will question his alliance with Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who has been challenged for repeated homophobic statements and positions. But given Crespo’s potential to capitalize on some of the resources that would naturally come his way by virtue of his party position, he would quickly be considered a leading candidate for the position.</p> <p>Yet another recent public advocate candidate might also throw his hat in the ring. Since Michael Blake’s election to the Assembly, and then his appointment to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, rumors have swirled that he would one day challenge José Serrano.</p> <p>That day never came. But this opening can provide an opportunity for Blake. Despite losing the public advocate race, Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and did fairly well in the portion covering Serrano’s Congressional district.</p> <p>And if he’s the only African-American in the race, that could also create a path to victory for Blake. With multiple formidable Latino candidates, a strong African-American candidate could win the seat.</p> <p>Almost a third of the Democratic electorate in this Congressional district is African-American. Over 55 percent is Latino. If the race takes an ethnic path, that could lead to a split Latino vote and a more consolidated African American vote.</p> <p>Then there’s state Senator Gustavo Rivera. Rivera, first elected in 2010, represents a swath of Serrano’s district in the state Senate. He has earned admiration from many progressives for standing up to the Bronx political machinery and for policies that progressives have long championed.</p> <p>Lastly, if he were to step up, one elected official who could clear many if not all in the field would be Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Diaz, Jr. is known throughout the borough and remains popular among many voters. Furthermore, this district has always been his home district -- he represented parts of it in the Assembly for 13 years.</p> <p>Diaz Jr.’s capable communications guru, John DeSio, has tweeted that the borough president is not interested in the position. The borough president appears focused on launching a mayoral bid. But politics is practical and a congressional run could be an easier path to victory than a citywide mayoral race.</p> <p>All this is conjecture, of course. What’s certain is that we can expect a free-for-all for the position ahead of the 2020 vote, and thus another rumble in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rubendiazjr-richie-torres-cm.jpg" alt="rubendiazjr richie torres cm" width="600" height="483" /></p> <p>Rep. Serrano, BP Diaz Jr., CM Torres (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s time for a rumble in the Bronx. After 29 years in Congress and 44 years in elected office, Congressional Rep. José Serrano has decided to retire from office. Together with the likes of Herman Badillo, José Rivera, Robert Garcia, Gerena Valentin, and Ramon Velez in the Bronx, Serrano has been a pioneering figure within the Latino/Puerto Rican political landscape in New York City.</p> <p>Serrano fought at the frontlines for Latino political representation at a time when Puerto Ricans were left out of the political equation despite their burgeoning numbers. Serrano, and the rest, fought arduously for this long-sought-after recognition. Their hard work paid off. Serrano won an Assembly seat in 1975.</p> <p>While Serrano’s early work to gain Latino political representation is not debatable, the rest of his legacy is more dubious. Serrano has not been known for any sort of legislative prowess. The South Bronx, which he represents, has long been a poverty stricken area that has seen scant federal resources for decades, despite Serrano’s long tenure in Congress.</p> <p>As a result of this record, observers like long-time political operative Mike Nieves had surmised that a formidable and credible candidate could defeat Serrano. No one ever did.</p> <p>Serrano’s legacy notwithstanding, the eyes of our political world will now turn to the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx to see who will succeed him in Congress.</p> <p>The timing of Serrano’s retirement announcement coincides with City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ own recent announcement that he would challenge the incumbent representative for the seat. In <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6937-the-future-of-latino-politics-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a previous column</a>, I mentioned that Torres would be one to watch as we eye the future of Latino politics in the city. His intellectual abilities, grasp of public policy, and ability to articulate his view have deservedly caught people’s attention.</p> <p>Torres is clearly a formidable candidate for the “open” congressional seat. Most of his Council district, which he first won in 2013, lies within Serrano’s Congressional district. After six years in the Council, Torres has been able to gain some recognition among voters for his work on behalf of his constituents, particularly in areas affecting NYCHA residents.</p> <p>Various other names are being floated at this nascent stage. Among them are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito has just come off a dismal showing in her race for the citywide position of public advocate. Yet she still holds some name recognition, particularly among Latinos.</p> <p>Her home congressional district is currently represented by Adriano Espaillat but since there are no in-district residency requirements for a congressional seat, she could still make a play for the Serrano seat.</p> <p>Then there is Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is also the Bronx Democratic leader. Crespo’s Assembly district lies entirely within Serrano’s Congressional district and he would therefore potentially go into a race of this sort with a natural base of followers. Some will question his alliance with Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who has been challenged for repeated homophobic statements and positions. But given Crespo’s potential to capitalize on some of the resources that would naturally come his way by virtue of his party position, he would quickly be considered a leading candidate for the position.</p> <p>Yet another recent public advocate candidate might also throw his hat in the ring. Since Michael Blake’s election to the Assembly, and then his appointment to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, rumors have swirled that he would one day challenge José Serrano.</p> <p>That day never came. But this opening can provide an opportunity for Blake. Despite losing the public advocate race, Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and did fairly well in the portion covering Serrano’s Congressional district.</p> <p>And if he’s the only African-American in the race, that could also create a path to victory for Blake. With multiple formidable Latino candidates, a strong African-American candidate could win the seat.</p> <p>Almost a third of the Democratic electorate in this Congressional district is African-American. Over 55 percent is Latino. If the race takes an ethnic path, that could lead to a split Latino vote and a more consolidated African American vote.</p> <p>Then there’s state Senator Gustavo Rivera. Rivera, first elected in 2010, represents a swath of Serrano’s district in the state Senate. He has earned admiration from many progressives for standing up to the Bronx political machinery and for policies that progressives have long championed.</p> <p>Lastly, if he were to step up, one elected official who could clear many if not all in the field would be Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Diaz, Jr. is known throughout the borough and remains popular among many voters. Furthermore, this district has always been his home district -- he represented parts of it in the Assembly for 13 years.</p> <p>Diaz Jr.’s capable communications guru, John DeSio, has tweeted that the borough president is not interested in the position. The borough president appears focused on launching a mayoral bid. But politics is practical and a congressional run could be an easier path to victory than a citywide mayoral race.</p> <p>All this is conjecture, of course. What’s certain is that we can expect a free-for-all for the position ahead of the 2020 vote, and thus another rumble in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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WATCH: New Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on His Vision for New York City 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8387-watch-new-public-advocate-jumaane-williams-on-his-vision-for-new-york-city Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/counciljwoffice.jpg" alt="counciljwoffice" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After winning the February 26 special election for New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams catapulted from Brooklyn City Council Member to one of just three citywide elected officials. With the election results certified, Williams sat down at the Manhattan Neightborhood Network studio with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max for an in-depth, wide-ranging interview about his plans, priorities, and positions. Watch:</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/counciljwoffice.jpg" alt="counciljwoffice" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After winning the February 26 special election for New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams catapulted from Brooklyn City Council Member to one of just three citywide elected officials. With the election results certified, Williams sat down at the Manhattan Neightborhood Network studio with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max for an in-depth, wide-ranging interview about his plans, priorities, and positions. Watch:</p> Candidates for Queens District Attorney Profess Similar Values, Stake Out Different Positions 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8373-candidates-for-queens-district-attorney-positions-march-debate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com//images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>The candidates for Queens District Attorney are becoming increasingly clear about where they stand on key criminal justice issues and how they would run the office if elected later this year. Queens is home to its first competitive district attorney election in decades, with long-time District Attorney Richard Brown set to retire and a crowded Democratic primary set for June 25. The general election will be in November.</p> <p>There are seven candidates currently running, all in the Democratic primary, and six of them met last week for a fast-paced and detail-oriented debate sponsored by the “Queens for DA Accountability” coalition, made up of many community and advocacy groups, hosted at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, and moderated by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max.</p> <p>The candidates for the borough’s top prosecutorial and law enforcement position spoke to roughly 200 attendees and others watching a live-stream, explaining their qualifications for the job and stances on a wide variety of policy issues, some of which they would have control over as district attorney, others that they would be able to influence. Queens, home to more than 2.4 million people, is known as the most diverse borough in the most diverse city in the country.</p> <p>Several questions at the forum were asked by community leaders, on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to police accountability, such as Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by police in Queens, and Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker, who have affiliations with groups in the sponsoring coalition.</p> <p>Six of the seven candidates were in attendance. Mina Malik was sick and unable to participate in the forum, though she released a video on Twitter saying she was sorry to miss it and looked forward to engaging with those participating in the event. The six candidates present at the debate were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves.</p> <p>[For background on the candidates and the race, read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">‘We’re in a New Era’: Inside the Crowded Race to Become the Next Queens District Attorney and Reset the Borough’s Prosecutorial Agenda</a>]</p> <p>As they have at other race events, in their campaign materials, and during interviews, the candidates largely agreed that the Queens District Attorney’s office is in serious need of change, in a general sense of modernizing its practices and culture, but also on key practices. The candidates also mostly found broad agreement at the debate that change is needed on a wide variety of topics like cash bail, sex work prosecutions, Rikers Island, and what to do about police misconduct, but the candidates often disagreed on the solutions. In an email exchange with Gotham Gazette, Malik provided her answers to debate questions, which are also included below.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Vision for the Office</strong><br /> At the start of the forum, the candidates were asked how they envision the DA’s office and how it would work under them.</p> <p>Cabán, a public defender, said she would change the “metrics of success” for the office, claiming there is currently “a system based on gamesmanship” favoring convictions over justice. Instead, she would focus on lowering incarceration and recidivism. Katz, the Queens borough president, envisions the district attorney’s office as a leadership position and that her primary responsibility would be implementing policies and reforms.</p> <p>Lancman, a City Council member, called the office “more than just a place that processes cases that police bring” and “responsible for public safety in Queens.” He said he would decline to prosecute people with mental illnesses and drug addiction and focus on preventing crime.</p> <p>Nieves, a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office, said the DA’s job is to protect residents and know how and when to prosecute cases. Lugo, an attorney and former prosecutor, cited her campaign theme “true justice for all,” and said the officeholder needed to understand “complexities of the whole system” and “prioritize prosecutions.”</p> <p>Lasak, who worked in the Queens DA office for many years before becoming a judge -- a position he resigned from to run this year -- called the DA the “chief law enforcement officer for the borough,” and a position that works with the police department.</p> <p><strong>Violent Crime</strong><br /> The candidates were asked how they would handle prosecutions of violent crime if they were to become the Queens District Attorney, and how that approach may or may not fit into larger calls to reduce the jail population. Teachout noted that the number of people incarcerated in New York for non-violent crimes has steadily dropped over the past two decades, while the number of people incarcerated for violent crimes has remained stagnant.</p> <p>Cabán took the strongest stance in favor of change, saying that her office would “think of criminals as victims of trauma themselves” and that she considers violent crime to be a “public health problem.” Lancman similarly said that it is imperative to “confront the issue of violence” to achieve decarceration, and that prosecutorial reform “cannot exclude violent crimes.”</p> <p>Katz noted that disparities in violent crime prosecution have a “disproportionate effect on people of color” and that her office would work for “fair and equitable prosecutions.” She also said that she would focus resources on diversion programs and access to mental health care, working with the community.</p> <p>Nieves said prosecutors often overcharge defendants to secure a plea deal and that he would end that practice, in addition to engaging in “alternatives to incarceration,” such as diversion programs. Lugo said that the process should focus on care for the victim and the DA’s office should hire social workers for victims of violent crime, but she did not directly answer the question.</p> <p>Unlike the other five candidates at the debate, Lasak cautioned against changing how the office handles violent crime. He said that the DA’s “main job is public safety” and that “we have to be careful when dealing with violent crime.” The statement was one piece of a pattern throughout the debate, and the broader race, where Lasak has staked out more moderate positions in the field, though at times he is joined by other candidates and he consistently says he would make some progressive changes.</p> <p>All candidates present answered affirmatively when asked if they thought current sentences for violent crime were too long in general.</p> <p>By email, Malik said, "Ensuring that violent criminals are held accountable must be a top priority for any District Attorney, but it must be an accountability that keeps our communities both safe and whole." She highlighted her experience in Queens prosecuting "human traffickers, serial rapists, child molesters and violent, repeat offenders," but said she also has "the reform experience of having implemented restorative justice, diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration, particularly for first-time violent offenders, so that one mistake doesn’t take a person further down the wrong path."</p> <p><strong>Domestic Violence Prosecutions</strong><br /> The six candidates were asked whether they would commit to not prosecuting victims of domestic violence and interpersonal conflict for self-defense or acts of survival. All six candidates present committed, with Katz asking “who wouldn’t?”</p> <p>Malik also made that commitment, and added: As a former Special Victims prosecutor, I worked with countless women who were victims of abuse and assault and I am adamantly committed to ensuring the Queens DA’s Office protect victims, not retraumatize them."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Police/Prosecutorial Misconduct</strong><br /> Representatives from the grassroots organization Vocal NY asked what the candidates would do the deter police and prosecutorial misconduct and what would be the career consequences for Assistant DAs that commit misconduct, such as withholding evidence. Later, Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, asked what the candidates would do to ensure fair prosecutions of crimes involving police officers -- like the trial involving officers who shot and killed her son -- and that misconduct investigations were swift, thorough, and unbiased.</p> <p>Cabán said that public defense offices already have lists of “bad officers” and that as DA she would publish these lists and not rely on those officers’ testimony in cases. She also said that prosecutors should undergo retraining to prevent misconduct and that “anyone who wears a badge and commits a crime should be held accountable independent of conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Katz vowed that misconduct “won’t be stood for in my office” and that prosecutors would have to follow her reform policies. She also said that the state attorney general’s office should investigate police brutality accusations, not just police killings of unarmed individuals as is currently the case based on an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Lancman cited the City Council hearings that he has held on police misconduct and the history of misconduct in the Queens DA office. He asserted that “reforms prevent wrongful convictions” and that he would implement a broader code of conduct. He would use personnel in the DA’s office to investigate police misconduct, he added.</p> <p>Nieves said that Assistant DAs that commit misconduct “would be fired” and that he would create a civil rights bureau within the office to investigate police misconduct with personnel from the DA’s office. He also said that police officers who commit perjury should be prosecuted. Lugo said that her office would have “no tolerance for discrimination” and “firm but fair prosecutions.” On the issue of investigations, she said that Assistant DAs “should know the communities they’re prosecuting in” and this would make investigations more equitable.</p> <p>Lasak brought up his previous experience in the DA’s office, saying that “prosecutors under me knew they couldn’t [commit misconduct]” and that his leadership would set the example for his office. He also said he would use the DA’s investigators in police misconduct cases, not the NYPD.</p> <p>Malik wrote that&nbsp;she will work to prevent prosecutorial misconduct. "As District Attorney, I will institute agency-wide trainings on Brady, discovery, witness interviews and preparation, suspect interviews, implicit bias, cultural competency and anti-racism." She promised a DA's office that is "for the first time, representative of the community it serves at the leadership level and hire a dedicated ethics officer to assist in ensuring our attorneys are always above reproach when practicing law."</p> <p><strong>Sex Work Decriminalization</strong><br /> Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker and member of Make the Road New York, asked the candidates for their views on the decriminalization of sex work. The Queens DA would potentially be able to decline to prosecute sex workers, as well as their customers and others involved in sex work, like landlords. Most of the candidates agreed that the DA’s office needs to change how it handles sex work crimes, mostly with a focus on the sex workers themselves, though they spoke about sex work in varied terms.</p> <p>Cabán committed to declining to prosecute sex work-related offenses, including sex workers and those that participate in the sex work industry. She also said that the trans and sex work communities need to be protected. Katz said that sex work offenses should be “diverted into human trafficking courthouses.” She would not prosecute and make resources available to prevent recidivism, she said, while also indicating a belief that all sex workers need to be helped to find a different line of work and path in life.</p> <p>Lancman would also decline to prosecute and would direct sex workers to diversion programs, in addition to focusing on sex trafficking and human traffickers.</p> <p>Nieves would similarly decline to prosecute, calling sex work “a non-violent and consensual crime” and that he “won’t waste resources” on it. He would also create a human trafficking unit.</p> <p>Lugo would consider declining to prosecute and instead implement a diversion program. She also brought up the need to focus on sex trafficking. Lasak was the only candidate against fully declining to prosecute, saying that “the impact on the broader community needs to be looked at” and that sex work lowers the quality of life for residents in affected neighborhoods.</p> <p>Malik wrote&nbsp;her "position to decline to prosecute for sex workers and to vacate prostitution records is informed by a career of defending women suffering sex abuse and working with victims to come forward. We should be investing in resources to help sex workers get treatment and services where needed, while diverting enforcement toward those who profit off of, prey on and traffic sex workers."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Bail Reform</strong><br /> The topic of bail reform also generated a wide consensus among the candidates. Though there are ongoing negotiations in the state capital around major bail reform that could impact the next Queens District Attorney, the candidates were asked about what their policies would be if no changes are made at the state level.</p> <p>All the candidates agreed to reduce the use of cash bail for at least minor and non-violent offenses, with some candidates saying that they would end the practice entirely.</p> <p>Cabán pledged to end cash bail “to the fullest extent” and that her office would “release people as often as possible,” including on some violent alleged crimes. Katz agreed to end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies automatically, but for violent felonies supervision should be looked at as an alternative. Lancman committed to never asking for cash bail and would expand eligibility for release “to the maximum extent of the law,” noting that Kalief Browder was kept on Rikers Island after not being able to post bail upon being arrested for what is essentially a non-violent crime of stealing a backpack, for which he never formally faced charges and was eventually released, later killing himself.</p> <p>Nieves committed to no cash bail for all offenses and that he would use appearance bonds instead of cash bonds. Appearance bonds usually stipulate that a defendant would pay a fine if they do not appear for their court date. Lugo said she would handle the issue on a case-by-case basis and that non-violent crimes would not have cash bail, except for “major drug cases,” like El Chapo.</p> <p>Lasak agreed to no cash bail for minor offenses, but would keep the policy in place for other charges.</p> <p><strong>Rikers Island Closure and Proposed New Jail in Queens</strong><br /> The candidates were asked if they support the closure of Rikers Island and also if they support the proposed new community jail in Queens.</p> <p>Cabán was the only candidate to support the closure of Rikers Island and also oppose the new community jail in Queens. She said that she did not support building new jails because she “doesn’t want them filled.” Perhaps along with Lancman, she has outlined the most aggressive decarceration plan in the race, though he said that Rikers must be closed and also supports the new community jail.</p> <p>Katz supports closing Rikers Island and also the construction of a community jail in Queens.</p> <p>Nieves supports the closure of Rikers and opposed the construction of “mega-jails” in Queens. Lugo said she wants to see the current facilities on Rikers Island closed, but wants new facilities on the island that would separate violent and non-violent offenders. Lasak wants to keep the jails on Rikers Island open.</p> <p>Malik wrote that&nbsp;she believes "it is critical that the community in Queens has its voice and concerns fully heard" but that "the closing of Rikers should also be taken as an opportunity for us as New Yorkers to totally reject the violent culture of Rikers by designing new detention facilities that treat everyone with dignity and aggressively support their reentry. Community detention centers that treat people with dignity and allow people to have more regular contact with their loved ones and support systems have proven to result in reduced recidivism."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Police in Schools/School-to-Prison Pipeline</strong><br /> The candidates were asked about their views on police in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline by an activist with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.</p> <p>Cabán asserted the “need to get police officers out of school” and that “students of color have been criminalized.” Her position is that her office would “decline to prosecute children whenever possible,” and instead “engage in restorative justice.”</p> <p>Katz said “police officers aren’t the only answer to school safety,” but may be necessary in some cases. She believes that diversion programs could work better and that there are currently “too many officers” in schools. Lancman committed to not prosecuting “low-level offenses from schools” and that these would be handled in schools and youth court.</p> <p>Nieves compared over-policed schools to Rikers Island and said his office would give students opportunities instead for low-level offenses and deal with felonies in family court. Lugo said that low-level offenses “should be handled in school,” but supports police being present in schools.</p> <p>Lasak also said that he wants police in schools and that his office would instead focus on “bridging the gap between the community and the courthouse,” through education programs involving young people.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br /> On the topic of immigration, candidates were asked if they would consider mitigating immigration consequences in prosecutorial decisions. Immigrants, including legal residents, could face deportation for certain offenses or even based on what prosecutors say in court statements.</p> <p>Cabán vowed to “keep ICE out of courthouses” and “make sure the DA’s office doesn’t do anything to further deportation,” including taking immigration status into consideration for pleas, charges, and court statements. Katz promised to have “deportation-neutral” charges and pleas. Lancman suggested that the office would hire a “collateral offense officer” to look at mitigating the immigration consequences of prosecutions.</p> <p>Nieves noted that immigration is an important factor for both victims and suspects, saying that victims and witnesses are often afraid to come forward for fear of being deported. Similar to other candidates, he committed to mitigating the immigration consequences of the office’s prosecutions. Lugo vowed to block ICE from courts and to set up an immigration affairs bureau, which would include interpreters. Lasak promised to mitigate immigration consequences only for minor offenses.</p> <p>Malik wrote that she "will implement an immigrant hardship plea policy. Whenever compatible with public safety, I will direct prosecutors to consider collateral consequences when charging noncitizens. We have to ensure the sentence matches the offense and that we are not tearing families apart or leveling disproportionate sentences."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with Mina Malik's responses.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com//images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>The candidates for Queens District Attorney are becoming increasingly clear about where they stand on key criminal justice issues and how they would run the office if elected later this year. Queens is home to its first competitive district attorney election in decades, with long-time District Attorney Richard Brown set to retire and a crowded Democratic primary set for June 25. The general election will be in November.</p> <p>There are seven candidates currently running, all in the Democratic primary, and six of them met last week for a fast-paced and detail-oriented debate sponsored by the “Queens for DA Accountability” coalition, made up of many community and advocacy groups, hosted at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, and moderated by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max.</p> <p>The candidates for the borough’s top prosecutorial and law enforcement position spoke to roughly 200 attendees and others watching a live-stream, explaining their qualifications for the job and stances on a wide variety of policy issues, some of which they would have control over as district attorney, others that they would be able to influence. Queens, home to more than 2.4 million people, is known as the most diverse borough in the most diverse city in the country.</p> <p>Several questions at the forum were asked by community leaders, on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to police accountability, such as Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by police in Queens, and Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker, who have affiliations with groups in the sponsoring coalition.</p> <p>Six of the seven candidates were in attendance. Mina Malik was sick and unable to participate in the forum, though she released a video on Twitter saying she was sorry to miss it and looked forward to engaging with those participating in the event. The six candidates present at the debate were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves.</p> <p>[For background on the candidates and the race, read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">‘We’re in a New Era’: Inside the Crowded Race to Become the Next Queens District Attorney and Reset the Borough’s Prosecutorial Agenda</a>]</p> <p>As they have at other race events, in their campaign materials, and during interviews, the candidates largely agreed that the Queens District Attorney’s office is in serious need of change, in a general sense of modernizing its practices and culture, but also on key practices. The candidates also mostly found broad agreement at the debate that change is needed on a wide variety of topics like cash bail, sex work prosecutions, Rikers Island, and what to do about police misconduct, but the candidates often disagreed on the solutions. In an email exchange with Gotham Gazette, Malik provided her answers to debate questions, which are also included below.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Vision for the Office</strong><br /> At the start of the forum, the candidates were asked how they envision the DA’s office and how it would work under them.</p> <p>Cabán, a public defender, said she would change the “metrics of success” for the office, claiming there is currently “a system based on gamesmanship” favoring convictions over justice. Instead, she would focus on lowering incarceration and recidivism. Katz, the Queens borough president, envisions the district attorney’s office as a leadership position and that her primary responsibility would be implementing policies and reforms.</p> <p>Lancman, a City Council member, called the office “more than just a place that processes cases that police bring” and “responsible for public safety in Queens.” He said he would decline to prosecute people with mental illnesses and drug addiction and focus on preventing crime.</p> <p>Nieves, a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office, said the DA’s job is to protect residents and know how and when to prosecute cases. Lugo, an attorney and former prosecutor, cited her campaign theme “true justice for all,” and said the officeholder needed to understand “complexities of the whole system” and “prioritize prosecutions.”</p> <p>Lasak, who worked in the Queens DA office for many years before becoming a judge -- a position he resigned from to run this year -- called the DA the “chief law enforcement officer for the borough,” and a position that works with the police department.</p> <p><strong>Violent Crime</strong><br /> The candidates were asked how they would handle prosecutions of violent crime if they were to become the Queens District Attorney, and how that approach may or may not fit into larger calls to reduce the jail population. Teachout noted that the number of people incarcerated in New York for non-violent crimes has steadily dropped over the past two decades, while the number of people incarcerated for violent crimes has remained stagnant.</p> <p>Cabán took the strongest stance in favor of change, saying that her office would “think of criminals as victims of trauma themselves” and that she considers violent crime to be a “public health problem.” Lancman similarly said that it is imperative to “confront the issue of violence” to achieve decarceration, and that prosecutorial reform “cannot exclude violent crimes.”</p> <p>Katz noted that disparities in violent crime prosecution have a “disproportionate effect on people of color” and that her office would work for “fair and equitable prosecutions.” She also said that she would focus resources on diversion programs and access to mental health care, working with the community.</p> <p>Nieves said prosecutors often overcharge defendants to secure a plea deal and that he would end that practice, in addition to engaging in “alternatives to incarceration,” such as diversion programs. Lugo said that the process should focus on care for the victim and the DA’s office should hire social workers for victims of violent crime, but she did not directly answer the question.</p> <p>Unlike the other five candidates at the debate, Lasak cautioned against changing how the office handles violent crime. He said that the DA’s “main job is public safety” and that “we have to be careful when dealing with violent crime.” The statement was one piece of a pattern throughout the debate, and the broader race, where Lasak has staked out more moderate positions in the field, though at times he is joined by other candidates and he consistently says he would make some progressive changes.</p> <p>All candidates present answered affirmatively when asked if they thought current sentences for violent crime were too long in general.</p> <p>By email, Malik said, "Ensuring that violent criminals are held accountable must be a top priority for any District Attorney, but it must be an accountability that keeps our communities both safe and whole." She highlighted her experience in Queens prosecuting "human traffickers, serial rapists, child molesters and violent, repeat offenders," but said she also has "the reform experience of having implemented restorative justice, diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration, particularly for first-time violent offenders, so that one mistake doesn’t take a person further down the wrong path."</p> <p><strong>Domestic Violence Prosecutions</strong><br /> The six candidates were asked whether they would commit to not prosecuting victims of domestic violence and interpersonal conflict for self-defense or acts of survival. All six candidates present committed, with Katz asking “who wouldn’t?”</p> <p>Malik also made that commitment, and added: As a former Special Victims prosecutor, I worked with countless women who were victims of abuse and assault and I am adamantly committed to ensuring the Queens DA’s Office protect victims, not retraumatize them."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Police/Prosecutorial Misconduct</strong><br /> Representatives from the grassroots organization Vocal NY asked what the candidates would do the deter police and prosecutorial misconduct and what would be the career consequences for Assistant DAs that commit misconduct, such as withholding evidence. Later, Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, asked what the candidates would do to ensure fair prosecutions of crimes involving police officers -- like the trial involving officers who shot and killed her son -- and that misconduct investigations were swift, thorough, and unbiased.</p> <p>Cabán said that public defense offices already have lists of “bad officers” and that as DA she would publish these lists and not rely on those officers’ testimony in cases. She also said that prosecutors should undergo retraining to prevent misconduct and that “anyone who wears a badge and commits a crime should be held accountable independent of conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Katz vowed that misconduct “won’t be stood for in my office” and that prosecutors would have to follow her reform policies. She also said that the state attorney general’s office should investigate police brutality accusations, not just police killings of unarmed individuals as is currently the case based on an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Lancman cited the City Council hearings that he has held on police misconduct and the history of misconduct in the Queens DA office. He asserted that “reforms prevent wrongful convictions” and that he would implement a broader code of conduct. He would use personnel in the DA’s office to investigate police misconduct, he added.</p> <p>Nieves said that Assistant DAs that commit misconduct “would be fired” and that he would create a civil rights bureau within the office to investigate police misconduct with personnel from the DA’s office. He also said that police officers who commit perjury should be prosecuted. Lugo said that her office would have “no tolerance for discrimination” and “firm but fair prosecutions.” On the issue of investigations, she said that Assistant DAs “should know the communities they’re prosecuting in” and this would make investigations more equitable.</p> <p>Lasak brought up his previous experience in the DA’s office, saying that “prosecutors under me knew they couldn’t [commit misconduct]” and that his leadership would set the example for his office. He also said he would use the DA’s investigators in police misconduct cases, not the NYPD.</p> <p>Malik wrote that&nbsp;she will work to prevent prosecutorial misconduct. "As District Attorney, I will institute agency-wide trainings on Brady, discovery, witness interviews and preparation, suspect interviews, implicit bias, cultural competency and anti-racism." She promised a DA's office that is "for the first time, representative of the community it serves at the leadership level and hire a dedicated ethics officer to assist in ensuring our attorneys are always above reproach when practicing law."</p> <p><strong>Sex Work Decriminalization</strong><br /> Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker and member of Make the Road New York, asked the candidates for their views on the decriminalization of sex work. The Queens DA would potentially be able to decline to prosecute sex workers, as well as their customers and others involved in sex work, like landlords. Most of the candidates agreed that the DA’s office needs to change how it handles sex work crimes, mostly with a focus on the sex workers themselves, though they spoke about sex work in varied terms.</p> <p>Cabán committed to declining to prosecute sex work-related offenses, including sex workers and those that participate in the sex work industry. She also said that the trans and sex work communities need to be protected. Katz said that sex work offenses should be “diverted into human trafficking courthouses.” She would not prosecute and make resources available to prevent recidivism, she said, while also indicating a belief that all sex workers need to be helped to find a different line of work and path in life.</p> <p>Lancman would also decline to prosecute and would direct sex workers to diversion programs, in addition to focusing on sex trafficking and human traffickers.</p> <p>Nieves would similarly decline to prosecute, calling sex work “a non-violent and consensual crime” and that he “won’t waste resources” on it. He would also create a human trafficking unit.</p> <p>Lugo would consider declining to prosecute and instead implement a diversion program. She also brought up the need to focus on sex trafficking. Lasak was the only candidate against fully declining to prosecute, saying that “the impact on the broader community needs to be looked at” and that sex work lowers the quality of life for residents in affected neighborhoods.</p> <p>Malik wrote&nbsp;her "position to decline to prosecute for sex workers and to vacate prostitution records is informed by a career of defending women suffering sex abuse and working with victims to come forward. We should be investing in resources to help sex workers get treatment and services where needed, while diverting enforcement toward those who profit off of, prey on and traffic sex workers."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Bail Reform</strong><br /> The topic of bail reform also generated a wide consensus among the candidates. Though there are ongoing negotiations in the state capital around major bail reform that could impact the next Queens District Attorney, the candidates were asked about what their policies would be if no changes are made at the state level.</p> <p>All the candidates agreed to reduce the use of cash bail for at least minor and non-violent offenses, with some candidates saying that they would end the practice entirely.</p> <p>Cabán pledged to end cash bail “to the fullest extent” and that her office would “release people as often as possible,” including on some violent alleged crimes. Katz agreed to end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies automatically, but for violent felonies supervision should be looked at as an alternative. Lancman committed to never asking for cash bail and would expand eligibility for release “to the maximum extent of the law,” noting that Kalief Browder was kept on Rikers Island after not being able to post bail upon being arrested for what is essentially a non-violent crime of stealing a backpack, for which he never formally faced charges and was eventually released, later killing himself.</p> <p>Nieves committed to no cash bail for all offenses and that he would use appearance bonds instead of cash bonds. Appearance bonds usually stipulate that a defendant would pay a fine if they do not appear for their court date. Lugo said she would handle the issue on a case-by-case basis and that non-violent crimes would not have cash bail, except for “major drug cases,” like El Chapo.</p> <p>Lasak agreed to no cash bail for minor offenses, but would keep the policy in place for other charges.</p> <p><strong>Rikers Island Closure and Proposed New Jail in Queens</strong><br /> The candidates were asked if they support the closure of Rikers Island and also if they support the proposed new community jail in Queens.</p> <p>Cabán was the only candidate to support the closure of Rikers Island and also oppose the new community jail in Queens. She said that she did not support building new jails because she “doesn’t want them filled.” Perhaps along with Lancman, she has outlined the most aggressive decarceration plan in the race, though he said that Rikers must be closed and also supports the new community jail.</p> <p>Katz supports closing Rikers Island and also the construction of a community jail in Queens.</p> <p>Nieves supports the closure of Rikers and opposed the construction of “mega-jails” in Queens. Lugo said she wants to see the current facilities on Rikers Island closed, but wants new facilities on the island that would separate violent and non-violent offenders. Lasak wants to keep the jails on Rikers Island open.</p> <p>Malik wrote that&nbsp;she believes "it is critical that the community in Queens has its voice and concerns fully heard" but that "the closing of Rikers should also be taken as an opportunity for us as New Yorkers to totally reject the violent culture of Rikers by designing new detention facilities that treat everyone with dignity and aggressively support their reentry. Community detention centers that treat people with dignity and allow people to have more regular contact with their loved ones and support systems have proven to result in reduced recidivism."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Police in Schools/School-to-Prison Pipeline</strong><br /> The candidates were asked about their views on police in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline by an activist with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.</p> <p>Cabán asserted the “need to get police officers out of school” and that “students of color have been criminalized.” Her position is that her office would “decline to prosecute children whenever possible,” and instead “engage in restorative justice.”</p> <p>Katz said “police officers aren’t the only answer to school safety,” but may be necessary in some cases. She believes that diversion programs could work better and that there are currently “too many officers” in schools. Lancman committed to not prosecuting “low-level offenses from schools” and that these would be handled in schools and youth court.</p> <p>Nieves compared over-policed schools to Rikers Island and said his office would give students opportunities instead for low-level offenses and deal with felonies in family court. Lugo said that low-level offenses “should be handled in school,” but supports police being present in schools.</p> <p>Lasak also said that he wants police in schools and that his office would instead focus on “bridging the gap between the community and the courthouse,” through education programs involving young people.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br /> On the topic of immigration, candidates were asked if they would consider mitigating immigration consequences in prosecutorial decisions. Immigrants, including legal residents, could face deportation for certain offenses or even based on what prosecutors say in court statements.</p> <p>Cabán vowed to “keep ICE out of courthouses” and “make sure the DA’s office doesn’t do anything to further deportation,” including taking immigration status into consideration for pleas, charges, and court statements. Katz promised to have “deportation-neutral” charges and pleas. Lancman suggested that the office would hire a “collateral offense officer” to look at mitigating the immigration consequences of prosecutions.</p> <p>Nieves noted that immigration is an important factor for both victims and suspects, saying that victims and witnesses are often afraid to come forward for fear of being deported. Similar to other candidates, he committed to mitigating the immigration consequences of the office’s prosecutions. Lugo vowed to block ICE from courts and to set up an immigration affairs bureau, which would include interpreters. Lasak promised to mitigate immigration consequences only for minor offenses.</p> <p>Malik wrote that she "will implement an immigrant hardship plea policy. Whenever compatible with public safety, I will direct prosecutors to consider collateral consequences when charging noncitizens. We have to ensure the sentence matches the offense and that we are not tearing families apart or leveling disproportionate sentences."</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with Mina Malik's responses.</p>
LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19) 2019-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="alyssaguilera vocal" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.</p> <p><em>Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max &amp; Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney</a>.]</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/589552335&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="alyssaguilera vocal" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.</p> <p><em>Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max &amp; Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney</a>.]</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/589552335&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns 2019-03-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8348-report-under-new-law-small-donors-drove-public-advocate-special-election-campaigns Ben Max <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/poolnytdebate_001.jpg" alt="poolnytdebate 001" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>The first public advocate debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))</p> <hr /> <p>Small-dollar donors were behind 63 percent of the first wave of campaign contributions to candidates who ran in the February special election for public advocate, up from 26.3 percent in 2013 when there was an open race for the seat, according to an analysis by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. The Manhattan Council member sponsored the law to implement in the public advocate special election the new campaign finance rules overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year.</p> <p>The public advocate special election, in which City Council Member Jumaane Williams emerged victorious, was the first citywide race under the new rules that lowered contribution limits for special elections for citywide offices from $2,550 to $1,000 (special election limits are half of the regular election limits, which changed from $5,100 to $2,000), increased the ratio of public matching funds given to candidates from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a qualifying contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250, and increased the limit for public funds payments from 55 percent of the spending limit for a race to 75 percent. Soon after the referendum was approved -- by just over 80 percent of voters -- the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio expedited legislation in order to apply the rules to elections before 2021, after which they were set to be mandatory. For the special election and those through 2021, the next citywide election year, candidates must choose the old or new system.</p> <p>Of the 17 candidates on the public advocate ballot, all but one opted into the voluntary public matching funds program, which is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Only four decided to stick with the outgoing matching program while the rest chose lower contribution limits that came with higher public matching funds. In total, the 11 candidates who eventually qualified for public funds received $7,178,120 via the CFB.</p> <p>According CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”</p> <p>Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.</p> <p>“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2018] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.</p> <p>His analysis, which covers the candidates’ pre-election campaign finance disclosures till February 11 (the most recent filing deadline - final numbers are due March 25), found that contributions of $1,000 and more accounted for 26 percent of the $2.2 million raised to that point in the election, compared with 60 percent throughout 2013. In total, all the candidates raised $2.6 million for the special election, which was “nonpartisan” and did not have party primaries. In 2013, candidates raised $4.9 million running for public advocate in the primary and general.</p> <p>Kallos has long been critical of big money in elections, particularly donations from the real estate industry which have been a large force at the city and state level. “This is the first time a citywide elected official has been elected without real estate money,” said Kallos, who himself rejects real estate donations. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Several candidates in the special election similarly refused real estate cash, which is of a piece with broader calls for candidates to rely on small donors. Public Advocate-elect Williams was among those who signed a pledge floated by New York Communities for Change, a housing justice advocacy organization, to refuse corporate and real estate money.</p> <p>“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director, in a statement calling on other candidates to follow Williams’ lead.</p> <p>Several candidates running for citywide office in 2021, or exploring a candidacy, have already said that they will rely on the new campaign finance system, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>Real estate donations are increasingly becoming a litmus test for progressive Democrats, some of whom were elected to the state Legislature last year and are also pushing to implement a public financing program for state elections similar to the city’s model. For advocates and labor leaders, the public advocate election was proof positive that small-dollar financing is effective and should be replicated by the state. “Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level,” said Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager for Citizen Action. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system.</p> <p>Kallos notes that candidates can spend fewer hours dialling for dollars from wealthy donors if they rely on small contributions from the tens of thousands of residents of their districts, or from millions in the case of citywide races. “My hypothesis was that if we increase the public match...that that would halve big money and it actually did that,” he said. “It wasn’t a modest success. It literally cut it almost in half.”</p> <p>The expanded matching funds program has been widely praised for elevating the voices of everyday New Yorkers. “Normally, a special election for public advocate would probably be very much of an insider’s race. It would be funded by insiders and people who follow politics closely,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. “And I think that what putting this legislation into effect now did was incentivized candidates to reach out to ordinary New Yorkers to campaign.” Camarda also expects this momentum to carry forward and that candidates will feel “real pressure” to participate.</p> <p>Many of the candidates who ran for public advocate were also first-time contenders, including Nomiki Konst and Dawn Smalls, who were among the ten candidates on stage at the first official debate in the race, and among the seven candidates at the second official debate.</p> <p>There have been arguments levelled against the public funds system, of course, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will work for a full-fledged citywide race rather than a truncated special election. Some candidates have said the regulators of the program are sometimes overly harsh and fine them for small, technical violations. Others criticize the cost to taxpayers -- the entire special election is estimated to cost the city around $20 million in administrative and public campaign financing while the annual budget of the public advocate was only about $3.6 million last year. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stuck with the old campaign finance rules and came in third in the special election, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/02/new-campaign-finance-law-creates-fissure-in-public-advocates-race-769959" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> that the new system was being pushed through to prevent her from winning, apparently in part because she was transferring a significant sum of funds from her prior campaign account, an advantage more easily mitigated with the new system.</p> <p>But there is otherwise broad agreement that the city’s program is a model to be emulated, as other jurisdictions have done across the country, and it is progressively being improved. “I’m still not done yet,” Kallos said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that total candidate fundraising was $2.6 million for the special election. It has also been updated to clarify the contribution limits for special elections.&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/poolnytdebate_001.jpg" alt="poolnytdebate 001" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>The first public advocate debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))</p> <hr /> <p>Small-dollar donors were behind 63 percent of the first wave of campaign contributions to candidates who ran in the February special election for public advocate, up from 26.3 percent in 2013 when there was an open race for the seat, according to an analysis by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. The Manhattan Council member sponsored the law to implement in the public advocate special election the new campaign finance rules overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year.</p> <p>The public advocate special election, in which City Council Member Jumaane Williams emerged victorious, was the first citywide race under the new rules that lowered contribution limits for special elections for citywide offices from $2,550 to $1,000 (special election limits are half of the regular election limits, which changed from $5,100 to $2,000), increased the ratio of public matching funds given to candidates from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a qualifying contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250, and increased the limit for public funds payments from 55 percent of the spending limit for a race to 75 percent. Soon after the referendum was approved -- by just over 80 percent of voters -- the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio expedited legislation in order to apply the rules to elections before 2021, after which they were set to be mandatory. For the special election and those through 2021, the next citywide election year, candidates must choose the old or new system.</p> <p>Of the 17 candidates on the public advocate ballot, all but one opted into the voluntary public matching funds program, which is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Only four decided to stick with the outgoing matching program while the rest chose lower contribution limits that came with higher public matching funds. In total, the 11 candidates who eventually qualified for public funds received $7,178,120 via the CFB.</p> <p>According CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”</p> <p>Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.</p> <p>“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2018] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.</p> <p>His analysis, which covers the candidates’ pre-election campaign finance disclosures till February 11 (the most recent filing deadline - final numbers are due March 25), found that contributions of $1,000 and more accounted for 26 percent of the $2.2 million raised to that point in the election, compared with 60 percent throughout 2013. In total, all the candidates raised $2.6 million for the special election, which was “nonpartisan” and did not have party primaries. In 2013, candidates raised $4.9 million running for public advocate in the primary and general.</p> <p>Kallos has long been critical of big money in elections, particularly donations from the real estate industry which have been a large force at the city and state level. “This is the first time a citywide elected official has been elected without real estate money,” said Kallos, who himself rejects real estate donations. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Several candidates in the special election similarly refused real estate cash, which is of a piece with broader calls for candidates to rely on small donors. Public Advocate-elect Williams was among those who signed a pledge floated by New York Communities for Change, a housing justice advocacy organization, to refuse corporate and real estate money.</p> <p>“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director, in a statement calling on other candidates to follow Williams’ lead.</p> <p>Several candidates running for citywide office in 2021, or exploring a candidacy, have already said that they will rely on the new campaign finance system, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>Real estate donations are increasingly becoming a litmus test for progressive Democrats, some of whom were elected to the state Legislature last year and are also pushing to implement a public financing program for state elections similar to the city’s model. For advocates and labor leaders, the public advocate election was proof positive that small-dollar financing is effective and should be replicated by the state. “Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level,” said Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager for Citizen Action. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system.</p> <p>Kallos notes that candidates can spend fewer hours dialling for dollars from wealthy donors if they rely on small contributions from the tens of thousands of residents of their districts, or from millions in the case of citywide races. “My hypothesis was that if we increase the public match...that that would halve big money and it actually did that,” he said. “It wasn’t a modest success. It literally cut it almost in half.”</p> <p>The expanded matching funds program has been widely praised for elevating the voices of everyday New Yorkers. “Normally, a special election for public advocate would probably be very much of an insider’s race. It would be funded by insiders and people who follow politics closely,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. “And I think that what putting this legislation into effect now did was incentivized candidates to reach out to ordinary New Yorkers to campaign.” Camarda also expects this momentum to carry forward and that candidates will feel “real pressure” to participate.</p> <p>Many of the candidates who ran for public advocate were also first-time contenders, including Nomiki Konst and Dawn Smalls, who were among the ten candidates on stage at the first official debate in the race, and among the seven candidates at the second official debate.</p> <p>There have been arguments levelled against the public funds system, of course, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will work for a full-fledged citywide race rather than a truncated special election. Some candidates have said the regulators of the program are sometimes overly harsh and fine them for small, technical violations. Others criticize the cost to taxpayers -- the entire special election is estimated to cost the city around $20 million in administrative and public campaign financing while the annual budget of the public advocate was only about $3.6 million last year. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stuck with the old campaign finance rules and came in third in the special election, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/02/new-campaign-finance-law-creates-fissure-in-public-advocates-race-769959" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> that the new system was being pushed through to prevent her from winning, apparently in part because she was transferring a significant sum of funds from her prior campaign account, an advantage more easily mitigated with the new system.</p> <p>But there is otherwise broad agreement that the city’s program is a model to be emulated, as other jurisdictions have done across the country, and it is progressively being improved. “I’m still not done yet,” Kallos said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that total candidate fundraising was $2.6 million for the special election. It has also been updated to clarify the contribution limits for special elections.&nbsp;</p>
The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race 2019-03-07T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8337-the-aftermath-of-the-public-advocate-race Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccm-j-williams-prelim.jpg" alt="ccm j williams prelim" width="600" height="421" /></p> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito &amp; Jumaane Williams (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The public advocate special election has come and gone. The implications of the results will be felt for years to come. Yet there is a debate over whether the position of public advocate should even exist. But it is here and the last two to hold the position—Bill de Blasio and Letitia James—have moved on to higher office.</p> <p><strong>The Candidates</strong><br />Jumaane Williams, the winner of the race with 33% of the vote in a very crowded field and now the third African-American to hold citywide office in New York City, will surely be mentioned as a mayoral candidate in the future. Williams, perhaps contrary to popular expectation, was dominant in a diverse set of communities in the city—from central Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, northern Bronx to the Lower East Side.</p> <p>The following map, created by Steven Romalewski of CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service, vividly captures the results of the citywide race, showing Williams’ geographically- and numerically-wide victory:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/aftermath-pub-adv.png" target="_blank" type="image/png" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/aftermath-pub-adv.png" alt="aftermath pub adv" width="400" height="369" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p>The breadth and depth of his victory was surprising. Many, including me, assumed that Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Latina, would run a more formidable race. Conventional wisdom held that along with Williams (who ran for lieutenant governor last fall), she would enter the race with the highest name recognition, after serving as speaker of the City Council for four years and thus appearing often on newspaper pages and TV networks throughout the city. Instead, Mark-Viverito took a very distant third place, with only 11% of the overall vote.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito’s electoral performance was so weak that she won her home Assembly district (the 68th district in East Harlem) by only 216 votes over Williams. By comparison, Williams defeated his next closest opponent by over 3,000 votes in his own Brooklyn Assembly district. Assemblymember Michael Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and in his home district defeated his closest opponent by over 1,000 votes.</p> <p>This does not mean that Mark-Viverito has taken herself out of contention for future races. But she has much work to do to improve name recognition and to make a more compelling case for being elected to higher office.</p> <p><strong>The Votes</strong><br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8124-handicapping-the-public-advocate-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In my last column</a>, I noted that 67% of the runoff election for this seat back in 2013 came from Manhattan and Brooklyn. I figured that in this shortened special election, these two boroughs would continue to play an outsized role. Manhattan and Brooklyn duly accounted for 60% of the overall voter turnout. And it was in these two boroughs that Williams vastly outperformed his competitors.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8124-handicapping-the-public-advocate-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In that same column</a> I pondered the potential role that outside groups and labor could play. I believe it was the endorsement of The New York Times, an entity I did not mention in that piece, that cemented an already strong campaign by Williams as outside groups and labor mostly remained on the sidelines.</p> <p><strong>The Black and Latino Vote</strong><br />While it will be at least another month before we have the full data on who actually came out to vote, we have some hints about the Latino and black communities: that districts with over 55% of black voters comprised 22% of the overall vote; that districts with over 55% of Latino voters comprised about 10%; and that together black and Latino voters appear to have constituted almost a third of the overall vote.</p> <p>As we explore the dynamics of the black and Latino vote in this special election, it is noteworthy that the depth of Williams’ victory extended to some key Latino districts, where it may have been expected that Mark-Viverito would dominate. Surely, having Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal in the race did not help her cause to win the lion’s share of the Latino vote. But Williams’ performance is striking in places like Washington Heights, where he came within 16 votes of Mark-Viverito’s second place finish (Rodriguez won this, his home district).</p> <p>In Bushwick, East New York, and parts of Williamsburg, where Latino voters still outnumber other groups, Williams handily beat Mark-Viverito and Espinal. These were all areas in which Mark-Viverito needed to pull out strong Latino numbers. But she failed to do so.</p> <p>The Latino vote was particularly low overall. And that is troubling. During the previous municipal general elections, in 2017, Latinos made up roughly 18% of the overall vote (blacks comprised 30% of the vote). This past November, Latino turnout citywide increased by 3%. But in my estimation, in this special election Latinos barely reached the 10% mark. Though we will not have the full picture for a while, clearly plenty of work remains to be done to increase voter participation in Latino communities.</p> <p>And as Latino leaders gather in Albany this weekend for the annual Somos legislative conference, I would hope that they brainstorm strategies to increase Latino voter participation.</p> <p>All in all, and the public advocate special election notwithstanding, in years to come Latinos and black voters will continue to gain influence as crucial voting blocs in New York City. Given their potential voting power, the task is making sure they turn out to vote.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccm-j-williams-prelim.jpg" alt="ccm j williams prelim" width="600" height="421" /></p> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito &amp; Jumaane Williams (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The public advocate special election has come and gone. The implications of the results will be felt for years to come. Yet there is a debate over whether the position of public advocate should even exist. But it is here and the last two to hold the position—Bill de Blasio and Letitia James—have moved on to higher office.</p> <p><strong>The Candidates</strong><br />Jumaane Williams, the winner of the race with 33% of the vote in a very crowded field and now the third African-American to hold citywide office in New York City, will surely be mentioned as a mayoral candidate in the future. Williams, perhaps contrary to popular expectation, was dominant in a diverse set of communities in the city—from central Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, northern Bronx to the Lower East Side.</p> <p>The following map, created by Steven Romalewski of CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service, vividly captures the results of the citywide race, showing Williams’ geographically- and numerically-wide victory:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/aftermath-pub-adv.png" target="_blank" type="image/png" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/aftermath-pub-adv.png" alt="aftermath pub adv" width="400" height="369" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p>The breadth and depth of his victory was surprising. Many, including me, assumed that Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Latina, would run a more formidable race. Conventional wisdom held that along with Williams (who ran for lieutenant governor last fall), she would enter the race with the highest name recognition, after serving as speaker of the City Council for four years and thus appearing often on newspaper pages and TV networks throughout the city. Instead, Mark-Viverito took a very distant third place, with only 11% of the overall vote.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito’s electoral performance was so weak that she won her home Assembly district (the 68th district in East Harlem) by only 216 votes over Williams. By comparison, Williams defeated his next closest opponent by over 3,000 votes in his own Brooklyn Assembly district. Assemblymember Michael Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and in his home district defeated his closest opponent by over 1,000 votes.</p> <p>This does not mean that Mark-Viverito has taken herself out of contention for future races. But she has much work to do to improve name recognition and to make a more compelling case for being elected to higher office.</p> <p><strong>The Votes</strong><br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8124-handicapping-the-public-advocate-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In my last column</a>, I noted that 67% of the runoff election for this seat back in 2013 came from Manhattan and Brooklyn. I figured that in this shortened special election, these two boroughs would continue to play an outsized role. Manhattan and Brooklyn duly accounted for 60% of the overall voter turnout. And it was in these two boroughs that Williams vastly outperformed his competitors.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8124-handicapping-the-public-advocate-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In that same column</a> I pondered the potential role that outside groups and labor could play. I believe it was the endorsement of The New York Times, an entity I did not mention in that piece, that cemented an already strong campaign by Williams as outside groups and labor mostly remained on the sidelines.</p> <p><strong>The Black and Latino Vote</strong><br />While it will be at least another month before we have the full data on who actually came out to vote, we have some hints about the Latino and black communities: that districts with over 55% of black voters comprised 22% of the overall vote; that districts with over 55% of Latino voters comprised about 10%; and that together black and Latino voters appear to have constituted almost a third of the overall vote.</p> <p>As we explore the dynamics of the black and Latino vote in this special election, it is noteworthy that the depth of Williams’ victory extended to some key Latino districts, where it may have been expected that Mark-Viverito would dominate. Surely, having Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal in the race did not help her cause to win the lion’s share of the Latino vote. But Williams’ performance is striking in places like Washington Heights, where he came within 16 votes of Mark-Viverito’s second place finish (Rodriguez won this, his home district).</p> <p>In Bushwick, East New York, and parts of Williamsburg, where Latino voters still outnumber other groups, Williams handily beat Mark-Viverito and Espinal. These were all areas in which Mark-Viverito needed to pull out strong Latino numbers. But she failed to do so.</p> <p>The Latino vote was particularly low overall. And that is troubling. During the previous municipal general elections, in 2017, Latinos made up roughly 18% of the overall vote (blacks comprised 30% of the vote). This past November, Latino turnout citywide increased by 3%. But in my estimation, in this special election Latinos barely reached the 10% mark. Though we will not have the full picture for a while, clearly plenty of work remains to be done to increase voter participation in Latino communities.</p> <p>And as Latino leaders gather in Albany this weekend for the annual Somos legislative conference, I would hope that they brainstorm strategies to increase Latino voter participation.</p> <p>All in all, and the public advocate special election notwithstanding, in years to come Latinos and black voters will continue to gain influence as crucial voting blocs in New York City. Given their potential voting power, the task is making sure they turn out to vote.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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'We're in a New Era’: Inside the Crowded Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney and Reset the Borough’s Prosecutorial Agenda 2019-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dwamhvfwoaejtul.jpg" alt="dwamhvfwoaejtul" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Queens Borough President Katz swears-in community board members (photo:&nbsp;@QueensBPKatz)</p> <hr /> <p>Uncontested for seven terms spanning more than a quarter-century, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has hung back while his counterparts in Brooklyn and Manhattan join a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/magazine/larry-krasner-philadelphia-district-attorney-progressive.html">growing national conversation</a> about criminal justice reform and the power of prosecutors to decarcerate jails. While the retiring Brown is a “dear friend,” former New York Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told Gotham Gazette recently, “it’s time for a new prosecutor with new, up-to-date modern views.”</p> <p>Answering that call, six of seven announced candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary are campaigning as the best progressive reformer for the job. Even the exception, self-described “middle of the road” attorney Betty Lugo, has aligned herself with the pack in promising fewer low-level prosecutions and condemning a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/1/29/ice-arrests-have-surged-at-queens-courts-report-reveals">surge</a> in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests outside Queens courts.</p> <p>The June 25 election will almost certainly determine Brown’s successor and reset the prosecutorial tone in a vast, diverse borough of more than two million residents. “We’re really looking for someone who works with the community and understands that we’re in a new era. We’re no longer in a tough-on-crime, war on drugs era,” said 18-year-old Andrea Colon, a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, one of several criminal justice and immigrant rights groups <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8194-community-demands-for-the-next-queens-district-attorney">demanding change in the office</a>.</p> <p>But Queens is an ideological patchwork. “It's an older voter, especially out east where it's more suburban,” said one party insider, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “They don't like people who jump turnstiles. They don’t want people smoking [marijuana] on the streets.” Former Queens Supreme Court judge and county prosecutor Greg Lasak, who’s pitching himself as the only candidate who can properly balance public safety with reform, has endorsements and <a href="https://indypendent.org/2019/02/is-queens-ready-for-a-peoples-da/">donations</a> from a number of law enforcement unions, including court clerks and officers. He's leading in funds raised for this race, with more than $800,000 to date, but trails Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman in money available given their resources from prior campaign accounts.</p> <p>Conversations with each candidate -- prosecutors Jose Nieves and Mina Malik and public defender Tiffany Cabán round out the field -- reveal real differences: on prosecutorial priorities and experience, as well as how they view the scope of the job. Now that the term progressive has wide application, says Steve Zeidman, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY School of Law, “we have to push and get into the fine print.”</p> <p><strong>Prosecutorial Differences</strong><br />Katz and Lancman are both established politicians with law degrees, strong name recognition in the borough, and early fundraising success. Both formerly served in the state Assembly. “I think there needs to be a change in focus in the DA’s Office,” Katz told Gotham Gazette, outlining her plan for new bureaus focused on immigrant rights, housing fraud, and worker rights.</p> <p>But Katz -- who recently won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party -- has proposed narrower prosecutorial reforms than most of the pack, pledging along with Lasak only to decline to prosecute marijuana possession cases. By contrast Lancman, Cabán, Malik, and Nieves have all outlined do-not-prosecute lists including fare evasion, drug possession, and prostitution -- in the style of recently-elected reform district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and <a href="https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/09/07/rachael-rollins-do-not-prosecute-list-crimes-boston-suffolk-county/">Rachael Rollins Boston</a>.</p> <p>Judge Lippman told Gotham Gazette that though he doesn’t typically endorse candidates, Lancman, the first candidate to enter the race, “was always the first one to be there to generate support for a new view for criminal justice.” But the City Council member has lots of company now. He, Cabán, and Nieves have all pledged to never request cash bail, on the grounds that it perpetuates racial- and class-based inequities.</p> <p>Four of the candidates -- Malik, Nieves, Lasak, and Lugo -- tout their prosecutorial experience. Malik, who is originally from Queens, served most recently as a deputy for the District of Columbia Attorney General. She also helped the late Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson implement a <a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/02/20/brooklyn-da-prosecution-of-low-level-marijuana-cases-down-98-percent/">policy for fewer marijuana prosecutions</a>. Like Lasak, she’s served in the very office she’s running to lead. “Queens deserves someone who can come into the DA’s office, know from day one how it operates,” Malik told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Nieves, meanwhile, emphasizes his recent experience prosecuting police officers at the state attorney general’s office and holding “the system itself accountable.”</p> <p>Cabán’s status as the only public defender in the race, most recently with New York County Defender Services, has won her endorsements from ascendant groups on the left. “Her ultimate responsibility is to the public and that's what it's always been,” said Zohran Mamdani, an electoral organizer with the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.</p> <p>Addressing a crowd of supporters in Jackson Heights this month, Cabán said she’ll fight for defendants, not convictions. As a queer Latina from a low-income family, she relates to the challenges her clients face. “For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” she said.</p> <p>How the candidates approach the prosecution of violent crimes, from murder to burglary, is another useful differentiator. Most say that fewer misdemeanor cases will free up resources to prosecute violent crimes. In endorsing Lasak, Glen Damato, president of the New York State Court Clerks Association, praised “his work putting away Queens’ most violent criminals and his compassion in exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”</p> <p>When Katz was a child, a drunk driver struck and killed her mother. She said that if she’s elected district attorney cases involving intoxicated driving are going to be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law, in my administration.” She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/12/14/katz-death-penalty-vote-a-red-flag-for-criminal-justice-reformers">said</a> life sentences can be justified “on a case by case basis” while Lancman, Nieves, and Cabán say they’ll never request such a sentence.</p> <p>Cabán has been most vocal about a less punitive approach to violent crime. She says her father, a retired elevator mechanic, has struggled with alcoholism and that her grandfather, a veteran with PTSD, was abusive. Incarcerating people for repeat violent behavior “is not changing the behavior,” Cabán said, calling for a shift in funding towards alternatives such as mental health services. "Sometimes that means showing compassion for someone who does harm."</p> <p><strong>Race Strategy</strong><br />Increasingly, district attorney candidates are expected to weigh in on political debates outside the courtroom. Lancman and Cabán, for example, have promised not to join the statewide district attorney association, which has recently lobbied against pretrial reforms currently up for consideration in Albany, like open file discovery and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how">elimination of cash bail</a>.</p> <p>Everyone but Lasak, who declined to weigh in, told Gotham Gazette they support the city’s <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/07/05/de-blasio-and-the-difficult-task-of-closing-rikers-island/">commitment to close the jails on Rikers Island</a>. Cabán and Nieves have taken this a step further, saying they oppose replacing them with new or revamped jails across the city. “I don't think we need 40-story super structures to house more people,” Nevies said. “I think we need less people incarcerated.”</p> <p>Cabán is also refusing corporate donations: a position that aligns her with other DSA-endorsed New York candidates like Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon, who ran an unsuccessful 2018 Democratic primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Doing so, Cabán says, will reassure Queens residents that she’s not afraid to prosecute landlords or employers accused of wage theft.</p> <p>Lancman is dismissive of the stance. “I am not bringing a knife to this gun fight,” he scoffed. “I am not in this race to lose but claim a moral victory and then see black and brown people terrorized.”</p> <p>Voters are also considering candidates’ proximity to the Queens County Democratic Party. Its endorsement of Katz is bad optics for both, according to Jesse Rose, founder of the New Queens Democrats, a progressive civic engagement group that has endorsed Cabán. “It was just absurd to me,” he said. “They didn’t have a forum. They didn’t have a vetting process. They didn’t ensure that there was transparency in any way.” (The party did not respond to a request for comment, but has defended its process <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/2/11/queens-democrats-set-to-endorse-katz-dsa-backs-cabn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to the Queens Daily Eagle</a>.)</p> <p>The dynamic isn’t a major concern for Lugo. A singer by hobby, she says she even performed the traditional Irish ballad Danny Boy at a recent county party dinner. “I think had they interviewed me they would have found me the most qualified, but it is what it is,” she said.</p> <p>But Katz, who has won two borough-wide elections, seems to be downplaying her endorsement. She plans to implement a grassroots strategy with “a volunteer army knocking on doors,” according to Doug Forand, a campaign advisor with Red Horse Strategies. “She'll be reaching out broadly, and engaging the newer voters who are bringing new energy into Democratic primaries, and we look forward to earning their support."</p> <p>The groups already rallying around Cabán have proven formidable in this realm, knocking on doors for Ocasio-Cortez and, more recently, protesting the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/nyregion/amazon-hq2-queens.html">ill-fated Amazon campus in Queens</a>. “I wouldn’t be surprised if their activity [and] endorsement means something considerable, even in Queens, which still has conservative areas,” said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.</p> <p>Regardless of who wins in June, advocates are hopeful that this election will increase awareness across the borough that district attorneys are powerful, and elected by their constituents.</p> <p>“This not about winning an election,” explained Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit that works on criminal justice reform, among other issues. “It's about, how do you get into the public narrative and get people in Queens talking about criminal justice reform, the power of prosecutors, and how you hold them accountable?”</p> <p><em>Gotham Gazette is cosponsoring a candidate debate on March 12 at 6 p.m. RSVP <a href="https://vocal.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&amp;id=2067">here</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Note: soon after this article was published, DA Brown announced that due to health issues he would be stepping down as district attorney effective June 1. His chief assistant, John M. Ryan, will run the office in his absence.</em></p> <p>

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: this article has been updated to clarify that Lasak leads in funds raised for this race, though he does trail Katz and Lancman in funds available.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dwamhvfwoaejtul.jpg" alt="dwamhvfwoaejtul" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Queens Borough President Katz swears-in community board members (photo:&nbsp;@QueensBPKatz)</p> <hr /> <p>Uncontested for seven terms spanning more than a quarter-century, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has hung back while his counterparts in Brooklyn and Manhattan join a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/magazine/larry-krasner-philadelphia-district-attorney-progressive.html">growing national conversation</a> about criminal justice reform and the power of prosecutors to decarcerate jails. While the retiring Brown is a “dear friend,” former New York Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told Gotham Gazette recently, “it’s time for a new prosecutor with new, up-to-date modern views.”</p> <p>Answering that call, six of seven announced candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary are campaigning as the best progressive reformer for the job. Even the exception, self-described “middle of the road” attorney Betty Lugo, has aligned herself with the pack in promising fewer low-level prosecutions and condemning a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/1/29/ice-arrests-have-surged-at-queens-courts-report-reveals">surge</a> in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests outside Queens courts.</p> <p>The June 25 election will almost certainly determine Brown’s successor and reset the prosecutorial tone in a vast, diverse borough of more than two million residents. “We’re really looking for someone who works with the community and understands that we’re in a new era. We’re no longer in a tough-on-crime, war on drugs era,” said 18-year-old Andrea Colon, a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, one of several criminal justice and immigrant rights groups <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8194-community-demands-for-the-next-queens-district-attorney">demanding change in the office</a>.</p> <p>But Queens is an ideological patchwork. “It's an older voter, especially out east where it's more suburban,” said one party insider, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “They don't like people who jump turnstiles. They don’t want people smoking [marijuana] on the streets.” Former Queens Supreme Court judge and county prosecutor Greg Lasak, who’s pitching himself as the only candidate who can properly balance public safety with reform, has endorsements and <a href="https://indypendent.org/2019/02/is-queens-ready-for-a-peoples-da/">donations</a> from a number of law enforcement unions, including court clerks and officers. He's leading in funds raised for this race, with more than $800,000 to date, but trails Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman in money available given their resources from prior campaign accounts.</p> <p>Conversations with each candidate -- prosecutors Jose Nieves and Mina Malik and public defender Tiffany Cabán round out the field -- reveal real differences: on prosecutorial priorities and experience, as well as how they view the scope of the job. Now that the term progressive has wide application, says Steve Zeidman, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY School of Law, “we have to push and get into the fine print.”</p> <p><strong>Prosecutorial Differences</strong><br />Katz and Lancman are both established politicians with law degrees, strong name recognition in the borough, and early fundraising success. Both formerly served in the state Assembly. “I think there needs to be a change in focus in the DA’s Office,” Katz told Gotham Gazette, outlining her plan for new bureaus focused on immigrant rights, housing fraud, and worker rights.</p> <p>But Katz -- who recently won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party -- has proposed narrower prosecutorial reforms than most of the pack, pledging along with Lasak only to decline to prosecute marijuana possession cases. By contrast Lancman, Cabán, Malik, and Nieves have all outlined do-not-prosecute lists including fare evasion, drug possession, and prostitution -- in the style of recently-elected reform district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and <a href="https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/09/07/rachael-rollins-do-not-prosecute-list-crimes-boston-suffolk-county/">Rachael Rollins Boston</a>.</p> <p>Judge Lippman told Gotham Gazette that though he doesn’t typically endorse candidates, Lancman, the first candidate to enter the race, “was always the first one to be there to generate support for a new view for criminal justice.” But the City Council member has lots of company now. He, Cabán, and Nieves have all pledged to never request cash bail, on the grounds that it perpetuates racial- and class-based inequities.</p> <p>Four of the candidates -- Malik, Nieves, Lasak, and Lugo -- tout their prosecutorial experience. Malik, who is originally from Queens, served most recently as a deputy for the District of Columbia Attorney General. She also helped the late Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson implement a <a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/02/20/brooklyn-da-prosecution-of-low-level-marijuana-cases-down-98-percent/">policy for fewer marijuana prosecutions</a>. Like Lasak, she’s served in the very office she’s running to lead. “Queens deserves someone who can come into the DA’s office, know from day one how it operates,” Malik told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Nieves, meanwhile, emphasizes his recent experience prosecuting police officers at the state attorney general’s office and holding “the system itself accountable.”</p> <p>Cabán’s status as the only public defender in the race, most recently with New York County Defender Services, has won her endorsements from ascendant groups on the left. “Her ultimate responsibility is to the public and that's what it's always been,” said Zohran Mamdani, an electoral organizer with the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.</p> <p>Addressing a crowd of supporters in Jackson Heights this month, Cabán said she’ll fight for defendants, not convictions. As a queer Latina from a low-income family, she relates to the challenges her clients face. “For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” she said.</p> <p>How the candidates approach the prosecution of violent crimes, from murder to burglary, is another useful differentiator. Most say that fewer misdemeanor cases will free up resources to prosecute violent crimes. In endorsing Lasak, Glen Damato, president of the New York State Court Clerks Association, praised “his work putting away Queens’ most violent criminals and his compassion in exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”</p> <p>When Katz was a child, a drunk driver struck and killed her mother. She said that if she’s elected district attorney cases involving intoxicated driving are going to be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law, in my administration.” She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/12/14/katz-death-penalty-vote-a-red-flag-for-criminal-justice-reformers">said</a> life sentences can be justified “on a case by case basis” while Lancman, Nieves, and Cabán say they’ll never request such a sentence.</p> <p>Cabán has been most vocal about a less punitive approach to violent crime. She says her father, a retired elevator mechanic, has struggled with alcoholism and that her grandfather, a veteran with PTSD, was abusive. Incarcerating people for repeat violent behavior “is not changing the behavior,” Cabán said, calling for a shift in funding towards alternatives such as mental health services. "Sometimes that means showing compassion for someone who does harm."</p> <p><strong>Race Strategy</strong><br />Increasingly, district attorney candidates are expected to weigh in on political debates outside the courtroom. Lancman and Cabán, for example, have promised not to join the statewide district attorney association, which has recently lobbied against pretrial reforms currently up for consideration in Albany, like open file discovery and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how">elimination of cash bail</a>.</p> <p>Everyone but Lasak, who declined to weigh in, told Gotham Gazette they support the city’s <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/07/05/de-blasio-and-the-difficult-task-of-closing-rikers-island/">commitment to close the jails on Rikers Island</a>. Cabán and Nieves have taken this a step further, saying they oppose replacing them with new or revamped jails across the city. “I don't think we need 40-story super structures to house more people,” Nevies said. “I think we need less people incarcerated.”</p> <p>Cabán is also refusing corporate donations: a position that aligns her with other DSA-endorsed New York candidates like Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon, who ran an unsuccessful 2018 Democratic primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Doing so, Cabán says, will reassure Queens residents that she’s not afraid to prosecute landlords or employers accused of wage theft.</p> <p>Lancman is dismissive of the stance. “I am not bringing a knife to this gun fight,” he scoffed. “I am not in this race to lose but claim a moral victory and then see black and brown people terrorized.”</p> <p>Voters are also considering candidates’ proximity to the Queens County Democratic Party. Its endorsement of Katz is bad optics for both, according to Jesse Rose, founder of the New Queens Democrats, a progressive civic engagement group that has endorsed Cabán. “It was just absurd to me,” he said. “They didn’t have a forum. They didn’t have a vetting process. They didn’t ensure that there was transparency in any way.” (The party did not respond to a request for comment, but has defended its process <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/2/11/queens-democrats-set-to-endorse-katz-dsa-backs-cabn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to the Queens Daily Eagle</a>.)</p> <p>The dynamic isn’t a major concern for Lugo. A singer by hobby, she says she even performed the traditional Irish ballad Danny Boy at a recent county party dinner. “I think had they interviewed me they would have found me the most qualified, but it is what it is,” she said.</p> <p>But Katz, who has won two borough-wide elections, seems to be downplaying her endorsement. She plans to implement a grassroots strategy with “a volunteer army knocking on doors,” according to Doug Forand, a campaign advisor with Red Horse Strategies. “She'll be reaching out broadly, and engaging the newer voters who are bringing new energy into Democratic primaries, and we look forward to earning their support."</p> <p>The groups already rallying around Cabán have proven formidable in this realm, knocking on doors for Ocasio-Cortez and, more recently, protesting the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/nyregion/amazon-hq2-queens.html">ill-fated Amazon campus in Queens</a>. “I wouldn’t be surprised if their activity [and] endorsement means something considerable, even in Queens, which still has conservative areas,” said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.</p> <p>Regardless of who wins in June, advocates are hopeful that this election will increase awareness across the borough that district attorneys are powerful, and elected by their constituents.</p> <p>“This not about winning an election,” explained Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit that works on criminal justice reform, among other issues. “It's about, how do you get into the public narrative and get people in Queens talking about criminal justice reform, the power of prosecutors, and how you hold them accountable?”</p> <p><em>Gotham Gazette is cosponsoring a candidate debate on March 12 at 6 p.m. RSVP <a href="https://vocal.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&amp;id=2067">here</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Note: soon after this article was published, DA Brown announced that due to health issues he would be stepping down as district attorney effective June 1. His chief assistant, John M. Ryan, will run the office in his absence.</em></p> <p>

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: this article has been updated to clarify that Lasak leads in funds raised for this race, though he does trail Katz and Lancman in funds available.</p>
Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams' Promises and Positions 2019-02-26T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-26T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8312-what-jumaane-williams-has-promised-to-do-as-public-advocate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cm-jw-pa.jpg" alt="cm jw pa" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor last year, won in convincing fashion the Tuesday special election for public advocate of New York City.</p> <p>Over the course of his campaign, Williams, a former tenant organizer, made several promises and pitched policies that he said would transform the office of public advocate, which has limited statutory authority or budget but provides a platform for outspoken advocacy.</p> <p>“This job is not to be adversarial just because. It’s to be a voice for the people,” Williams said at the first of two official televised debates in the short special election, on February 6. He is seeking to make the public advocate more responsive to everyday New Yorkers, he’s said, with the ability to involve communities in city policy rather than see initiatives imposed on the populace from the de Blasio administration’s ivory tower.</p> <p>Williams top stated priorities for taking on the citywide position are affordable housing, criminal justice reform, improved mass transit, and increased transparency and accountability in local government, whether it be at the NYPD or in economic development deals such as the failed Amazon “HQ2” proposal. He also has said he would focus on transit in the city, pointing the finger on Governor Andrew Cuomo for mismanagement of the MTA.</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Rezoning and Housing</strong><br />“New York’s housing crisis is out of control,” Williams writes on his campaign website. “While Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo claim to take this crisis seriously, they do little more than tinker at the edges.”</p> <p>Williams was among the three Council members who voted against Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a significant but controversial change to the city’s housing policies that formed the basis for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing program launched in his first term. MIH set a new baseline for the inclusion of affordable housing in development projects that receive city permission to build larger than land use rules would otherwise allow. It was heralded by de Blasio and most Council members as historic and trend-setting, but Williams believes it did not go far enough.</p> <p>Throughout the public advocate campaign, Williams has continued to criticize MIH and called for fixing the policy to incorporate deeper housing affordability. “Housing is the number one issue,” he declared at the first debate.</p> <p>Williams has promised to push for three bills that he had already introduced before the Council -- one to place a moratorium on neighborhood rezonings, which the mayor has pursued in several low-income communities of color; a bill that would mandate a racial impact study before any rezoning; and a third one to end the city’s third-party transfer program, which has led to what many call deed theft of the homes of low-income residents of color.</p> <p>He has also promised to push for a 15 percent of units set aside for homeless individuals in housing projects that receive city funding and to end the sale of public land to private developers.</p> <p>The scandal-plagued and financially ailing New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), home to nearly half-a-million New Yorkers, also loomed large in the public advocate’s race and Williams promised to investigate the work of NYCHA home inspectors and living conditions in developments. Though the authority has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one by the federal government that was settled with the city, Williams has also pledged to sue the authority over what his campaign termed a breach of human rights.</p> <p><strong>Deputies in the Boroughs</strong><br />Williams has promised a more ground-up approach in the public advocate’s work, emphasizing at the second televised debate of the race on February 20, “The problem this administration has is it too often tries to do things to people. We have to have someone that’s gonna try to do things with people.”</p> <p>"I want to reorganize how the public advocate office works," Williams said <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8295-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-candidate-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>. He said he would&nbsp;set up satellite offices in the boroughs that have a high number of complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police misconduct, with a deputy public advocate stationed at each one to more closely track problems at their source.</p> <p><strong>Subpoena Power</strong><br />Williams has said he will introduce legislation to give the public advocate the power to subpoena city agencies for records, which would help him perform the duty of “charter cop” that he said is an essential role for the office, referring to the city charter, its foundational government document.</p> <p>Williams also wants the ability to be able to vote on legislation before the City Council. The public advocate can introduce legislation to the Council, but does not have a vote.</p> <p>All the candidates, including Williams, generally agreed that the office needs more resources and should have an independent budget that is not subject to the whims of the mayor or the City Council.</p> <p>Williams <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8295-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-candidate-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Max &amp; Murphy</a> that several agencies aren't living up to expectations in his view and need more scrutiny. He named agencies dealing with housing, policing, and health care, among others.</p> <p><strong>Fossil Fuel Divestment</strong><br />Williams has called for the city to divest its public pension money from fossil fuels and, as public advocate, would be one of the trustees of the city’s multi-billion-dollar pension fund. His position would allow him to advocate for divestment, a position that his predecessor also supported.</p> <p><strong>Police Transparency</strong> <br />As a longtime critic of the NYPD, Williams has pushed for policing reforms, and for greater transparency and accountability in police disciplinary procedures. He was one of the architects of the Community Safety Act, passed over a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which cracked down on discriminatory policing and imposed an inspector general on the police department.</p> <p>Williams has been vocal about the need to repeal section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which prevents officer disciplinary records from public disclosure. He has vowed to continue that advocacy from the public advocate’s podium.</p> <p><strong>Marijuana Legalization</strong><br />Williams introduced the Marijuana Reform Act at the City Council, which would prohibit employment discrimination, as well as against license applications, by city agencies based on marijuana-related arrests and convictions. He favors legalization of adult-use marijuana but wants tax revenue reinvested in communities that have been most harmed, as he puts it, by racially-biased law enforcement of drug laws.</p> <p><strong>Election Reforms</strong><br />Williams has supported instant-runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, which gives voters the ability to choose candidates by preference and distributes second-choice votes if no single candidate meets the required threshold to claim a victory. The system is designed to prevent costly and laborious runoffs like the one held for the public advocate’s seat in 2013. Williams has also said he’s supportive of nonpartisan elections.</p> <p><strong>Municipal Control of the MTA</strong><br />At the first debate in the race, when the ten candidates on stage were asked if the mayor should have control of the city’s subways, Williams only half raised his hand. Though he agreed that the city should increase its contributions to MTA capital funding, he said it should come with a “commensurate amount of control” for the city. Currently, the mayor controls 4 of 17 appointments to the MTA board, which Williams said should be increased. But, he said mayoral control wasn’t ideal since, in his opinion, it hadn’t worked well for the school system. Instead, he said he’d like to see “municipal control” which also gives the City Council the ability to have a say.</p> <p><strong>Education</strong> <br />Williams attended Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the city’s specialized high schools where Mayor de Blasio wants to diversify the student population by scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). But Williams has taken issue with the mayor’s plan, which critics say would pit different racial and ethnic groups against each other, taking away seats from Asian-Americans to improve representation of blacks and Latinos. “This is an issue about access points,” Williams said at the first debate, emphasizing that the city should be looking at multiple criteria for admissions and evaluating the entire Department of Education.</p> <p>Williams has also called for fully funding the state appeals court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which would require the state to allocare billions more in the budget for struggling schools. CFE funding has been a perennial issue at the state level and Governor Cuomo has sought to change the funding formula this year. As public advocate, it’s likely that Williams will be among those on the frontlines fighting those efforts as the state budget deadline nears.</p> <p><strong>The Amazon Deal</strong><br />Williams was among the elected officials who signed a letter urging Amazon to choose New York City as the home for its new HQ2 campus. But once the deal was announced by Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Williams called it a “debacle” and said it should be quashed. At the second debate, which took place shortly after Amazon scuttled their plans to move to Long Island City, Williams explained that he took issue with the secrecy of the deal and that he would be “derelict” if he had refused to engage in conversations to create between 25,000 and 40,000 jobs in the city. “We should applaud and be thankful that people’s voices were heard but we should lament the fact that we didn’t have an honest discussion,” he said.</p> <p>He said he would advocate for the passage of Council Member Brad Lander’s bill, which he has co-sponsored, to ban non-disclosure agreements for economic development deals, like the NDAs that Amazon had required elected officials to sign.</p> <p><strong>Small Businesses</strong><br />Williams has supported the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is meant to commercial tenants the right to renew their leases and prevent the closure of small businesses from exorbitant rent hikes. Recent versions of the bill have languished for more than a decade in the City Council but it has picked up momentum under Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- a hearing was held in October for the first time in ten years.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>This article has been updated to add several other Williams positions expressed during the campaign.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cm-jw-pa.jpg" alt="cm jw pa" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor last year, won in convincing fashion the Tuesday special election for public advocate of New York City.</p> <p>Over the course of his campaign, Williams, a former tenant organizer, made several promises and pitched policies that he said would transform the office of public advocate, which has limited statutory authority or budget but provides a platform for outspoken advocacy.</p> <p>“This job is not to be adversarial just because. It’s to be a voice for the people,” Williams said at the first of two official televised debates in the short special election, on February 6. He is seeking to make the public advocate more responsive to everyday New Yorkers, he’s said, with the ability to involve communities in city policy rather than see initiatives imposed on the populace from the de Blasio administration’s ivory tower.</p> <p>Williams top stated priorities for taking on the citywide position are affordable housing, criminal justice reform, improved mass transit, and increased transparency and accountability in local government, whether it be at the NYPD or in economic development deals such as the failed Amazon “HQ2” proposal. He also has said he would focus on transit in the city, pointing the finger on Governor Andrew Cuomo for mismanagement of the MTA.</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Rezoning and Housing</strong><br />“New York’s housing crisis is out of control,” Williams writes on his campaign website. “While Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo claim to take this crisis seriously, they do little more than tinker at the edges.”</p> <p>Williams was among the three Council members who voted against Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a significant but controversial change to the city’s housing policies that formed the basis for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing program launched in his first term. MIH set a new baseline for the inclusion of affordable housing in development projects that receive city permission to build larger than land use rules would otherwise allow. It was heralded by de Blasio and most Council members as historic and trend-setting, but Williams believes it did not go far enough.</p> <p>Throughout the public advocate campaign, Williams has continued to criticize MIH and called for fixing the policy to incorporate deeper housing affordability. “Housing is the number one issue,” he declared at the first debate.</p> <p>Williams has promised to push for three bills that he had already introduced before the Council -- one to place a moratorium on neighborhood rezonings, which the mayor has pursued in several low-income communities of color; a bill that would mandate a racial impact study before any rezoning; and a third one to end the city’s third-party transfer program, which has led to what many call deed theft of the homes of low-income residents of color.</p> <p>He has also promised to push for a 15 percent of units set aside for homeless individuals in housing projects that receive city funding and to end the sale of public land to private developers.</p> <p>The scandal-plagued and financially ailing New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), home to nearly half-a-million New Yorkers, also loomed large in the public advocate’s race and Williams promised to investigate the work of NYCHA home inspectors and living conditions in developments. Though the authority has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one by the federal government that was settled with the city, Williams has also pledged to sue the authority over what his campaign termed a breach of human rights.</p> <p><strong>Deputies in the Boroughs</strong><br />Williams has promised a more ground-up approach in the public advocate’s work, emphasizing at the second televised debate of the race on February 20, “The problem this administration has is it too often tries to do things to people. We have to have someone that’s gonna try to do things with people.”</p> <p>"I want to reorganize how the public advocate office works," Williams said <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8295-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-candidate-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>. He said he would&nbsp;set up satellite offices in the boroughs that have a high number of complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police misconduct, with a deputy public advocate stationed at each one to more closely track problems at their source.</p> <p><strong>Subpoena Power</strong><br />Williams has said he will introduce legislation to give the public advocate the power to subpoena city agencies for records, which would help him perform the duty of “charter cop” that he said is an essential role for the office, referring to the city charter, its foundational government document.</p> <p>Williams also wants the ability to be able to vote on legislation before the City Council. The public advocate can introduce legislation to the Council, but does not have a vote.</p> <p>All the candidates, including Williams, generally agreed that the office needs more resources and should have an independent budget that is not subject to the whims of the mayor or the City Council.</p> <p>Williams <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8295-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-candidate-jumaane-williams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Max &amp; Murphy</a> that several agencies aren't living up to expectations in his view and need more scrutiny. He named agencies dealing with housing, policing, and health care, among others.</p> <p><strong>Fossil Fuel Divestment</strong><br />Williams has called for the city to divest its public pension money from fossil fuels and, as public advocate, would be one of the trustees of the city’s multi-billion-dollar pension fund. His position would allow him to advocate for divestment, a position that his predecessor also supported.</p> <p><strong>Police Transparency</strong> <br />As a longtime critic of the NYPD, Williams has pushed for policing reforms, and for greater transparency and accountability in police disciplinary procedures. He was one of the architects of the Community Safety Act, passed over a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which cracked down on discriminatory policing and imposed an inspector general on the police department.</p> <p>Williams has been vocal about the need to repeal section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which prevents officer disciplinary records from public disclosure. He has vowed to continue that advocacy from the public advocate’s podium.</p> <p><strong>Marijuana Legalization</strong><br />Williams introduced the Marijuana Reform Act at the City Council, which would prohibit employment discrimination, as well as against license applications, by city agencies based on marijuana-related arrests and convictions. He favors legalization of adult-use marijuana but wants tax revenue reinvested in communities that have been most harmed, as he puts it, by racially-biased law enforcement of drug laws.</p> <p><strong>Election Reforms</strong><br />Williams has supported instant-runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, which gives voters the ability to choose candidates by preference and distributes second-choice votes if no single candidate meets the required threshold to claim a victory. The system is designed to prevent costly and laborious runoffs like the one held for the public advocate’s seat in 2013. Williams has also said he’s supportive of nonpartisan elections.</p> <p><strong>Municipal Control of the MTA</strong><br />At the first debate in the race, when the ten candidates on stage were asked if the mayor should have control of the city’s subways, Williams only half raised his hand. Though he agreed that the city should increase its contributions to MTA capital funding, he said it should come with a “commensurate amount of control” for the city. Currently, the mayor controls 4 of 17 appointments to the MTA board, which Williams said should be increased. But, he said mayoral control wasn’t ideal since, in his opinion, it hadn’t worked well for the school system. Instead, he said he’d like to see “municipal control” which also gives the City Council the ability to have a say.</p> <p><strong>Education</strong> <br />Williams attended Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the city’s specialized high schools where Mayor de Blasio wants to diversify the student population by scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). But Williams has taken issue with the mayor’s plan, which critics say would pit different racial and ethnic groups against each other, taking away seats from Asian-Americans to improve representation of blacks and Latinos. “This is an issue about access points,” Williams said at the first debate, emphasizing that the city should be looking at multiple criteria for admissions and evaluating the entire Department of Education.</p> <p>Williams has also called for fully funding the state appeals court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which would require the state to allocare billions more in the budget for struggling schools. CFE funding has been a perennial issue at the state level and Governor Cuomo has sought to change the funding formula this year. As public advocate, it’s likely that Williams will be among those on the frontlines fighting those efforts as the state budget deadline nears.</p> <p><strong>The Amazon Deal</strong><br />Williams was among the elected officials who signed a letter urging Amazon to choose New York City as the home for its new HQ2 campus. But once the deal was announced by Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Williams called it a “debacle” and said it should be quashed. At the second debate, which took place shortly after Amazon scuttled their plans to move to Long Island City, Williams explained that he took issue with the secrecy of the deal and that he would be “derelict” if he had refused to engage in conversations to create between 25,000 and 40,000 jobs in the city. “We should applaud and be thankful that people’s voices were heard but we should lament the fact that we didn’t have an honest discussion,” he said.</p> <p>He said he would advocate for the passage of Council Member Brad Lander’s bill, which he has co-sponsored, to ban non-disclosure agreements for economic development deals, like the NDAs that Amazon had required elected officials to sign.</p> <p><strong>Small Businesses</strong><br />Williams has supported the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is meant to commercial tenants the right to renew their leases and prevent the closure of small businesses from exorbitant rent hikes. Recent versions of the bill have languished for more than a decade in the City Council but it has picked up momentum under Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- a hearing was held in October for the first time in ten years.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>This article has been updated to add several other Williams positions expressed during the campaign.</p>
Jumaane Williams Elected New York City Public Advocate 2019-02-26T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-26T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8311-jumaane-williams-elected-public-advocate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/45077531964_c0808bd062_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams election" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Jumaane Williams, the outspoken New York City Council member from Brooklyn who touts himself as an “activist elected official,” won the special election for public advocate on Tuesday, emerging victorious by a wider margin than most expected in a field with 17 candidates on the ballot. Only about a half-hour after polls closed at 9 p.m., NY1 television called the race for Williams, who had more than 30% of the vote with more than 50% of election precincts reporting. As of about midnight, Williams had roughly 33%, about one-third of the 402,000 votes reported at that point, with about 98% of precincts reporting results.</p> <p>There are roughly 5.18 million registered voters in New York City -- turnout appears to be about 8%.</p> <p>"This campaign may have been relatively short but this journey has been long," Williams said to supporters at his victory party at Cafe Omar in Flatbush, according to prepared remarks. "It traces back across years of working with all of you on the front lines of the issues that matter to all of us, of fighting for transformational change in the streets and in the halls of government."</p> <p>Williams will serve the next ten months as one of three citywide elected officials, along with the mayor and comptroller, and will have to defend his seat in a potential June primary and the November general in order to serve the remainder of the term, which runs through 2021. Letitia James vacated the position after becoming the state attorney general, triggering the special election. The field featured several other current and former elected officals, such as City Council Member Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican elected official in the field and likely second-place finished, and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who appears likely to come in third.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ulrich was in at about 19% of the vote, with Mark-Viverito at about 11 percent. Assemblymember Michael Blake was in fourth at about 8%, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez at 6%, and attorney Dawn Smalls at 4%. Other candidates included City Council Member Rafael Espinal and Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Danny O'Donnell, activists Nomiki Konst and Ben Yee, among others.</p> <p>Williams was the presumed frontrunner from the start of the race -- though he rejected that status -- having secured 669,068 votes in an unsuccessful primary bid for lieutenant governor last year, 434,393 of which came from New York City alone. Williams retained momentum from that race and seemed to only add to the endorsements from advocacy groups, political clubs, and elected officials across the city.</p> <p>Williams touted his credentials as a tenant organizer, activist, and legislator. He has repeatedly boasted of “putting my body on the line” as he did last year when he blocked an ambulance carrying immigration activist Ravi Ragbir, who was arrested at a routine check-in with federal immigration authorities. Williams’ actions led to his arrest and a subsequent trial in which he was found guilty on one misdemeanor charge but not on others. He was sentenced to time served in police custody.</p> <p>Williams has been both ally and antagonist to Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself a former public advocate. Williams has praised the mayor on improvements at the NYPD and on criminal justice reforms more broadly, but he has been critical that much-needed reform on police discipline and transparency has stalled. He has also focused on housing issues, saying that the mayor's approach to affordable housing is not aggressive enough. In his speech Tuesday, Williams issued a warning to the mayor, and others in power in the city and state. "I know that there are some who have sought to get rid of [the public advocate's office] and now, I'm sure there are powerful people who want it gone even more," he said. "But we aren't going anywhere. Instead, we're going to hold the powerful accountable. The mayor, the police commissioner, the governor, the big money interests. We are watching, and we will speak out."</p> <p>As the public advocate, Williams becomes one of three citywide elected officials besides the mayor and comptroller. The public advocate serves as the city’s ombudsperson, with a prominent bully pulpit and the ability to introduce legislation before the City Council. But the office itself holds few other powers and has a budget of only about $3.5 million -- the special election itself cost about $15 million in public funds.</p> <p>Still, former public advocates have gone on to bigger things, as James’ election showed. Her predecessor for two terms in the office was de Blasio. Williams has said he will not run for mayor in 2021. Though he may consider that pledge, most pressingly he needs to hold onto his newfound power later this year.</p> <p><em>[This story has been and will be updated]</em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/45077531964_c0808bd062_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams election" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p>Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Jumaane Williams, the outspoken New York City Council member from Brooklyn who touts himself as an “activist elected official,” won the special election for public advocate on Tuesday, emerging victorious by a wider margin than most expected in a field with 17 candidates on the ballot. Only about a half-hour after polls closed at 9 p.m., NY1 television called the race for Williams, who had more than 30% of the vote with more than 50% of election precincts reporting. As of about midnight, Williams had roughly 33%, about one-third of the 402,000 votes reported at that point, with about 98% of precincts reporting results.</p> <p>There are roughly 5.18 million registered voters in New York City -- turnout appears to be about 8%.</p> <p>"This campaign may have been relatively short but this journey has been long," Williams said to supporters at his victory party at Cafe Omar in Flatbush, according to prepared remarks. "It traces back across years of working with all of you on the front lines of the issues that matter to all of us, of fighting for transformational change in the streets and in the halls of government."</p> <p>Williams will serve the next ten months as one of three citywide elected officials, along with the mayor and comptroller, and will have to defend his seat in a potential June primary and the November general in order to serve the remainder of the term, which runs through 2021. Letitia James vacated the position after becoming the state attorney general, triggering the special election. The field featured several other current and former elected officals, such as City Council Member Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican elected official in the field and likely second-place finished, and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who appears likely to come in third.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ulrich was in at about 19% of the vote, with Mark-Viverito at about 11 percent. Assemblymember Michael Blake was in fourth at about 8%, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez at 6%, and attorney Dawn Smalls at 4%. Other candidates included City Council Member Rafael Espinal and Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Danny O'Donnell, activists Nomiki Konst and Ben Yee, among others.</p> <p>Williams was the presumed frontrunner from the start of the race -- though he rejected that status -- having secured 669,068 votes in an unsuccessful primary bid for lieutenant governor last year, 434,393 of which came from New York City alone. Williams retained momentum from that race and seemed to only add to the endorsements from advocacy groups, political clubs, and elected officials across the city.</p> <p>Williams touted his credentials as a tenant organizer, activist, and legislator. He has repeatedly boasted of “putting my body on the line” as he did last year when he blocked an ambulance carrying immigration activist Ravi Ragbir, who was arrested at a routine check-in with federal immigration authorities. Williams’ actions led to his arrest and a subsequent trial in which he was found guilty on one misdemeanor charge but not on others. He was sentenced to time served in police custody.</p> <p>Williams has been both ally and antagonist to Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself a former public advocate. Williams has praised the mayor on improvements at the NYPD and on criminal justice reforms more broadly, but he has been critical that much-needed reform on police discipline and transparency has stalled. He has also focused on housing issues, saying that the mayor's approach to affordable housing is not aggressive enough. In his speech Tuesday, Williams issued a warning to the mayor, and others in power in the city and state. "I know that there are some who have sought to get rid of [the public advocate's office] and now, I'm sure there are powerful people who want it gone even more," he said. "But we aren't going anywhere. Instead, we're going to hold the powerful accountable. The mayor, the police commissioner, the governor, the big money interests. We are watching, and we will speak out."</p> <p>As the public advocate, Williams becomes one of three citywide elected officials besides the mayor and comptroller. The public advocate serves as the city’s ombudsperson, with a prominent bully pulpit and the ability to introduce legislation before the City Council. But the office itself holds few other powers and has a budget of only about $3.5 million -- the special election itself cost about $15 million in public funds.</p> <p>Still, former public advocates have gone on to bigger things, as James’ election showed. Her predecessor for two terms in the office was de Blasio. Williams has said he will not run for mayor in 2021. Though he may consider that pledge, most pressingly he needs to hold onto his newfound power later this year.</p> <p><em>[This story has been and will be updated]</em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>