Gotham Gazette Mon, 20 May 2019 23:02:42 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Can Anyone Defeat Eric Gonzalez for Brooklyn DA? tish and gonzalez

Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez with Public Advocate Tish James

With just days before Brooklynites head to the polls and decide who will be the borough’s next district attorney, a position briefly held and transformed by the late Kenneth Thompson, the field is crowded with Democratic candidates, each vying to present him or herself as the most progressive, best-suited option to carry on Thompson’s legacy.

Of the six Democratic candidates who will be on Tuesday’s ballot, the frontrunner -- having raised the most money and scooped up endorsements including from elected officials, major labor unions, political clubs, and women's’ rights groups -- is Eric Gonzalez, who was annointed as acting district attorney by Thompson before he died of cancer at age 50 in 2016. Though several of his challengers are energetic debaters and well-qualified for the role, unless someone has differentiated him or herself enough and gets out the vote in a big enough number, Gonzalez’s built-in credibility as Thompson’s “heir” may largely carry him to a full first term of his own.

Thompson, Brooklyn’s first black district attorney, beat out longtime top prosecutor Charles Hynes -- who held the seat for two and a half decades -- in 2013 by campaigning on a platform of reform, and by most accounts was making impressive strides in transforming the criminal justice system in Brooklyn, including by overturning several of Hynes’ faulty convictions, before his death.

While district attorneys have historically kept a low-profile, those who hold the seat wield significant influence and discretion over the borough’s crime fighting policies, and without term limits, the same person may control the office for decades. However, in Brooklyn, the seat could potentially change hands for the third time in five years, and with crime statistics at a record low, the conversation has taken a drastic turn from cracking down on crime to compassionate law enforcement, removing structural racial bias, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

The election comes during a period of heightened public awareness about police and prosecutorial treatment of communities of color, cementing a shift energized by Thompson’s victory, where the conversation in Brooklyn is not about which candidate will be toughest, but who will most dramatically reform the office, building on Thompson’s accomplishments, which include ending the prosecution of certain low-level offenses and beginning the process of negating hundreds of thousands of outstanding arrest warrants related to such offenses. Thompson’s conviction review unit, which has exonerated 23 wrongfully convicted people, has become a model for prosecutors around the city and country, something Gonzalez has continued to prioritize..

The other candidates, including prosecutors Marc Fliedner, Patricia Gatling, Ama Dwimoh, Anne Swern, and City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who is term-limited, have largely sought to present themselves as the most progressive of the bunch. However, with similar messaging and overlapping resumes -- all except for Gentile worked under Hynes during his scandal-marred tenure -- the candidates have largely failed to distinguish themselves from each other during forums and in interviews. The only one striking a slightly more moderate tone is Gentile, who touts the accomplishments of City Council to reform the system legislatively.

The fact that Gonzalez was hand-picked by Thompson helped him accrue extensive institutional support early in the race, and made him an easy favorite among unions and donors. Helen Schaub, New York State policy and legislative director of 1199SEIU, the large and powerful healthcare workers union, noted that the union was an early backer of Thompson and therefore naturally trusted his chosen successor to continue his work as Brooklyn’s lead prosecutor.

“We met with a number of the candidates, and [Gonzalez’s] ability to actually make the changes and the fact that Ken Thompson trusted him to make those changes made him the obvious choice for endorsement,” said Schaub.

Gonzalez won over feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who cited his initiative to tackle sexual assault on college campuses, his efforts to protect immigrants in courts, and his history as a domestic-violence prosecutor. Gonzalez also had a head start on fundraising, pulling in well over $1 million over the course of his campaign. Swern has raised about half that, but the other candidates fall far behind, with Fliedner consistently lagging farthest. Fliedner held just $11,000 in his account at the time of his 11-day pre-primary Board of Elections filings.

Dwimoh, one of two black women in the race along with Gatling, has a compelling story and some name recognition in the borough as a top aide to Borough President Eric Adams, but her claim that she left Hynes’ office because she disagreed with the direction it was headed in did not ring true after her fellow candidates -- some of them former colleagues -- pointed out that she had been investigated and pressured to resign for allegedly mistreating her subordinates.

“Ama is the only candidate who publically rejected Joe Hynes and supported Ken Thompson and worked on the campaign with Ken to develop his agenda,” said Dwimoh’s spokesperson, Evan Thies, repeating his client’s refrain from throughout the campaign. Citing her work at Adams’ office, Dwimoh says her focus would be on fixing the root causes of crime, like lack of adequate housing or social programs in low-income communities.

Fliedner, who as former chief of Thompson’s civil rights bureau successfully prosecuted then-NYPD officer Peter Liang for the shooting of an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, in 2016, has presented some of the most ambitious plans for incarceration alternatives and elimination of predatory bail practices. Fliedner left Thomson’s office to start his own civil rights practice last June, and has expressed disappointment Liang’s conviction was downgraded from manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. Thompson ultimately recommended no jail time for the officer. Fliedner has support from Gurley’s family and other relatives of victims of police violence, but has failed to raise a significant amount of money to help get his message out and build more name recognition.

Gatling has her own civil rights record as former head of the city’s Human Rights Commission, though the agency was criticized for inaction on her watch, and critics have noted that she moved back to Brooklyn from Manhattan fairly recently.

Swern, who at the district attorney’s officer ran its Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison (DTAP) program and is active in local political clubs, has the backing of several prominent Democrats in Northern Brooklyn, including state Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember JoAnn Simon, and City Council Member Stephen Levin. She's also been endorsed by the Independent Neighborhood Democrats.

Several progressive political clubs in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and other more affluent, mostly white areas of Brooklyn formally endorsed Gonzalez, though at least one club said its members were nearly split between the acting district attorney and Swern.

While no candidate came to the race with significant name recognition and no one has made a huge splash to garner more media attention, Brooklyn progressives say they welcome the lively discussion about reducing arrests for low level offenses, alternatives to incarceration, police accountability, expediting the closure of Rikers Island jails, bail reform strategies, and ideas for protecting undocumented immigrants amidst federal crackdowns.

Thompson’s 2013 victory was seen as a major upset in Brooklyn, and was the first in a series of victories for progressives and police reform advocates at district attorney offices across the nation.

Last year, Chicago’s Cook County elected its first black district attorney, Kim Foxx, who vowed to reform the county’s criminal justice system. In fall 2016, in Austin, Texas, progressive reformer Margaret Moore was elected to replace retiring District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and took steps to immediately restructure the office by firing and reassigning dozens of staff attorneys. In May, Philadelphia voters picked Larry Krasner, a political outsider and former civil rights attorney who has defended Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street protesters free of charge, over six other Democratic newcomers, after disgraced “reformer” DA Seth Williams, also a Democrat, decided not to seek reelection following a federal corruption trial. 

“Nationally, people are paying a lot more attention to prosecutor accountability. Through the non-indictments of high profile cases involving officers, the public has learned what a prosecutor's powers can be and the direct influence they have on the way the criminal justice system works,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY Action Fund, which endorsed Gonzalez.

bk da field of candidates via errollouisAll of the candidates appear well aware of these political currents. Even Gentile, a former Queens prosecutor who represents one of Brooklyn’s last areas of Republican prowess and might have been expected to take a more moderate, tough-on-crime perspective, has preached a similar message of ending mass incarceration and the “broken windows” approach to aggressively enforcing quality of life offenses.

While the philosophical consensus may make for inconclusive debates, the conversation marks continued shift for the borough and is still fairly unprecedented, according to Brooklyn College sociology professor and criminal justice expert Alex Vitale.

“It's remarkable that for the most part the candidates seem to be vying against each other over who is the most progressive reformer. It's the most shocking development in terms of the DA race. Typically the debate is about who is the toughest on crime,” said Vitale.

Aguilera said that regardless of the outcome, she anticipates that the Brooklyn district attorney’s office will continue to set the tone across the nation.

The election also coincides with the early presidency of Donald Trump, whose administration has targeted immigrants, including those who may have committed low level, nonviolent offenses, which has blown political winds in New York City farther to left, so much so that even political foes on varying points of the Democratic spectrum are beginning to sound the same. During his tenure, Gonzalez has directed the attorneys under his charge to pursue charges in ways that limit exposure to possible immigration enforcement.

As the determinative primary vote approaches, ambivalence about the candidates is reflected across the borough. The New Kings Democrats, a progressive reform club that meets in Fort Greene and has pushed for the sort of changes being discussed in the district attorney race, met with all the candidates and along with other Democratic clubs in the area held a candidates forum in June. However, despite a “rich discussion” and extensive interviews with the six contenders, New Kings ultimately did not endorse anyone for district attorney, because no single candidate hit the NKD requirement for endorsement.

“Nobody meet the two-thirds threshold, so there was no consensus. But whoever wins we'll see what they do in office and hold them accountable to it,” said Anusha Venkataraman, president of NKD.

Among civil rights and police reform advocates serving Brooklyn’s communities of color, the sentiment is similar.

“Unlike when Thompson was running, and there were very clear distinguishing features, there’s no one who makes many of the folks I know want to run out and embrace a particular candidate,” said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, who noted that each candidate has issues with his or her campaign.

The Brooklyn Movement Center, which does not make endorsements, advocates for a variety of issues that impact low-to-middle-income neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn. According to Griffith, the rhetoric has been uninspiring to politically active black New Yorkers. “If you are not part of the political establishment or have some sort of compelling interest, I think that people are having a hard time distinguishing one from the other or feeling particularly enthusiastic about one or the other. There’s not a lot hinging on purely philosophical grounds. Gonzalez is clearly the frontrunner and it’s easy to see why some might find it expedient to support him.”

While Gonzalez’s public appearances at forums and debates are less impassioned and memorable than some of his challengers, he has showcased his competence and experience in one-on-one interviews, according to a member of the local Working Families Party chapter.

Aguilera, whose organization endorsed Gonzalez early on, agreed. "He is a smart person, he spent a lot of time with us talking a lot about policy, knows how to run the office, and he's followed through on some commitments already to enact some reform. He grew up poor in Brooklyn from a Latino community; he understands directly and that carries a lot of weight in a race where everyone is saying the same thing,” Aguilera said. “We see comradery and potential from a person who has lived through what low-income communities of color have been through."

While Swern and Fliedner bring passion and stage presence to debates, whereas Gonzalez is relatively subdued, their remarks may come across as disingenuous pandering to communities of color. At a recent forum hosted by Faith in New York Action Committee in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Swern appeared to be the favored candidate of those in attendance. Her impassioned criticism of the injustices with predatory bail practices were punctuated by cheers from the crowd, including shouts of “We love you, Anne!” Outside, a disproportionate number of canvassers for Swern, clad in “Black Lives Caucus” shirts, handed out fliers.

Later, Gatling’s campaign accused Swern of paying the canvassers at the event -- a claim Swern and the Black Lives Caucus, a spinoff group of the Black Lives Matter movement, denies.

“This is essentially making a mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Gatling in a statement. “This kind of behavior fosters an ongoing climate of racial tension when someone uses the deaths of African-American men as a political ploy to gain entrance and votes from the African-American community.”

At the same event, Dwimoh called out Fliedner, who is white, after he declared that he was the only person on the stage willing to say “Black Lives Matter” out loud.

“I don't have to say 'Black Lives Matter,'” Dwimoh retorted. "I live it. I am a black woman in America. How dare you!"

While he said he doesn’t necessarily doubt any candidate’s sincerity, when it comes to this type of pandering, Griffith believes “the average, progressive, politically active black person is going to roll their eyes.”

Local elections often come down to money and endorsements -- and the canvassing and get out the vote efforts they can both produce -- and other factors that can sometimes tip the scales in favor of one candidate. With a crowded field of little-known candidates in what is expected to be a low-turnout primary, it is hard to decipher how the election will go, other than to say that Gonzalez has had several clear advantages.

The primary election for Brooklyn District Attorney takes place on Tuesday, September 12, and the Democratic nominee will be the presumptive winner of the seat.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Can Anyone Defeat Eric Gonzalez for Brooklyn DA? Thu, 07 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn District Attorney Candidates Address Criminal Justice Reform at Forum dfnjhhbv0aazwy

Brooklyn DA candidates at Thursday's forum (photo: @FaithinNewYork)

The candidates for the Brooklyn District Attorney race gathered at St. Francis College in Brooklyn on Thursday for a forum hosted by criminal justice and civil rights advocacy groups, focusing on contentious issues revolving around criminal justice in the borough. Five candidates offered their takes to an audience of community advocates and Brooklynites concerned about mass incarceration, police abuse, bail, and other contentious issues.

The candidates present were Acting DA Eric Gonzalez, City Council Member Vincent Gentile, Ama Dwimoh, Marc Fliedner, and Anne Swern. Candidate Patricia Gatling, who attended a previous debate in June, was not present.

The presence of former DA Ken Thompson, who died in 2016 after a bout with cancer and for whom Gonzalez stepped in, hung above the forum throughout the night. Thompson had widely been praised as a reformer after replacing the controversial longtime DA Charles Hynes. Gonzalez, in his opening statement, framed himself as a continuation of Thompson’s legacy.

“I stand with all of you to say that I believe that we can end mass incarceration while continuing to keep our city and our borough safe,” Gonzalez said. “In 2014, Ken Thompson chose me to help him run that DA’s office, and I stand with all organizations who want to see a continuation of the policies that started in Brooklyn and the expansion of those policies, because I believe we can send less people to prison than we’re currently doing, and make sure that Brooklyn continues to be safe.”

Fliedner was formerly chief of the Civil Rights Bureau under Thompson; he left after a dispute over the handling of the Peter Liang case, in which an NYPD officer received no jail time despite being convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man. Fleidner jumped out of the gate with stinging criticisms of Gonzalez.

“You cannot vote for acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez into office,” Fliedner said, eliciting both claps and boos. “In the short time that he was in charge of that office, he’s committed more acts exhibiting a disregard for the rule of law, a lack of respect for victims, and out and out acts of corruption.” Audience members frequently and freely engaged with the candidates throughout the night, loudly calling them out on answers they deemed unsatisfactory or dishonest.

Dwimoh, a former prosecutor under Hynes, also left the office due to a “difference in values” with the then-DA, she said. She emphasized “proactive justice,” meaning a focus on prevention rather than punishment, and “rebuilding trust between the community and law enforcement.” But she also erred towards a “tough on crime” mentality in some areas, saying that crime is going up in some neighborhoods and being the only candidate who didn’t support ending mandatory minimum sentences for gun possession.

Swern, a former Assistant District Attorney (ADA) under Hynes who also has experience as a defense attorney, claimed her experience as the latter gave her a unique connection and empathy among the candidates for those on the other side of the justice system: the defendants. In her opening statement and throughout the night, she focused her argument on making the DA’s office more transparent and the DA him- or her-self more accountable. She said she would hire a statistician for her office to determine how actions and policies undertaken by the DA disproportionately affect people of color.

City Council Member Gentile, who is term-limited from running again for his current position, framed himself as the “only independent person” running in the race. Gentile, who had a career as a prosecutor under the Queens DA rather than the Brooklyn DA, was referring to the fact that he was the only candidate at the forum who was not working at the DA’s office in the time period where numerous wrongful convictions occurred under Hynes, which were later uncovered and undone by Thompson.

The candidates were all largely in agreement on many of the major, big picture issues: all candidates supported either diminishing or eliminating reliance on cash bail, which has come under intense scrutiny after young Bronx resident Kalief Browder committed suicide following a two-year stay on Rikers Island after not being able to post bail. All the candidates supported diminishing the use of broken windows policing, though they didn’t offer specific solutions, with the exception of Fliedner who noted low-level drug offenses and gravity knife offenses as two crimes that wouldn’t be prosecuted under his stewardship.

The candidates also all stated their support for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ call for an independent commission into wrongful convictions, as well as for term limits of two or three terms -- there are currently no term limits for District Attorneys.

[Related: Candidates for Brooklyn District Attorney Seek to Set Themselves Apart]

The shouting matches, interruptions, and audience interjections mainly concerned the candidates’ records. The candidates routinely accused Gonzalez of malfeasance and not 'walking the walk,' as well as co-opting the legacy of Ken Thompson.

Hertencia Petersen, the aunt of Akai Gurley, a young black man killed by NYPD officer Peter Liang in an apparently accidental stairwell shooting, rose to ask a question and accused Gonzalez of mishandling the Liang case. Liang was sentenced to five years probation and 800 hours of community service, a move that had been widely criticized by criminal justice reform advocates. Petersen chastised the DA’s office, then under Thompson, for failing to adequately communicate with the Gurley family during the legal process and for recommending that Liang serve no jail time, which the family only found out about in press reports.

For Petersen, Gonzalez is a continuation of that kind of leadership; she referred to him as having been a “crony” to Thompson throughout the legal process. Petersen also explicitly admonished Gonzalez for seeming to run as the second Ken Thompson without necessarily presenting his own plan. “Run on your own vision, she said to loud applause. “Give the people of Brooklyn what you want for your family.” After the debate, Petersen tweeted, “#ERIC GONZALEZ IS NOT FOR THE PEOPLE OF BROOKLYN.”

Defending himself, Gonzalez pointed to the fact that Liang had been convicted, and denied that the office had maintained inadequate contact with the Gurley family.

“She’s upset because Ken Thompson recommended a no jail plea on Peter Liang,” he said. An audience member shouted to Gonzalez, pointing out that he had been Thompson’s “chief advisor” (Gonzalez was Chief Assistant District Attorney under Thompson).

Gonzalez also received criticism for continuing to impose punishingly high cash bail despite his stance that its use should be diminished. “$500 is asked for bail for a homeless person who steals cheese, and the Assistant District Attorney responds to the defense attorney, ‘well, it was expensive cheese,’” said Swern. “We will never close Rikers Island,” she said, referring to the fact that many held at the jails there are pre-trial detainees unable to post bail.

Fliedner said that if he is elected, his office would not seek bail “on cases where we’re not seeking jail,” and further reprimanded Gonzalez on his supposed failure on bail reform, citing a case where bail was set at $1,000 for a turnstile jumper.

Gonzalez was also singled out on the issue of wrongful convictions -- since he worked for the DA’s office under Hynes -- despite the fact that all candidates with the exception of Gentile had worked at the Brooklyn DA office under Hynes in some capacity.

In this regard, Gentile seized the opportunity to paint himself as the only candidate separate from the failures of the Hynes era. Concerning the spate of wrongful convictions, Gentile said this “all happened under the tutelage of Charles Hynes...and Eric Gonzalez is a creation of Charles Hynes. He spent most of his years as prosecutor under Charles Hynes and only three years under Ken Thompson.” He proceeded to say that he has “never gotten the answer” to his inquiries into the policies that led to the Hynes-era wrongful convictions.

Nonetheless, Gonzalez resolved to defend his record, touting for example a “Young Adult Court” diversionary program for young offenders created by Thompson’s office (Swern insisted that it was created in 2012, prior to Thompson’s ascendancy to the office). He also said that he has “done more work on wrongful convictions than all the other candidates put together.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated.

Brooklyn District Attorney Candidates Address Criminal Justice Reform at Forum Sat, 22 Jul 2017 18:29:00 +0000
Candidates for Brooklyn District Attorney Seek to Set Themselves Apart bk da gonzalez via ericgonzalez4da crop

Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez (photo: @EricGonzalez4DA)

Seven Democratic candidates seeking to be Brooklyn’s District Attorney participated in a forum Monday night at the First Unitarian Church, hosted by the The Reform Coalition, made up of 14 groups. It marks an unofficial start to a sprint toward September’s primary vote. Because Brooklyn voters are so heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary is all but assured general election victory as the borough’s leading prosecutor and law enforcement official.

Monday’s forum offered an opportunity for the candidates to build name recognition, define themselves to voters, and set themselves apart from the competition. Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who took over upon the death of DA Ken Thompson, has a leg up in the early going, because he currently holds the office, was close to Thompson, and given his accumulation of several significant endorsements.

The other candidates include some with ties to the Brooklyn DA office: City Council Member Vincent Gentile, Anne Swern, Patricia Gatling, Marc Fliedner, Ama Dwimoh, and John Gangemi. At the forum, they were asked questions from both the hosting coalition’s members and the general audience about topics such as enforcement of “low level” crimes, protections for the LGBTQ community, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Thompson, who died in October 2016, loomed large at the forum and casts a long shadow over the race. In his relatively short time as DA, Thompson built a reputation as a reformer. In 2013, Thompson defeated long-time Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, whose office was mired in scandal.

"The Bay Ridge Democrats were the first club in Brooklyn to endorse Ken Thompson in 2013,” President of the Bay Ridge Democrats, Chris McCreight said in a press release for the event. “We feel very strongly that the next District Attorney should have his integrity and his passion to fight for justice. We look forward to hearing from all the candidates at this forum."

Low-profile candidates vying for a high-profile office
Gonzalez, a top deputy to Thompson who is running on maintaining the work they were doing, painted himself as the candidate who will keep things heading in the right direction. He asked voters to note all of the good things that have happened both during Thompson’s and then his time leading the DA office. He would be the first Hispanic DA elected in New York City, he pointed out.

Gatling, the only candidate not a long-time resident of Brooklyn, has been working in the borough since the 1990s, she said. She hopes to see the continued growth of the borough through increased transparency from the DA office, establishing an office of integrity, and creating an app citizens can “use to see court dates, learn about legal requirements and procedures, and get information about the various courts,” she said.

Gentile, a City Council member who is term-limited out at the end of the year, is also marketing himself as the perfect successor to Thompson, who was an outsider like himself, he said. He put special emphasis as he has throughout his campaign on his lack of ties to the “checkered past” of the DA office in Brooklyn. Several of the other candidates worked in the DA office under Hynes. Gentile, before his decades of time as an elected official, was a prosecutor at the Queens DA office.

Dwimoh previously worked in Hynes’ administration, and wants to make an impact on community relations with police, she said. She has also worked in the Crimes Against Children Bureau at the Brooklyn DA office, which she founded and ran for 13 years.

Fliedner hopes to right some of the wrongs he feels were done by the last two administrations, such as the lack of jail time for ex-cop Peter Liang, who Thompson charged with criminally negligent homicide in an apparently accidental stairwell shooting of an unarmed man in November, 2014. He has worked in criminal justice for 30 years, he said, including as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and in Freehold, NJ as an assistant prosecutor with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Swern, who has “pursued justice for over 35 years” has worked on the Alternative-to-Prison program, among others aimed at helping non-violent offenders, under four Brooklyn district attorneys, according to her website. She said she would continue to focus on those issues as DA.

Gangemi, a 78-year-old Brooklynite who has been involved in politics since the 1960s, where he says he was the “only Republican in the office” serving under former Brooklyn DA Aaron E. Koota as an ADA. He has since become Democrat, and says he will uphold the law according to “the Constitution,” working within the system by reaching out to state representatives and senators to uphold justice.

One key question for the candidates Monday night was about continuing DA Thompson’s use of prosecutorial discretion to dismiss low-level marijuana charges and whether there are any other crimes, where the candidates would consider taking this approach.

“Prosecutorial discretion is an awesome, awesome thing,” said Gatling. “And I can remember in the DA’s office when...they came in as a felony and left as a misdemeanor. So let’s talk about prostitution, and let’s talk about jumping turnstiles.”

As the audience cheered, the microphone was passed to the next candidate. Due to time constraints and the number of candidates present, not every candidate was allowed to answer every question, though every candidate got a full two minutes to close and answer any questions they may not have been asked.

“Turnstiles, and loitering in certain places -- there is a whole body of these lower level crimes that I refer to as ‘survival crimes’ and when police put cuffs on folks and put them through the system because they committed these offenses, they are punishing people for poverty and it is not going to happen on my watch,” said Fliedner, who was also met with audience approval.

Not every candidate was met with as much applause. Gangemi, who recently became a Democrat because “If you want to get things done in New York City, you have to be,” showed less than progressive ideals.

“What I would do is go out and ask Senator [Charles] Schumer and other people in power to give us some sort of direction as to how we should handle these laws, and how we should process the law and not just arbitrarily say it's a low level law,” said Gangemi. “I’ve never heard of a low level law - I’ve heard of Class A, Class B, felonies and violations.”

The 78-year-old lawyer was met with boos, but remained unwavering.

A follow-up was asked: will you commit to end cash bail for non-violent crimes?

“I do commit to that,” said Swern. “When I worked at Brooklyn Defenders, we worked very closely with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.”

She went on to emphasise the importance of such a fund, which puts up money for individuals so that they don’t have to spend time in jail because they can’t afford bail, stating that “somebody else putting up bail money from the community bail fund would ensure” returns, also putting special emphasis on educating individuals on the importance of coming back to court.

“In Brooklyn, I’ve already committed and I’ve already established reform on our bail policies and our criminal court,” said Gonzalez. He continued, “I’ve already reformed the system -- there’s no other DA’s office in the city or the state that’s doing that. I really ask you, because sometimes when you hear people say ‘the entire system is broken,’ yes, we think about all the abuses, we think about all the things that are wrong with the system, but I’m going to ask you to pay attention to what’s happening in Brooklyn.”

There were questions about one candidate’s sudden relocation to Brooklyn and thus “opportunist” accusations.

Gatling has received the endorsement of former Mayor David N. Dinkins, despite having lived in Manhattan for nearly two decades and having only moved back to Brooklyn in December. Her husband, however, is still in Manhattan.

“We as Brooklynites, we do not care for opportunists,” said one audience member in a question specifically addressing the issue of Gatling’s relocation. “We are looking for people who genuinely care about Brooklyn. So I want to know: did you move here because Ken Thompson passed away and you saw this as an opportunity to run for District Attorney, or do you really care about Brooklyn? Because you haven’t lived here for about 20 years, and many of these candidates have been here.”

The question was met with much approval by the large crowd, and anger from Gatling who did not respond to a follow-up about her husband’s residency.

“I was in Brooklyn in 1983 and I’ve worked in Brooklyn 30-35 years,” said Gatling. “I was in Brooklyn for a long time. I was here when it was the fifth worst place to live, and I helped, along with law enforcement and with the community to make it better.” She later added, “You don’t know me, and you don’t know my history.”

Gentile was asked to address past decisions, specifically a City Council vote he took.

Elected to represent Council District 43 in 2003, Gentile will be forced to leave at the end of the year due to term limits. When questioned on why he voted against the Community Safety Act, which sought to deter racial profiling by the NYPD, especially in the use of stop-and-frisk, and also created the position of NYPD Inspector General, he expressed remorse and urged voters to focus on the other votes he made during his time in office.

“I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of votes over 20 years, thousands probably,” said Gentile. “There are votes that I’m not proud of, and that’s one of them, and certainly I’m not afraid to say that. At the time, I thought that the police commissioner’s argument was compelling -- in retrospect, it wasn’t, and I’ve learned from that, and that is a good thing.”

Cut off due to a time crunch, Gentile’s response earned mostly silence with a few meager claps.

Candidates were asked how they plan to have the DA office reach out to the LGBTQ community and ease fears.

“Cultural competence,” said Fliedner. “Two or three years ago I sat down with two other members of the LGBTQ community and we prepared a comprehensive cultural competency training and we gave it to the human resources department of the DA office at the time, with one specific request - It wasn’t supposed to just go to the DAs, it was to go to everyone that works in the office.”

Though his colleagues found out there was no follow through, he promised to make sure to run things differently should he be elected by making the office more welcoming to people of color and transgender citizens. He also stressed the importance of making sure that every employee is educated on such issues, because “it’s the administrative person that picks up the phone that can set a tone that makes a trans woman feel unsafe to enter the office.”

Candidates were asked how they would hold elected officials accountable.

“When I think about corruption, and I think about what it takes to prosecute an elected official, I’m also looking through the lense of the wrongful convictions that we’ve seen in Brooklyn,” said Dwimoh. “We have to create an independent panel...and they will be the ones who will investigate, prosecute, and refute what misconduct has occurred.”

As someone who worked under Hynes, Dwimoh was well acquainted with the wrongful convictions that have taken place in the Brooklyn DA’s office, a trend that Thompson worked to undo with a new conviction review unit that has overturned more than a handful of cases.

“To say that I would be any less determined when prosecuting a public official than I would [be] a drug dealer -- they have the same kind of impact,” said Gatling. “A drug dealer destroys the community, [and] a public official who is corrupt destroys the entire society.”

She went on, “As lawyers, all we have is our integrity.”

What comes next?
Candidates will continue campaigning ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12. There will be other forums in the coming weeks and months.

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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Candidates for Brooklyn District Attorney Seek to Set Themselves Apart Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000