Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/348 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:45:21 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Brooklyn District Attorney Candidates Address Criminal Justice Reform at Forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7078:brooklyn-district-attorney-candidates-address-criminal-justice-reform-at-forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7078: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.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated.

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Brooklyn District Attorney Candidates Address Criminal Justice Reform at Forum Sat, 22 Jul 2017 18:29:00 +0000
District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6351:district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6351:district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das district attorneys city council hearing

The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)


The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.

The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

De Blasio’s preliminary budget, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.

The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its response to his preliminary budget and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.

None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s $82.2 executive budget, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”

“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”

At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”

In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive initiatives aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."

Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.

While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs Mon, 23 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
'Making A Murderer' Flaws All Around Us http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6172:making-a-murderer-flaws-all-around-us http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6172:making-a-murderer-flaws-all-around-us making a murderer

photo via Making A Murderer on Twitter


The Netflix documentary "Making A Murderer" challenges the moral core of our criminal justice system: that the police and prosecutors are objective and unbiased. The film follows Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for rape before being exonerated, then arrested for murder two years later, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. The highly questionable police methods—a key piece of evidence miraculously appears; an improbable confession is coerced from a developmentally delayed adolescent—and the glaring conflicts of interest of many of the participants will infuriate any fair-minded viewer.

The criminal justice system's legitimacy is founded on our secular faith in unbiased police-work, forensic science, and truth-seeking prosecutors. However, many of these pillars are structurally unsound, as supported by reams of scientific studies and the wisdom of leading observers.

The problems with forensic science were first exposed systematically in a National Academy of Sciences report in 2009, but the legal system has been slow to incorporate its findings. Official misconduct of the type suggested in Making A Murderer is not isolated to small towns in Wisconsin. Alex Kozinski, one of America's foremost jurists and scholars, and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, has recently written an opus which probes these problems in depth. And Kozinksi is no liberal; he was appointed by Ronald Reagan.

Take confessions. It is unfathomable to most of us, but it is not unusual for people under duress to confess to crimes they did not commit. And for minors sweating under the bright lights, their inherent anxiety and propensity for pleasing authorities, coupled with the various ruses, all legal, which the police can employ, render them easy prey. New Yorkers cannot forget that the Central Park Five (teenagers at the time) falsely confessed and spent several years in prison before being exonerated.

Eyewitness testimony is also subject to manipulations and the plasticity of human memory. In Steven Avery's first case the victim mistakenly identified him, after several inappropriate prompts from the police. And misidentification is even more likely when victims and perpetrators are of different races, an expected occurrence in multicultural communities like New York City. A New York State Bar Association study found misidentification to be the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Numerous expert panels have outlined model procedures for police to use when investigating eyewitness testimony and the NYPD should incorporate these findings.

High tech forensic science, despite its aura of infallibility, is less than perfect and many familiar methods have been tossed on the junk pile. Bite mark analysis, arson science, fiber and hair analysis, are among those that are now discredited as completely lacking in scientific validity. The Justice Department and FBI have acknowledged that evidence presented by an elite forensic unit over a two-decade period was based on methods now recognized as invalid.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is, however, disregarding the scientific consensus and fighting tooth and nail to continue using bite mark evidence. In contrast, the new Brooklyn District Attorney, Ken Thompson, recently moved to have an arson-murder conviction overturned, in part due to now discredited "arson science," and Mr. Thompson's office is garnering national attention for its commitment to review cases and rectify wrongful convictions.

To a prosecutor, the most important bit of data is his or her conviction rate, and the resultant zeal to convict at all costs detours our system away from objectivity towards something like a witch hunt. Prosecutors routinely withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. As Justice Kozinski puts it, "there is an epidemic of Brady violations [duty to disclose any vital evidence] in the land."

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, official misconduct was a factor in 45% of false convictions. In Orange County (CA) the district attorney's office is rocked with scandal after revelations that the police and prosecutors colluded in a decades long campaign of frame-ups and perjury. And in Brooklyn, as noted above, the new district attorney has begun dealing with the fallout from years of dubious tactics used by his predecessor, Charles Hynes.

This short list of prosecutorial abuses and junk science is only a glimpse at the problem. To give some depth, consider that one study in a prestigious journal estimated that 4.1% of all persons on death row could be exonerated. With roughly 3,000 people on death row now, about 120 persons sentenced to die may be innocent. If this rate of wrongful convictions is extended to the 1.5 million persons in federal and state prisons, 61,500 persons could be declared innocent, set free, and have their criminal records erased.

Though Steven Avery was not rich he had a competent defense team, yet still could not prevail (I am not claiming he is innocent, but that his trial was a travesty and he should not have been found guilty based on its proceedings.) But for poor people who cannot afford a private attorney, woefully understaffed and underfunded public defenders are their only option. That is why innocent people take plea bargains; without an effective defense they have no chance of winning. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 10% of exonerees pleaded guilty, despite their innocence, to avoid a trial.

There is already a broad consensus that we send too many people to prison, for too long, and for behavior (e.g., drug use, sex work, nuisance offences) that should not be criminalized. Beyond that, we must ensure that police and prosecutors use valid methods to gather evidence and present that against the accused. The public election of prosecutors must be revisited to avoid the sort of uncontested transfer of power that occurred in the Bronx last year.

Finally, the New York State Court system recently issued rules enabling video recording of courtroom proceedings and these should be interpreted as liberally as possible to ensure that a Making A Murderer type of injustice can't happen here.

***
Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter @JailedintheUSA.

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

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'Making A Murderer' Flaws All Around Us Tue, 16 Feb 2016 00:10:50 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 30 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6013:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-30 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6013:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-30 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

After a quiet Thanksgiving weekend, New York politics springs back into action Monday. As the week gets going we're watching as discussions continue around the mayor's rezoning policies, which have been seeing some significant pushback from community and borough boards. The mayor has acknowledged that pushback, saying it has not been unexpected and that tweaks will be made to the plans before they head to the City Council early in 2016. The Manhattan Borough Board votes Monday, the Brooklyn Borough Board, Tuesday (Queens and the Bronx have both voted against the plans, Staten Island has not scheduled a vote yet). Community and borough board votes are advisory.

We're also watching for the latest fallout in the de Blasio-Cuomo feud, which has continued to escalate recently. It's just over a month until Governor Cuomo delivers his January 6 State of the State speech, which will outline his priorities and policy plans for 2016. After de Blasio said he couldn't wait for the state any longer and announced his own supportive housing plan, Cuomo and his team have criticized the mayor's management of the city's homelessness crisis and indicated Cuomo will include related plans in his State of the State. For his part, de Blasio has pointed to the state and the city, then under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, cutting rental subsidy programs in 2011 as integral to the increase in homelessness seen since.

We're awaiting word from the trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which is in jury deliberations, and the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, which continues to see the prosecution present its case against Skelos and his son, Adam. [Read our new look at the top moments from the two trials thus far]

At 11 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will host a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall (details below). At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Department of Transportation Recognition Ceremony for FDR re-paving crews, who are completing the first full resurfacing of the FDR since it was first built." On Tuesday, de Blasio will participate in a tele-town hall around climate change, which coincides with the Paris climate conference, at which de Blasio's recovery and resiliency director, Daniel Zarrilli, is participating.

Also, Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Black Lives Matter activists plan a series of events, "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island," according to a Facebook event page.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday at 9 a.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a Manhattan Borough Board vote on the de Blasio administration's proposed zoning changes: Zoning for Quality & Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Read about those zoning changes and the controversy around them through our coverage:
Mayor & Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote
East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own
De Blasio Housing Chief Looks to Allay Fears, Build Support for Rezonings
Rezoning Discussion Shifts to Food Access

At 11 a.m. at City Hall, "Mayor de Blasio will hold public hearings for and sign Intros 898-A, 890-A, 900-A, 914-A, and 915-A, which strengthen and modify existing requirements related to open government data; Intro. 743-A, creating an Office of Labor Standards; Intro. 783-A, related to interest rates on emergency repair bills for residential buildings; Intro. 956-A, extending the Biotechnology Tax Credit; and Intro. 982-A, extending the current rate of hotel room taxes. The Mayor will also hold a public hearing for Intro. 314-A, related to establishing the Department of Veterans Services." Then, at 12:30 p.m., the Mayor will speak at the aforementioned FDR repaving ceremony.

At 10 a.m. Monday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Congressional Reps. Jeffries and Rangel, and Assembly Member Wright will hold a press conference announcing anti-gun violence initiatives.

Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Applebee's in Times Square, city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett will make a "sodium warning label announcement."

On Monday at the City Council:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold a hearing on Introduction 554-2014, in relation to training for certain employees of the city of New York on runaway and homeless youth and sexually exploited children, and Introduction 993-2015, in relation to changing the date of an annual report related to sexually exploited children.
  • At 10 a.m. at Johnson Community Center in Manhattan, "The Committee on Public Housing will hold an oversight hearing examining the Mayor's plan to address violent crime in public housing." City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito is set to participate.
  • At 10 a.m., "The Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations and the Subcommittee on Libraries will hold a joint oversight hearing on six day service at public libraries." [Read our preview of the hearing with a lot of key info: Assessing City Library Expansion After Budget Boost]
  • At 1 p.m., "The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will hold an oversight hearing on the resiliency of New York City's electricity transmission and distribution systems."

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, Whoopi Goldberg, George Takei, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Corey Johnson, and the Council's LGBT Caucus will acknowledge this year's World AIDS Day by "flipping the switch" to light the Empire State Building in red in honor of World AIDS Day.

At 6 p.m. Monday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a workshop at the Queens Borough Parents Advisory Meeting about how to be more supportive of schools.

Tuesday
On Tuesday the Brooklyn Borough Board, led by Borough President Eric Adams, will vote on the de Blasio administration's two rezoning proposals.

On Tuesday at noon, Joe Domanick of John Jay College will speak about his new book Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, which details NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's work transforming "the police department of America's second largest city—a period which saw Los Angeles's violent crime rate, including homicides, drop by double-digits" 2002-2009. The event is hosted by the Manhattan Institute.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Council will host a Diwali celebration - Diwali is the Indian festival of light.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, City Hall representatives, and activists on climate change will take part in a tele-town hall on sustainability. Participants will include Nilda Mesa, Director, Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Bill Lipton, State Director, New York Working Families Party; and Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: "Bail Reform - Federal and State Courts Wrestle with Options for Change" will be hosted by the New York City Bar's Criminal Advocacy Committee. Panelists include: Karen Friedman Agnifilo, Chief Assistant District Attorney, New York County District Attorney's Office; Elizabeth Glazer, Director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Scott Hechinger, Staff Attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services; Joan Loughnane, Chief Counsel to the United States Attorney, Southern District of New York; Jerold McElroy, Executive Director, New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc.; Marika Meis, Legal Director, Criminal Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will host "Discount Fares for Low-Income NYers: A Conversation."

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Economic Development will meet on "Community planning boards receive an annual report submitted to the mayor with regard to projected and actual jobs created and retained in connection with projects undertaken by a certain contracted entity."
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a number of bills regarding bicycle safety in the city, including founding a bicycle safety task force, seizure of abandoned vehicles, and a number of bills on walking away from and not reporting incidents and accidents.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet to discuss a bill that would exempt licensed plumbers from registering with the business integrity commission.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday: an 11 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Correction for "Oversight and Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision."

On Wednesday at 8 a.m., City & State NY will host an event on the impact of raising the minimum wage. Speakers will include state Senator Jack M. Martins, Chair of the Labor Committee; E.J. McMahon, President at the Empire Center for Public Policy; and Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Open Society Foundations and Vera Institute of Justice will hold "Policing and Public Health: Advancing Harm Reduction Strategies in Law Enforcement Practices," bringing together health specialists and law enforcement representatives for a discussion on how to "protect the rights and foster the health of the most vulnerable members of society."

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Cannabis and Hemp Association will host "Open for Business," a panel discussion on the subject of medical marijuana in New York City. State Senator Diane Savino and Dr. Julie Netherland, Deputy State Director for Drug Policy, are among those who will speak.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet for an oversight hearing on alcohol abuse in New York City.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Community Development will meet to discuss establishing an urban agriculture advisory board.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet: "Oversight - An Examination of the City's Parks Without Borders Initiative."

At the State Legislature on Thursday: a 10 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation to discuss the Department of Transportation two year capital program.

On Thursday the New York Justice League and Black Lives Matter will hold "#ChokeHoldOnTheCity," remembering the one-year anniversary of the decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner and continuing the push for policing reform and accountability. "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island."

At 4 p.m. Thursday the Center for Bronx Non-Profits and South Bronx Rising Together will host "Voter Engagement in the South Bronx," a panel discussion on non-partisan attempts to increase civic participation, a discussion of tools and ways to involve the populace in shaping policies that they feel are important.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a town hall event for New Yorkers to discuss concerns and learn about what the Comptroller's Office can do to help.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet at 1 p.m. on "Client satisfaction surveys for city-funded indigent legal services."

At the State Legislature on Friday: a 10:30 a.m. hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions jointly with the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy and the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure to evaluate natural gas safety efforts by utilities.

At noon Friday, Crain's New York Business will hold its annual "Best Places to Work in New York City Awards" luncheon.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, BetaNYC will hold "Hack for Heat" in response to the fact that 230,000 heating complaints were filed by New Yorkers because their landlords would not turn on the heat.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is hosting another "Begin Again" event, allowing New Yorkers with outstanding summons warrants to resolve them without being arrested. [Read our look at the efforts by DAs, led by Thompson, to hold such events, including pledges from two incoming DAs, elected in early November, to hold them and the declaration by Queens DA Richard Brown's office that he does not intend to join the movement]

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Konstantine Beridze and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 30 Sun, 29 Nov 2015 23:11:53 +0000
Incoming DAs Plan to Join Thompson and Vance Warrant-Clearing Efforts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6005:incoming-das-plan-to-join-thompson-and-vance-warrant-clearing-efforts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6005:incoming-das-plan-to-join-thompson-and-vance-warrant-clearing-efforts vance bratton nypdnews

DA Vance with Commissioner Bratton, photo via @NYPDNews

 


 

In an effort to reduce the city’s backlog of 1.3 million open arrest warrants for unanswered summonses for non-violent offenses such as being in a park after dark, having an open container of alcohol, and littering, city district attorneys are holding amnesty events, giving New Yorkers with warrants a chance to clear up the original summons without fear of arrest.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance held such an event in Harlem on Saturday, offering anyone with an open warrant for failing to answer a summons a chance for a hearing before a judge - which often leads to a dismissal and a cleared record.

The event, dubbed “Clean Slate,” is the first of it’s kind in Manhattan, according to the district attorney’s office, and comes fives months after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson held his first summons- and summons warrant-clearing event, “Begin Again.” Thompson has since held a second Begin Again event and has a third scheduled for early December. Meanwhile, two new district attorneys - in the Bronx and Staten Island - were elected November 3, and both have told Gotham Gazette they plan to hold similar events once they take office.

While DA-elect Darcel Clark of the Bronx and DA-elect Michael McMahon of Staten Island both intend to offer something similar to Clean Slate and Begin Again, long-time Queens District Attorney Richard Brown does not. A spokesperson for Brown, who just won a seventh four-year term, told Gotham Gazette he has no such plans.

“It is a sad fact that for individuals who have open warrants for minor infractions called summonses, there is a fear that's constant that they will be arrested,” Vance said at a November 17 press conference launching Clean Slate. “Emotionally and psychologically, those weigh down those who hold those outstanding warrants, and [those warrants] have real consequences - they can affect the warrant holder's immigration status; they can hurt an individual's chance of getting a job; or prevent him or her from enlisting in the armed services.”

“If there is an arrest, that years-old case must still come through an already overburdened court system,” Vance noted, saying that he was motivated to host Manhattan’s first summons warrant amnesty event to give “individuals with minor offenses that are outstanding a fresh start, and for efficiency in our courts.”

The success of Thompson’s first Begin Again event, held in June, led him to put together another two summons warrant-clearing events this year, with the next one planned for December 5. On Saturday morning at the event, Vance told assembled members of the media that given the good turnout for his first Clean Slate event, he is optimistic about holding more in the future, and would like to host such events on a quarterly basis.

Hosting Clean Slate and Begin Again events has required the NYPD, judges, clerks, the Office of Court Administration, public defenders, volunteers from the Legal Aid Society, and the community to work together to set up an off-site courtroom for one day. They’ve involved significant awareness and outreach efforts by the DA offices and community partners to spread the word - often on flyers that attempt to make it clear that people with warrants for these “low-level” offenses should not fear arrest at the event.

With so many stakeholders willing to collaborate in order hold an event that “helps the person who has the warrant, helps protect our officers so they’re not put in dangerous positions with people who have warrants, who may try to flee or resist arrest, helps our overburdened court system, and helps to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community,” as Brooklyn DA Thompson told Gotham Gazette, the question remains: will the city’s three other district attorneys follow suit?

Spokespeople for Clark, of the Bronx, and McMahon, of Staten Island, told Gotham Gazette that each of the newly elected DAs, both Democrats, do indeed plan to hold such events. (All five DAs will be Democrats after Clark and McMahon are sworn in.)

"District Attorney-Elect Michael McMahon has said that he believes programs like Begin Again and Clean Slate have merit and value, particularly in giving individuals and veterans an opportunity to start fresh and clear their names from summons violations for low-level offenses, such as walking a dog without a leash or being in a park after closing, that may impact their ability to get a job or access needed services,” Ashleigh Owens, spokesperson for McMahon, said in a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette.

“As District Attorney, he'll look to evaluate options and secure resources for bringing a similar program to Staten Island," Owens added.

“Once in office, Bronx District Attorney-elect Clark is committed to working to find solutions that will clear backlogged arrest warrants for summonses, which includes potentially holding amnesty events," Ryan Monell, a spokesperson for Clark told Gotham Gazette.

Queens DA Brown currently has no intention of offering any sort of amnesty program in Queens. Kevin Ryan, a spokesperson for Brown, told Gotham Gazette, “We have no plans to offer an amnesty program at this time, as Queens maintains the lowest failure to appear in court rate in the City.”

“Additionally,” Ryan continued, “any blanket amnesty program would be unfair to those individuals who assume full responsibility for their actions by appearing in court when their cases are scheduled and paying their summonses. Beyond that, individuals can avail themselves of such amnesty programs whenever they become available in other boroughs."

Indeed, the events being held by other DAs are open to anyone with a summons warrant, regardless of where an individual lives or was cited for a violation.

Yet even if four of the city’s district attorneys were to hold amnesty events for summons warrants on a regular basis, it would take decades to significantly reduce the city’s 1.3 million outstanding arrest warrants for summonses. According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, Thompson’s Begin Again initiative has “helped nearly 2,000 New Yorkers and has cleared more than 1,300 outstanding summons warrants,” while hundreds of New Yorkers lined up to clear their records at Vance’s Clean Slate event this Saturday.

Hypothetically, if four DAs each held four amnesty events per year and cleared an average of 650 warrants at each event, a total of 10,400 summons warrants could be cleared each year - not even one percent of 1.3 million.

It’s also important to take into account the fact that in 2014, an average of 985 summons were issued each day in New York City. According to the Mayor’s Office, in 2014, a total of 359,432 summonses were issued citywide - 38 percent of which resulted in an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court.

If roughly 136,584 summons warrants are being added to the million-plus backlog each year, amnesty events alone will never be able to eliminate the tally of summons warrants.

That is not to say that such events aren’t worthwhile, as the participating DAs, public defenders, and others would argue. Many New Yorkers clapped, cheered, and profusely thanked nearby volunteers upon exiting the Soul Saving Station Church on Saturday at Vance’s Clean Slate event. Some walked away with the white slip of paper informing them of their Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal clutched between their hands, staring at it and smiling, while others threw their hands up into the air and shouted “I’m free!” and “Clean Slate, baby!”

What’s more, clearing the backlog of arrest warrants for such minor offenses frees up the NYPD and the courts to devote resources to areas with greater need. “We should free our officers to deal with gun violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault - serious crimes,” Thompson said. “Everyone benefits with a Begin Again program. This is being smart on crime, helping reform the criminal justice system, and working together with the community to show that law enforcement and the community can stand as one.”

Yet it is clear to many that a more comprehensive approach must be taken to deal with the city’s staggering backlog of summons warrants - one which grows daily.

“The root of the problem is overcriminalization for low-level, quality of life offenses,” Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Courts and Legal Services Committee, told Gotham Gazette. Lancman wants to see some violations made civil, as opposed to criminal. “If I get a ticket for putting my trash out too early, and I forgot to pay it on time, I don’t get arrested. I get a penalty, and I’ll pay my fine,” he said.

When asked whether any reforms to tackle “the root of the problem” were currently underway, Lancman replied, “Not directly. We are pushing to have some of the low-level quality of life offenses processed through the civil justice system, though that would be prospective, not retroactive.”

About 40 percent of New Yorkers who receive a summons fail to appear in court for the date specified on their summons, automatically triggering a warrant for their arrest. There are a number of reasons people may miss their court appearance: immigrants may fear deportation, some may not be able to pay the fines issued to them, some aren’t able to miss work - but more simply than that, many do not understand what is required of them, and don’t know that a warrant will be issued for their arrest if they fail to appear.

A number of reforms have been put in place this year to address this issue. In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, announced a new initiative, called “Justice Reboot,” to modernize the criminal justice system. Part of the pilot program aims to make the summons process easier to understand and navigate by simplifying the design of the summons form and providing a wider window of time for individuals who have received a summons to appear in court.

“We have taken steps to make summons court more user friendly,” Lancman explained. “Hopefully, by instituting night hours, by allowing people to pay their fines online once they have pled guilty, and by providing people with electronic alerts to let them know about an upcoming court appearance, we will reduce the number of bench warrants issued in the future.”

Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has expressed support of amnesty as a means to clear the case backlog. “Warrants never go away. There’s no expiration date,” Bratton said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It would be great to get rid of a lot of that backlog. It’s not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there.”

Bratton, however, has not looked kindly upon the City Council’s attempts to address the “root of the problem” by decriminalizing quality-of-life offenses. Yet, Bratton has expressed commitment to what he has called “the peace dividend” approach he is taking, whereby because the city is much safer than it once was, the NYPD can use more discretion. Still, this may mean more summonses rather than arrests, which does not help the summons-warrant problem.

“I think these individual programs that DAs are running are good progress and I’m very supportive of them,” Council Member Lancman said, “but we really need a larger, more macro strategy for dealing with this extraordinary number of arrest warrants.” 

***
by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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Incoming DAs Plan to Join Thompson and Vance Warrant-Clearing Efforts Tue, 24 Nov 2015 03:52:49 +0000
At 'Begin Again,' Signs of New Approach to Broken Justice System http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5824:at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5824:at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system ken thompson jumaane williams laurie cumbo

DA Thompson, center, with Council Members Williams & Cumbo (@JumaaneWilliams)


During Father's Day weekend, hundreds of individuals received the gift of a new beginning. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office held a 'Begin Again' event to lift open arrest warrants related to summonses for low-level offenses ranging from public intoxication, the most common violation, to being in a park after closing. In total, 1,039 individuals from across all five boroughs attended the two-day event and 670 warrants were cleared.

The 'Begin Again' initiative is part of a larger summons reform movement that aims to make it easier for individuals to respond to summonses and ultimately, avoid arrest warrants. While the total number of summons filings in New York City has decreased significantly in recent years, the system remains strained, with a citywide backlog of over a million summonses.

In Brooklyn, District Attorney Ken Thompson's office indicated that the success of the event would lead to another in September, and that while similar events were held under former District Attorney Charles Hynes, the Father's Day weekend initiative saw the greatest number of warrants cleared in Brooklyn during comparable time periods. Other district attorneys do not appear quick to follow suit.

City leaders from Thompson to Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner Bill Bratton, the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others, are discussing summons reform.

"New York City's criminal justice system is overburdened with severely backlogged courts and millions of New Yorkers with outstanding warrants for low-level, minor offenses," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.

"District Attorney Ken Thompson's Begin Again initiative is a forward-thinking approach that tackles this issue head on," Mark-Viverito said, "enabling individuals to resolve their warrants and move on with a clean slate without the threat of impending arrest."

Thompson's office is quick to stress that warrants and the summonses that led to them were not simply dismissed wholesale, but that each individual who wanted to 'Begin Again' was given a fair hearing, with most warrants adjudicated and summonses cleared - as is the case when people show up to their summons-dictated court appearance.

While the initiative has received widespread support, some expressed reservations. "It does create a moral hazard that sends the message that people can expect such amnesties in the future," said Heather Mac Donald of The Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. "It's a real issue and it has to be weighed against the public good in clearing these backlogs of warrants."

By using the term "amnesty," Mac Donald gets at a key issue for critics, who say that people should follow the law in the first place and pay the consequences for breaking it and for missing any mandated court appearance. People, including NYPD Commissioner Bratton, are hesitant to give the appearance of amnesty, believing that if New Yorkers believe there are no consequences to their actions, law-breaking will likely increase.

But Dawn Ryan, attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn criminal office, notes a distinction between the clearance of warrants and actual amnesty. "To me, amnesty is telling those who received the summonses that they may throw them away and forget they ever received them," said Ryan. By contrast, at 'Begin Again,' "they're still being held accountable in terms of showing up in response to the summons and having this matter resolved before a judge."

At 'Begin Again' events, those with outstanding warrants are assigned a Legal Aid attorney and brought before a judge, who hears the reason for the original summons and for not appearing in court, thus earning the warrant.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office hailed 'Begin Again' a success and Ryan stated the event attracted so many people on its second day that the line remained open for an additional 45 minutes beyond the scheduled time. But the 670 warrants cleared barely make a dent in the 1.2 million open warrants related to unanswered summonses throughout New York City.

"It's just a drop in the bucket," acknowledged City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Council's courts and legal services committee. An estimated one in seven New Yorkers have an outstanding summons warrant and with less than one tenth of one percent of open summons warrants resolved thus far through the 'Begin Again' initiative, the need for further reform measures becomes evident. "I thought it seemed to be a great success for what it was," said Lancman. "But in the scheme of things, it's not really a sustainable strategy for getting at the over one million warrants that are outstanding."

The staggering number of open summons warrants is one of the reasons why Lancman, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are among those advocating for certain low-level criminal offenses to be reclassified as civil penalties. A reclassification of some offenses would lessen the burden on the summons court system while also granting a reprieve to individuals who have committed non-violent, so-called 'quality-of-life' infractions. Proponents of such measures have argued that summonses are disproportionately issued to poor people of color and that arrest warrants resulting from failure to respond to a summons can have grave repercussions that far outweigh the original offense.

But even certain summons reform measures, it would seem, are backlogged. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced "Justice Reboot," an initiative including a planned overhaul of the summons process. Among the proposed changes were a new summons form making the court appearance date more prominent, robocall and text message reminders for those with summonses, and a more flexible system allowing individuals to appear in court up to a week in advance of their scheduled court date. While these measures were originally scheduled to begin this summer, they are now slated to start in early fall.

Sarah Solon, chief external strategy officer at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, stated that the timing for the proposed reforms remains unchanged and that the measures will go into effect sequentially. "The new summons form has to roll out first, because it will collect the cell phone numbers that will allow for text message reminders and contain information about the flexible appearance dates," said Solon via e-mail. That new form will be released citywide within the next few months, Solon said, and going forward the form will collect data on an individual's race/ethnicity in order to ensure transparency in the summons process and provide important data.

The next Begin Again event is also scheduled for the fall-it will be held on September 12 in East New York. The flyer for the event - which will be posted around the borough and shared on social media as the one advertising the last one was - says, "we can help you take care of that old warrant." The literature seeks to reassure people: "over 1,000 people attended the last event," it says, followed by "no one was arrested" and "everyone got help."

Ryan said she and her colleagues at The Legal Aid Society hope other DA offices will follow Brooklyn District Attorney Thompson's lead in hosting such events.

So, apparently, does Thompson. In a July 15 letter addressed and hand-delivered to Mayor de Blasio with Chief Judge Lippman copied, Thompson urged the mayor to take the Brooklyn 'Begin Again' initiative citywide. Of the current way of doing things, Thompson wrote, "We simply cannot continue down this path any longer."

***
Brooke L. Williams is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York City. She reports on the criminal justice system with an emphasis on those wrongfully convicted. You can follow her on Twitter @williamslbrooke
@GothamGazette

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At 'Begin Again,' Signs of New Approach to Broken Justice System Sun, 26 Jul 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Are DAs Doing Enough to Overturn Wrongful Convictions? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5802:are-das-doing-enough-to-overturn-wrongful-convictions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5802:are-das-doing-enough-to-overturn-wrongful-convictions DA Thompson Reynoso

Brooklyn DA Thompson, left, & Council Member Reynoso (photo: @BrooklynDA)


What is the price of winning? For prosecutors in wrongful conviction cases, it can be a life.

Last year, there were a record 131 exonerations nationwide according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Of those exonerated, six were serving time on death row.

During that same time period, six new Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) were established at district attorney offices across the country, increasing the total number of units by about one-third. CIUs conduct reviews of wrongful conviction claims and were responsible for 49 exonerations in 2014, more than for all previous years combined. But the structure and number of exonerations of each individual CIU varies markedly, leading to different systems by which the district attorneys who prosecute crimes are reviewed.

In New York City, where each borough has a corresponding DA, the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorney Offices have a CIU and Conviction Review Unit (CRU), respectively. The other boroughs do not currently have formal review units. Like other CIUs, the New York City-based units vary in both organization and outcomes.

Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes formed a CIU in 2011 that resulted in two exonerations. But many, including current Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson, who defeated Hynes in 2013, felt that Hynes was incapable of adequately looking into convictions that were secured during his nearly quarter-century tenure.

"My predecessor called it the Conviction Integrity Unit, but I thought the process in place did not have integrity. And so, I changed the name and called it the Conviction Review Unit," Thompson said while speaking at a New York City Bar Association event last year.

Since Thompson established the CRU in 2014, he has allocated an annual budget of $1.1 million to the unit. "If you're serious about the idea that the job of a district attorney and a prosecutor is to do justice, not merely to secure convictions," says Mark Hale, Chief of the Brooklyn CRU, "then the books don't close on these cases. You should always be pursuing justice, even long after the jury has reached their verdict."

The Brooklyn CRU secured ten exonerations last year and has been touted by some as a model. Two of the ten exonerated individuals died while incarcerated and had their convictions vacated posthumously. These examples show how costly wrongful convictions - and delayed reviews when questions arise - can be. The other eight men whose convictions were overturned were facing maximum sentences of life in prison. The CRU has produced an additional three exonerations in 2015, including one involving a defendant who was facing possible deportation.

The Manhattan CIU, created by District Attorney Cyrus Vance in 2010, was the first of its kind within the five boroughs. Since its inception, the unit has reviewed more than 160 cases, reinvestigated 14 cases, and vacated five convictions, according to an office spokesperson who declined a request for an interview. As of January 2015, The National Registry of Exonerations lists four vacated convictions by the Manhattan CIU that meet the registry's criteria for exonerations. The vacated convictions include two robberies, one assault, and one sexual assault.

"To me, that office has zero credibility," says Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongfully convicted in Westchester County and exonerated after spending nearly 16 years in prison. Deskovic, who founded The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, cites the Jon-Adrian Velazquez case in which the Manhattan CIU upheld a murder conviction despite recanted eyewitness testimony and a lack of physical evidence linking Velazquez to the crime.

But Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project, a national organization that works to reverse wrongful convictions on the basis of DNA evidence, stresses CIUs are evolving entities. While Scheck views comparisons between the two New York district attorney offices as unproductive, he also acknowledges there are certain factors that increase the effectiveness of a particular CIU over another.

"The successful CIUs have been ones where the person who has supervisory responsibility is a former defense lawyer," says Scheck, pointing to renowned defense attorney Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.'s role as advisor to the Brooklyn CRU. "You really need from a cognitive point of view a completely different perspective because it's very hard to de-bias people who are working within offices, prosecutors particularly, for quite a number of years," says Scheck.

The latter point has been a criticism of CIUs. Essentially, a wrongful conviction is admission that the district attorney's office responsible for the case got the prosecution wrong in the first place. When those cases involve prosecutors and a district attorney who are still in office, the objectivity of the review process is called into question. As of January 2015, individual CIUs ranged in number of exonerations from zero to as many as 33.

In addition to Sullivan's role as advisor, the Brooklyn CRU employs the use of an independent review panel. The panel reviews and makes non-binding recommendations to the district attorney's office regarding wrongful conviction claims. The panel is comprised of three attorneys who are not employed by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.

The Manhattan CIU has a Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel comprised of criminal justice experts, including Scheck, who advise "the Office on national best practices and evolving issues in the area of wrongful convictions" according to a Manhattan District Attorney press release. The panel does not review cases, which are handled internally by the Manhattan CIU.

The Brooklyn CRU's comparably high rate of exonerations can be traced to other factors as well. Four of the Brooklyn CRU's exonerations last year involved cases handled by former police detective Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of coercing witnesses and intimidating suspects into making false confessions.

"In doing the number of cases for the years that we did," says Hale, "those cases of violent crimes in the volume that we did, it would be foolhardy to believe mistakes weren't made in some of those." But Hale points to other factors in the unit's success, including a dedicated staff whose sole responsibility is to review wrongful conviction claims.

While the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office processed a high volume of cases during New York City's crime-ridden 1980s and '90s, a 2015 report issued by the National Registry of Exonerations asserts that the borough is not unique. The report refers to the number of exonerations in Brooklyn as "an impressive accomplishment" but maintains "there is no reason to believe that the problem it addresses is restricted to Brooklyn. The concentration of false murder convictions in Brooklyn in the 1980s and '90s," the report continues, "is often explained by a crisis in law enforcement: a murder rate about 5 times what it is now, and limited resources to investigate and prosecute those murders."

But the report argues that similar conditions existed throughout the five boroughs as well as in other urban areas nationwide. "If the same resources were devoted to similar cases from other cities," the report maintains, "many additional false murder convictions would no doubt be found."

The number of homicide and homicide-related arrests, such as criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter, disposed in Brooklyn during the '80s and '90s was one-and-a-half times the rate of homicide-related arrests disposed in Manhattan. However, the total number of felony arrest dispositions during the same time period was higher in Manhattan than in Brooklyn.

Currently, the Manhattan CIU reviews serious felony offenses including homicide, rape, burglary, and robbery. Earlier this year, the Brooklyn CRU expanded its review to include non-homicide felony offenses as well. Since that expansion, the Brooklyn CRU has secured two exonerations in non-homicide felony cases.

Acknowledging the lack of CIUs in many other localities, Hale concurs with the report's finding and notes, "There are other people who probably would find the same proportion or the same numbers of exonerations if, in fact, they were looking."

Brooklyn DA Thompson's fresh eyes have undoubtedly helped the office take a deeper look into the relatively old convictions that were obtained primarily during the Hynes administration. Will those eyes remain as sharp once convictions secured under Thompson's leadership are called into question?

"It comes down to the will of the D.A.," Thompson acknowledged during his speech last year. "I can't say that there will never be anyone wrongfully convicted under my tenure, but I can tell you that I'm going to take swift action."

***
Brooke L. Williams is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York City. She reports on the criminal justice system with an emphasis on those wrongfully convicted. You can follow her on Twitter @williamslbrooke
@GothamGazette

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Are DAs Doing Enough to Overturn Wrongful Convictions? Sun, 12 Jul 2015 05:00:00 +0000
License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5782:license-to-carry-new-yorks-gun-permit-laws http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5782:license-to-carry-new-yorks-gun-permit-laws Cuomo SAFE Act

Gov. Cuomo signs the SAFE Act, Jan. 2013 (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


Riders on a Brooklyn-bound 4 train fled in terror when a man responded to taunts from two younger men by pulling a gun and loading a clip. As the confrontation escalated and the train stopped, the melee spilled into the Borough Hall station, with threats and shoving until Gilbert Drogheo, one of the younger men, was lying dead of a gunshot wound on the station floor. Like a number of recent shootings, most of the incident was captured on video.

What stands out about the shooting death is that the firearm that killed Drogheo wasn't obtained illegally. According to law enforcement officials, Willie Grooms, the 69-year-old retired corrections officer who shot Drogheo, had a pistol permit. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that Grooms will not be charged with a crime despite pleas from Drogheo's family. Grooms has maintained that Drogheo was harassing and assaulting him and that he attempted a citizen's arrest.

The incident and several others, such as the seemingly accidental gun shot that injured five people at a Waldorf Astoria wedding, raise serious questions for many New Yorkers - as the recent shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church that killed nine has also done for many across the country. These are questions being seized upon by gun control activists in especially vehement efforts during June, which is Gun Violence Awareness Month in New York. Among the questions being asked are 'who is allowed to carry a gun' and 'how do people get gun permits.'

Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate agree that New York has some of the toughest gun-permitting laws of any state in the nation. However, regulations differ greatly between New York City and the rest of the state, with the city having a much more stringent system. This is evident as the New York Times recently reported on armed upstate New Yorkers on the lookout for two escaped prisoners.

"New York has some of the strongest laws in the country," said Leah Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "New York is a 'may issue' state, whereas Florida is a 'shall issue.' Meaning [Florida] will basically issue [a gun permit] to anyone with a pulse."

New York is known as a 'may-issue state' because its regulations allow for background checks before issuing a license. However, the licensing process upstate is less restrictive than that of some other states, like Maryland, that rarely issue permits. Other states, such as Florida, are known as 'shall-issue' states because they have an application process that is mostly a formality. States like Texas are known as states 'unrestricted' because its residents are free to carry concealed firearms without going through any application process.

The screening and permitting process in New York differs based on type of firearm. Applicants for pistol permits undergo criminal and mental health background checks at the state and federal level - even when purchasing at a gun show. Permits are issued by local judges or clerks. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, free of a felony conviction or "serious" offense, of good moral character, and not have had a previous license revoked. Applicants must also state whether they have suffered severe mental illness or been institutionalized or hospitalized for such an illness. Permit issuers may deny a license based on that history.

In most of the state outside of New York City, permits are not required for the vast majority of rifles and shotguns used to hunt. Whereas the city does require a permit for guns used for hunting. The SAFE Act banned most assault style shotguns and rifles across the state but grandfathered in those purchased before January 15, 2013. Those grandfathered firearms were required to be registered before January 14, 2014.

"In New York City it is nearly impossible to get a pistol permit without some kind of hardcore need," said Tom King of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. "Getting a concealed carry permit is almost impossible in the city unless you are a politician, a celebrity or very, very wealthy." The New York Police Department is tasked with reviewing applications for concealed carry permits in the city. A New York Times report from 2011 revealed that a number of celebrities and media members like John Catsimatidis, Sean Hannity, Alexis Stewart, and John Mack all have city pistol permits.

Outside of the city, King says, the permitting is less prohibitive but may take some time due to background checks that have recently been enhanced by the SAFE Act - legislation that is much maligned by gun rights advocates. The difficulty of getting a concealed permit varies depending on the county in which someone applies, in most cases the process is overseen by a judge or a clerk.

The NYPD offers a number of different permits that allow for pistols to be carried for business purposes, or restrict the carrier to a specific business or residence. Store owners and security guards appear to be the most-often licensed. Applicants must pay about $400 for a license, wait 12 weeks, and undergo a background check. They then must apply to the NYPD for permission to buy whichever firearm they select. One license can cover up to 25 different weapons. There were over 40,000 permit holders in New York City as of 2011.

Applications for permits in the rest of the state generally cost a lot less - often around $15 - and are completed in about two months. The SAFE Act established that state pistol permits must be renewed every five years. Pistol owners who fail to do so can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Renewal involves submitting an applicant's current address, contact information, social security number, and a list of owned firearms.

King said that New York's current permitting rules seem fairly stable and that his group is mostly involved in fighting off the attempts of local municipalities to tweak gun laws. He notes that most smaller cities have to apply to the state for home rule to make their gun laws tougher and most of the time they are denied, or the law is defeated in court. His group is also actively looking to make repealing the SAFE Act a major issue in the 2016 elections for state Senate and Assembly. It was often used against Governor Andrew Cuomo and others during the 2014 cycle, while when he was campaigning in New York City, Cuomo boasted about passing the law, enacted quickly after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT.

Barrett, of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, is concerned that a federal bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state conceal-carry permits is picking up steam. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a host of Republican legislators from states with no permitting laws. "This operates more or less like a driver's license," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told The Hill in February. "So, for example, if you have a driver's license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states."

Advocates of the bill say it would prevent 'gotcha' moments where travelers with out-of-state concealed-carry permits are arrested for toting guns illegally in another state. Barrett and gun-control advocates say the bill would wreak havoc in New York. They say the bill could severely damage efforts to fight gun trafficking from out of state, which the NYPD and others often point to as a major issue in terms of guns used to commit crimes in New York City. "New York would be forced to honor permits from these other states that have weaker laws," said Barrett. "We would likely see an influx of guns from out of state and an increase in trafficking. And how will New York be able to confirm these permits?"

While, New York may very well have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, some in Albany, including legislators who back stricter gun laws, say that in order to get Senate Republicans to negotiate on other bills they may have to concede to their efforts to roll back parts of the SAFE Act. On June 9 the Senate passed a bill that would do away with a SAFE Act provision that requires background checks on those who purchase ammo. A state database to monitor ammo sales has yet to be brought online. The bill would also prevent gun registrations from being made public and allow family members to gift semiautomatic guns to their relatives.

King said he thinks the bill has a real chance to make it through the Legislature. Barrett, however, points to a recent poll her group conducted on the individual elements of the SAFE Act. The poll shows that New Yorkers support the SAFE Act by a 2-1 margin, and their support increases overwhelmingly when asked about the individual gun-safety measures contained in the act.

Background checks for all firearm sales was backed by 89 percent of all voters and 80 percent of gun owners surveyed. Renewal of pistol permits every five years was supported by 79 percent of voters and 53 percent of gun owners. Background checks for ammunition sales was supported by 72 percent of all voters and 37 percent of gun owners.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly support gun safety, in fact they support the measures contained in the SAFE Act when they learn how common sense they are," said Barrett.
***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:22:56 +0000
Three 2015 District Attorney Races Set to Begin http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5736:three-2015-district-attorney-races-set-to-begin http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5736:three-2015-district-attorney-races-set-to-begin donovan swearing in

Former SI DA Dan Donovan is sworn in to Congress (@dandonovan_ny)


Voters can look forward to soon having a clearer picture of the potential contenders for the district attorney races on November’s ballot.

Three of New York’s five district attorney positions will be voted on this fall — in Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx — and signature petitioning to get on the ballot begins the first week in June. Brooklyn’s District Attorney, Ken Thompson, and Manhattan’s District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, will not face reelection until 2017.

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Three 2015 District Attorney Races Set to Begin Thu, 21 May 2015 21:09:49 +0000
The New Yorker's Guide To The New City Government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4792:the-guide-to-new-york-citys-new-government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4792:the-guide-to-new-york-citys-new-government CityHall2

Photo by Bill Alatriste/City Council

NEW YORK — The historic overhaul of New York City government this year goes well beyond the mayor's office.

There are 21 new members of the City Council, four new borough presidents, and fresh, yet familiar, faces in the offices of Brooklyn district attorney, comptroller, and public advocate. With the city’s politics taking an increasingly liberal turn, there are few outright conservatives left in city government.

“Reapportionment and term limits combined to make the City Council younger, a little bit further to the left, perhaps less a product of traditional political organizations or machines, and demographically, a little more like the population of the city,” said Kenneth Sherrill, Chair of the Political Science Department at Hunter College.

New city officials include the first Mexican-American on City Council; old friends of incoming Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from his tenure during the 1990s; yet another member of the Queens Vallone clan; and a progressive new Brooklyn D.A., who has said he wants to re-train the borough's police officers. We've rounded up the full list here.

Citywide

Mayor

Bill de Blasio - De Blasio has been involved in New York City politics since he helped the last progressive mayor, David Dinkins, get elected in 1989. Between that first campaign and his mayoral victory, De Blasio served as the regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helped Hillary Clinton get elected to the U.S. Senate, spent eight years representing some of Brooklyn’s wealthier neighborhoods on the City Council, and, most recently, served as the city’s public advocate. In an attempt to deliver on a key campaign promise early on, De Blasio has spent the last few weeks drumming up support in Albany for a small tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K. Dinkins, somewhat ironically and extremely publicly, recently told him to reconsider, saying “we might have more success” with a commuter tax.

Comptroller

Scott Stringer - Stringer left his post as Manhattan Borough President and took on former Gov. Elliot Spitzer in order to ascend to this quietly powerful office overseeing city finances. He brings with him experience as a trustee of the massiveNYCERS pension fund and a track record of spearheadingpopulist economic initiatives, including the New York City Taxpayer Receipt, a website that allows constituents totrack their tax dollars.

Public Advocate

Letitia "Tish" James - James has served Central Brooklyn on the City Council since 2003 and has opposed several major development and rezoning projects, including Atlantic Yards, which, for years, riled up residents around what is now the Barclays Center. Most recently, James joined progressive groups in calling for higher wages and a change in the city’s economic development policies, including more stringent requirements for banks and corporations that receive city subsidies.

Borough-wide offices

Brooklyn District Attorney

Kenneth P. Thompson - Thompson had tobeat incumbent Charles Hynes twice - first, in the primary, when Hynes was a Democrat, and again when Hynes became a Republican for the general election. In anacceptance speech, the first black Brooklyn DA said voters had chosen him as an alternative to "false accusation, fear-mongering, and race-baiting." As a federal attorney, Thompson prosecutedpolice brutality in Brooklyn and now aims to reduce false arrests byassigning prosecutors to police precincts in East New York and Brownsville. “It is not right to have someone subjected to stop-and-frisk, snake through the system and spend two days in jail just to get out," hetold the Daily News.

Brooklyn Borough President

Eric Adams (D, WF) - Counted as anold friend by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Adams served 22 years in the NYPD before moving on to the State Senate, where he has represented Crown Heights, Flatbush, Sunset Park and Park Slope for the last eight years. A vocal critic of former Commissioner Ray Kelly when stop-and-frisk was on trial, Adams advocates for a "symbiotic relationship" between the police and the community.

Manhattan Borough President

Gale Brewer (D) - Brewer has been a Council member for the Upper West Side and North Clinton since 2002. Her most recent political efforts include a push tomake food trucks greener and to get the city toseek federal funding to expand CitiBike.

Queens Borough President

Melinda Katz (D) - Katz represented Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and other pockets of Queens during her seven-year tenure on the City Council between 2002 and 2009. While on the Council, she was chair of the land use committee, and played a key role in moving forward the massive rezoning the city underwent during the Bloomberg administration.

Staten Island Borough President

James Oddo (R) - After 15 years on the City Council, Oddo is passing his title of Republican minority leader on to fellow Staten Island politician Vincent Ignizio. When it comes to Sandy relief, Oddosupports an "acquisition for redevelopment" plan that would buy out homeowners, open Midland Beach up to developers, and give former residents the option of moving back in.

City Council

Manhattan

Corey Johnson (D) - D3 - Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, West Village- Johnson, a prominent activist in the LGBT community, will take outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn's seat. Johnson most recently served as Chair of Community Board 4, which also made him aboard member of the Hudson Yards Development Corp. Johnson built much of his campaign around affordable housing, but has been thesubject of controversy as a former employee of GFI Development Co., which has erected its fair share of Brooklyn condos.

Ben Kallos (D) - D5 - Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island - Kallos, a lawyer and lifelong Upper East Sider, advocated for state constitutional reform as the Executive Director of the groupEffectiveNY and has put the issues of government accountability and transparency at the forefront of his campaign. He has also pledged to try toaid local businesses affected by the interminable Second Avenue subway construction.

Hellen Rosenthal (D) - D6 - Upper West Side and North Clinton - Rosenthal, who is coming from a post in the City Hall Budget Office, has been amajor supporter of participatory budgeting and has advocated bringing it to her district, where, in the past, she served as Chair of Community Board 7.

Mark Levine (D, WF) - D7 - parts of Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights/West Harlem, Manhattan Valley, Washington Heights, and part of UWS - Over the course of his uptown political career, Levine founded the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan and a credit union called the Neighborhood Trust. He also briefly ran the New York chapter of the controversial Teach for America program, of which he was an early participant. Levine's proposals for city schools includeexpanding the curriculum to teach about LGBT history, animal welfare, and environmental issues.

Brooklyn

Laurie Cumbo (D) - D35 - Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and part of Bedford Stuyvesant - Cumbo is best known in Brooklyn for her leadership and expansion ofMoCADA, the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts, and other cultural programs she has jump-started. But Cumbo has had a rough start as a Council member. She already had toapologize to her new constituents for racially chargedcomments she made about the 'knockout attacks' in Crown Heights last month.

Robert Cornegy, Jr. (D) -D36- Bedford Stuvesant and parts of Crown Heights - Cornegy is transitioning from a position as Legislative Analyst for the Council's Aging and Veterans Committee. The former district leader and president of VIDA, Central Brooklyn's Vanguard Independent Democratic Association,eked out a primary win in a race that ended with a highly contested recount.

Rafael Espinal, Jr. (D) - D37- Cypress Hills, Bushwick, East New York, City Line, Ocean Hill, Brownsville - Two years ago, Espinal, then 27, became the youngest member of the State Assembly, representing District 54. Most recently, hesponsored legislation related to domestic abuse and, in the past, has sponsored bills that would require insurance companies to expand women's health coverage. Espinal has said he is determined to repair the infrastructure in neighborhoods that have been "completely ignored" by the city, like Cypress Hills, where he grew up.

Carlos Menchaca (D) - D38 - Bayridge Towers, Greenwood Heights, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace - Menchaca'srelief efforts in Red Hook following Hurricane Sandy helped him get the support he needed to beat his district's incumbent. Now, he and incoming Council Member Mark Treyger want tostart a Sandy relief committee on the City Council. Proudly claiming the dual titles of "first Mexican-American on the City Council" and "first openly gay legislator in Brooklyn," Menchaca cut his teeth in the offices of outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz and outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn.

Inez Barron (D) - D42 - NEIGHBORHOODS - In her five years representing State Assembly District 60, Barron hastaken a progressive stance on issues from gun regulation to sex education. She alsofought to end mayoral control of city schools after a decades-long career as a public school teacher and administrator. Barron's more incendiary husband, Charles, is passing her the torch in their Council district.

Alan Maisel (D) - D46 - Canarsie, Mill Basin, Marine Park, Bergen Beach, Gerritsen Beach, part of Sheepshead Bay - Environmental issues and public safety, including 'fracking' regulation, have been prominent among the legislation Maisel hassponsored in his tenure serving State Assembly District 59. Much of Maisel's civic work in Brooklyn has been done through the international Jewish organization B'nai B'rith, although he has also served on his local school and community boards.

Mark Treyger (D) - D47 - Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island, and Sea Gate - After Superstorm Sandy hit, Treyger founded STRONG, the Sandy Task Force Recovery Organized by Neighborhood Groups, and is now joining forces with fellow incoming Council Member Carlos Menchaca to call fora Sandy relief committee on the City Council. Treyger, long active in local politics, has been a high school teacher since 2005, with strong involvement in the United Federation of Teachers.

Chaim Deutsch (D) - D48 - Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and Brighton Beach - Over the past 20 years, Deutsch, who has a strong foothold in Brooklyn's Jewish community, has taken community safety into his own hands as president of the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol. He founded the Patrol in the early 1990s in response to rising crime and has worked closely with both Commissioner Bill Bratton and outgoing police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Deutsch even held an appreciation ceremony for Kelly, during which hepresented the city’s top cop with a mezuzah, which Jews hang in their doorways for protection. He alsopraised Bratton for having "excelled at police-community relations and law enforcement strategies" during his previous tenure on the NYPD.

Antonio Reynoso - D34 - Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn; Ridgewood in Queens - Reynoso is taking the seat of his former boss, Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who he has been working for since 2007, most recently as her Chief of Staff. A Williamsburg native, Reynoso has made affordable housing his top issue, speaking out frequently about the neighborhood's luxury makeover. He beat out a seasoned politician, former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was forced out of the Assembly earlier this year following a sexual harassment case.

Queens

Paul Vallone, Jr. (D) - D19 - College Point, Auburndale-Flushing, Bayside, Whitestone, Bay Terrace, Douglaston, and Little Neck - Leaving his practice at Queens law firm Vallone and Vallone to take a seat on the City Council, Vallone seems to be leaving onefamily business for another. His father, former Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., served on the City Council for 25 years, leaving in 2001, when his brother, Peter, Jr., was elected to represent the 22nd District (his term is up this year). Beyond his family ties, Vallone has established thousands of dollars in scholarship funds for Queens high school students and based his campaign platform on a mix of progressive issues — such as women's access to birth control — and local issues like noise pollution from overhead flights.

Costa Constantinides (D) - D22 - Astoria, Long Island City, part of Jackson Heights, Rikers Island, Randalls Island, and Wards Island - In the district that includes the city's largest jail, Constantinides earned valuable campaign support from the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association. Constantinides aims to reduce both crime and unemployment by hiring more police officers. He has also been active in the fight for voter rights throughout the state as a member of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, and says it's time to dump thehundreds of outdoor trailer classrooms” that are disproportionately found in Queens schools.

Rory Lancman (D) - D24 - Briarwood, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest Estates, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Utopia Estates, and parts of Forest Hills, Flushing, Jamaica and Rego Park - When Lancman attempted to run for Anthony Weiner's old seat in Congress last year,WNYC reported that he had made some enemies and that one source had even called him the "most hated member of the state Assembly." Lancman, a lawyer who served Assembly District 25 for six years, has also passed a significant volume of legislation, including theLibel Terrorism Protection Act, which aims to protect journalists writing about terrorism abroad from being hit with defamation lawsuits, and a host of bills related to equality andsafety in the workplace.

Daneek Miller (D) - D27 - St. Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights, Jamaica, Baisley Park, Addisleigh Park, and parts of Queens Village, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens - In December, Millerreceived a "Champion of Labor" Award, along with Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James. In Southeast Queens, where subway service is spotty, Miller has championed bus drivers and riders as president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transportation Union. He also co-founded a mentor program called Brothers Unlimited.

Bronx

Andrew Cohen (D) - D11 - Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Woodlawn, Norwood, and parts of Bedford Park, Wakefield, and Bronx Park East - Cohen, a Riverdale attorney, has had a long career in law, including several years as a court attorney to a Bronx Supreme Court Justice, legal counsel to State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, and a stint as an assistant adjunct at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He has called for raising the minimum wage and has gained the support of the United Federation of Teachers.

Ritchie Torres (D) - D15 - Bathgate, Belmont, Crotona, Fordham, East Tremont, Van Nest and West Farms - Torres, only 24, is one of many young Latino Democrats making their way into city politics. He has worked with Councilman James Vacca since his 2005 campaign and was named his housing director in 2011. Torres, who grew up in NYCHA housing, has worked to create tenants' associations and to advocate for basic rights of NYCHA residents in the Bronx, like building improvements andheating.

Vanessa Gibson (D) - D16 - West Bronx, Morrisania, Highbridge, and Melrose - A Bronx transplant from Brooklyn, Gibson was elected to State Assembly District 77 in 2009, where she has focused on housing and social services. She began her political career as the Bronx district office manager for Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene.

Staten Island

Steven Matteo (R) - D50 - in Brooklyn, parts of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach; in Staten Island, Arrochar, Bulls Head, Concord, Dongan Hill, Emerson Hill, Fort Wadsworth, Grant City, Graniteville, Grasmere, Island of Meadows, Midland Beach, New Dorp, Prall's Island, Richmondtown, South Beach, Todt Hill, Travis, Westerleigh, Willowbrook - Sandy relief is still the number one priority in Staten Island, but Matteo has identified other issues affecting residents, including rampantprescription drug use. Matteo also said hehopes to work with the mayor  "to wrestle toll setting authority” from the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

This is an updated version which corrects the number of incoming City Council members to 21 and adds information on Councilman Antonio Reynoso.

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The New Yorker's Guide To The New City Government Tue, 31 Dec 2013 16:55:08 +0000