Gotham Gazette Sun, 31 May 2020 11:39:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Can Anyone Defeat Eric Gonzalez for Brooklyn DA? tish and gonzalez

Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez with Public Advocate Tish James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Can Anyone Defeat Eric Gonzalez for Brooklyn DA? Thu, 07 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Candidates for Brooklyn District Attorney Seek to Set Themselves Apart bk da gonzalez via ericgonzalez4da crop

Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez (photo: @EricGonzalez4DA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates were asked how they would hold elected officials accountable.

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

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

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

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

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

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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

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? 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

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 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

License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:22:56 +0000
The New Yorker's Guide To The New City 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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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