Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/234 Wed, 17 Jul 2019 10:48:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district 1 cm r torres lib

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is touting $3 million in city funding he secured for a residential complex that falls outside the Council district he represents, but within the Congressional district where he’s seeking votes.

The money will go to Concourse Village, Inc., a nearly 1,900-unit housing cooperative located in the south Bronx, over a mile away from the border of Torres’ district. The second-term Democratic Council member is running for Congress in the primary that will be held in June of next year.

Torres sent a campaign text message announcing the “great news,” using the funding allocation he secured as a member of the City Council to advance his congressional campaign, apparently targeting voters in Concourse Village.

"This is Council Member Ritchie Torres, running to be your next Congressman,” read a text message shared with Gotham Gazette. “GREAT NEWS: In the latest NYC budget, I secured $3 MILLION for Concourse Village.” The message went on to tell the recipient not to hesitate to reach out to Torres, providing a phone number, and concluded, “You can always count on me to fight for the Bronx. - Ritchie".

The youngest member of the City Council and the first openly gay elected official from the Bronx, Torres officially announced his candidacy for Congress on Monday, though he has been exploring a run for months. He joins several other Democrats vying for the seat opened by incumbent Representative José E. Serrano, who announced in March he would not seek reelection because of health concerns related to Parkinson’s disease. Representing the district in Congress since 1990, Serrano’s current term will end at the end of next year. Torres, who has been representing the 15th Council District since 2014, is not eligible to run for reelection in 2021 because of two-term limits. (Serrano’s Congressional district also happens to be the 15th.)

Others in the race include City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Taking advantage of the authority and influence of elected office to secure popular measures that can later be used as campaign fodder is commonplace in New York, where local politics is often a stepping stone to higher office. But the grey area around promoting public interest and political aspirations becomes less ambiguous when the sway of an elected office goes to benefit another district entirely, with electoral goals at play.

"How do you rationalize using campaign funds to communicate with people outside your district to tell them that you got them money blatantly for the purpose of trying to curry political favor?" said Blake, whose district includes Concourse Village.

Torres says the budget allocation for what he calls the largest concentration of cooperative housing in the South Bronx is consistent with his focus on affordable housing, especially for African-Americans. So is the political campaigning that followed.

“I have been an advocate for affordable housing not only in my district but throughout the city,” Torres told Gotham Gazette. Concourse Village “has an outsized presence in the housing stock of the South Bronx, which is keeping with my record and reputation for advocating for affordable housing.”

“I think of cooperative housing like Concourse Village as the bedrock of the African-American middle class, you know, whether it’s Co-op City in the East Bronx or Concourse Village in the South Bronx,” Torres, who is black and Latino, said. Black voters in the 15th Congressional District are expected to be an important part of the primary vote. Blake is African-American and Torres is African-American and Latino.

Concourse Village, Inc. is subsidized under the Mitchell-Lama housing program, which offers income-restricted rentals and below-market value buy-in for co-ops, a boon for affordable housing.

The neighborhoods comprising the South Bronx are home to some of the worst poverty in the country and also have some of the highest rates of rent burden in the city. In the community district that includes Concourse Village, more than half of households are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 35 percent of income on rent, according to the Department of City Planning.

Torres, who grew up in NYCHA public housing and chaired the Committee on Public Housing during his first term, has made the living conditions of the city’s most underserved residents a signature priority.

He notes the $3 million allocation did not come from the capital funding dedicated to his Council district, but from the city-wide pool controlled by Speaker Corey Johnson. Torres told Gotham Gazette, “if it had come from the Council District 15 pot then there is cause for controversy, but there is nothing unusual about funding for Concourse Village from a city-wide pot.”

“And since I had a role in securing the funds, it’s natural for me to take credit,” he added.

Each fiscal year the City Council is given a capital budget from which Council members may apply to allocate funds, according to Jonathan Rosenberg of the Independent Budget Office. Individual members can apply for district-specific projects, and borough delegations can sponsor projects that span multiple districts. The Council speaker ultimately decides how that money is disbursed and can also allocate it to city-wide projects.

In recent years, speakers have designated an equal amount of capital funding, $5 million, to each of the 51 Council members with the remainder of the now $655 million capital budget going to a city fund. City-wide allocations are controlled by the speaker and might go toward large or expansive projects like street reconstruction, according to Rosenberg, and members are able to put in requests.

“This money was funded by the City Council Speaker at the request of Council Member Torres,” said a Council spokesperson. The spokesperson said it’s not unprecedented for members to seek funding for a project outside their district, adding that the money is from the city capital funding, not the money set aside for Torres’ Council District 15.

Torres has also secured funding for cooperative housing in his district using the money designated specifically for that purpose by the Council leadership. This year, he put roughly $1 million of the $5 million towards renovationing a Mitchell-Lama co-op, known as Dennis Lane Apartments, in the heart of District 15.

Concourse Village is located south of Torres’ district off of Morris Ave. within the borders of Council District 16, represented by Vanessa Gibson. Gibson, a Democrat, is not listed among the sponsors of the $3 million Concourse Village, Inc. allocation, despite the project falling into her district. “I actually was not even made aware of this allocation until the day of adoption,” she said in a phone interview.

“I did not have the opportunity to work with the speaker nor Ritchie on this. It was something that Ritchie had done on his own, but I am grateful for the attention Concourse Village is getting in the budget,” she said.

“I get the strategic way that Ritchie is obviously looking at the future. This was a development that came up among the priorities within the district, and I truly believe that that was the logic behind it,” she added.

But Blake called foul on that strategic approach. “It is difficult to say that you want to be a fresh voice in Congress when you are directly trying to communicate to people that you want to pay for their vote," he said.

“I’m proud of the role that I played in securing the funds. Concourse Village is one of the most important housing developments in the Bronx and in the city,” Torres said. “And it’s been a stabilizing force for communities of color, for middle-class communities of color. That’s why I felt so strongly about it.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz mxm logo

l-r: Tiffany Cabán (photo: @CabanForQueens); Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount

juan manuel benitezThe Queens District Attorney Democratic primary is heading into a recount, and Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 & NY1 Noticias, who has been covering the process closely, joined the show it all down, from the absentee ballots that moved Tiffany Cabán from the primary night lead to second place behind Melinda Katz by 16 votes, to controversy over contested affidavit ballots, the potential for hundreds of new votes that ballot scanners didn't read, and political implications of how it all turns out.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape scott stringer bill de blasio bernie sanders inaugural ceremonies

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2021, when both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current positions. And the outline of his mayoral policy platform is already hiding in plain sight.

After briefly entering the 2013 mayoral campaign before shifting to a first successful run for comptroller, Stringer has spent a long time laying the groundwork for a full mayoral bid, so much so that many expected him to challenge de Blasio in the Democratic primary in 2017 had the mayor faced any consequences from dual ethics investigations into his fundraising activities. But the mayor faced no charges and both officials instead sailed to reelection.

One of three citywide elected officials, besides the mayor and public advocate, the comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer, charged with overseeing the mayoral administration’s spending, auditing city agencies for waste, approving city contracts, and acting as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds (with assets worth nearly $200 billion). Though they have next to no official policy-making power, those who’ve held the office also tend to issue policy reports and make recommendations for policies the city should implement.

In about five-and-a-half years as comptroller, Stringer has released numerous sweeping proposals to tackle everything from the cost of child care to building more affordable housing to abortion funding, improving city bus performance, and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Stringer fought against term limits for community board members, a ballot measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, and he’s pushed for this year’s city charter revision commission to propose creation of a citywide Chief Diversity Officer, building on his focus on city contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses. And, he’s helped lead the effort to divest city pension funds from fossil fuel companies.

As a citywide official, he’s weighed in with statements on many issues that don’t directly relate to functions of his job, and he’s taken on certain mantras, like the need for more “community-based planning,” that also indicate the initial building blocks for his all-but-official run for mayor.

Stringer’s work in the comptroller’s office has been a continuation of similar efforts he made as Manhattan borough president, unveiling various plans that would have a citywide effect.   

“Comptroller Stringer has spent his career in public service standing up for working families. From his time as a housing organizer, to his work as Manhattan Borough President, to his leadership as the City Comptroller, he’s proven progressive government isn’t just something he talks about – it’s what he delivers on each and every day,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, Stringer’s press secretary, in a lengthy statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about Stringer’s various policy proposals.

“He’s used his office to change the face of corporate America and open doors of opportunity to women and people of color; he’s changed the conversation and shined a light on the touchstone progressive issues of our time, including housing and child care; and in every challenge impacting working New Yorkers, Comptroller Stringer sees a progressive solution worth fighting for,” Crampton-Hays continued. “With two and half years left in his term, he will continue the fights that have been at the heart of his entire career -- for equity, affordability, and fairness for all New Yorkers.”

When Stringer declares his candidacy for mayor in earnest, he’ll have a lengthy, detailed campaign platform on day one, thanks to all of the reports and audits out of his office. It’s a smart and appropriate use of the comptroller’s office, said veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The New York City comptroller can do whatever the New York City comptroller wants. The office has broad authority under the city charter,” he said.

The issues Stringer has examined, Sheinkopf noted, cut across a swath of constituencies in a citywide electorate and have garnered significant attention. “He’s very able to get appropriate coverage for whatever he does. He also knows – because politics has been his life – how to take those issues and turn them into relationship-builders with particular interest groups,” Sheinkopf said. “He will be a highly competitive candidate for mayor, should he choose to run.”

Along with his policy proposals, Stringer’s near ubiquitous presence across the city should help him, Sheinkopf added. “No matter what choice New Yorkers will make, anyone who’s paid attention to the news will be able to say, for whatever reason, whether they can identify the issue or not, that somehow Stringer spoke to them about something,” he said. “And that’s a pretty good place to be and what he spoke to them about goes beyond color lines or race lines or ethnic lines or gender lines. He has made himself into the person whose words and even actions have become relevant to people beyond and outside of his social grouping, religion, race, class, and residence, which is not easy for someone who’s a west-sider from Manhattan.”

Stringer is expected to compete in a Democratic mayoral primary with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring ahead of the June 2021 vote. Each has also been in the process of staking out their policy positions and possible major mayoral platform areas, though none has led the size of operation or had the citywide vantage point, at least for as long, as Stringer in the comptroller’s office.

Political consultant George Arzt, who previously served as a campaign spokesperson for Stringer, echoed Sheinkopf. “The comptroller can put out anything on a platform just as the mayor or public advocate would put out anything on their platform,” Arzt said. “Perhaps increasingly so during an election year. But every elected official does it.”

Below are a sampling of the ideas that Stringer has proposed over the years, some of which are likely to form the basis for his mayoral campaign platform:

Child Care
In May, Stringer proposed a plan dubbed “NYC Under 3” aimed at drastically reducing child care expenses for 70,000 families. The plan, paid for with a payroll tax, would purportedly expand child care assistance to families with a combined income of up to $100,000 a year for a family of four, and triple the number of children enrolled in city-funded child care programs. The proposal was broadly praised by advocates, unions, and educators.

“New York City should drive a child care revolution, put working families first and establish a model for the nation to follow,” Stringer said in a statement at the release of the plan. “NYC Under 3 is a down payment on future generations and would benefit children, parents, and the local economy by increasing job stability and economic security.”

Since releasing it, Stringer has done a media and local event blitz to talk it up, including a “roundtable discussion” Monday evening with members of advocacy group Community Voices Heard in East Harlem.

Affordable Housing
Stringer has repeatedly criticized de Blasio’s affordable housing program, saying it has not created or preserved enough affordable units for low-income New Yorkers and that it has failed to stem the city’s homelessness crisis. In November, he released a proposal that would reimagine the city’s housing plan to target the 580,000 households that are in most need.

Stringer’s plan would put $375 million in the capital budget annually and repurpose the roughly 85,000 units left to be built under the mayor’s 300,000-unit plan towards extremely low-income households (which earn less than $28,170 annually) or very low-income households (which earn less than $46,950 annually). An additional $125 million would go to operating subsidies to ensure apartments remain affordable. He also proposed increasing the set aside for housing for the homeless by nearly three times to 15%.

The plan would be paid for by eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax and implementing a Real Property Transfer Tax on all home purchases based on price. These measures would raise roughly $400 million each year, Stringer estimated. He also reiterated his call for a New York City Land Bank/Land Trust, which he first proposed in February 2016, to build housing on vacant lots.

Teacher Residency
In June this year, Stringer released a plan to reduce teacher turnover in city schools, after an analysis by his office showed that 41% of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year had left their jobs within five years. 

Stringer proposed a paid, year-long residency program to train 1,000 new teachers annually, partnering them with mentors for classroom training and providing them with stipends for living costs.

On other education fronts, Stringer’s efforts more closely linked to his core job responsibilities have already shown results. After a May 2015 report on inadequate physical education at schools across the city, the de Blasio administration added $100 million to hire physical education teachers in the five boroughs. And following an April 2014 report on broad disparities in arts education, the city allocated $24 million in new city funding to hire more than 100 arts teachers in neighborhoods with the highest needs. 

Abortion Funding
Ahead of the passage of the city budget this year, Stringer rallied with reproductive health rights activists to push the city to allocate $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit service provider. The push was successful, with the City Council and de Blasio deciding to earmark funding, reportedly making New York the first city in the country to directly fund abortion services.

Insurance for Pregnancy
In March 2015, the comptroller released a report on pre-natal care coverage for pregnant women enrolled in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not recognize pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for immediate coverage. Following Stringer’s report, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced and passed legislation to allow for that coverage in New York, making it the first state to do so.

Puerto Rico Recovery
In October 2017, after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, Stringer released a six-point plan based on an analysis of federal programs to help the island recover from the hurricane’s devastation. New York City is home to the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many of whom continue to have ties to family living there, and the city was one of the main destinations for residents fleeing the island after the hurricane.

Stringer proposed federal loan guarantees for the construction of public infrastructure to help the debt-ridden island, called on Congress to authorize Disaster Recovery Private Activity Bonds (which were utilized after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to rebuild Downtown Manhattan), and an expansion of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for residents of Puerto Rico. He also pushed for measures to help displaced Puerto Ricans, including additional education funding for displaced and homeless students, and for higher education institutions where Puerto Ricans are enrolled.

Chief Diversity Officer
Stringer has used his position as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds to push for greater board diversity at companies where the pension fund invests its money. At the same time, he has pushed for more diversity at city agencies, more city contract spending with MWBEs, and has called for the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer at City Hall (Stringer has appointed his own chief diversity officer). He pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to include the idea among its ballot proposals but was unsuccessful, though the commission is moving ahead with a proposal to enshrine responsibility for the city’s MWBE program at City Hall.

Immigrant Services
In March 2015, Stringer released an “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual” – initially translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish – to help immigrants navigate local, state and federal services.

In February 2016, he also released a report on citizenship application fees, with recommendations for federal and local action. He urged the city to provide more citizenship assistance programs, to add funding for English and civics classes, and to expand free legal services, among other proposals.

Commuter Rail & Bus Reliability
In October 2018, Stringer released a proposal to expand access to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, by reducing fares for in-city trips to the cost of a single MetroCard swipe. He called on the MTA to ensure commuter trains take more local stops, that buses provide enhanced service to commuter rail stations, and that those stations be made ADA accessible. His plan, which would entail providing commuter rail service at 38 stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, would cost about $50 million each year, he estimated.

In 2017, Stringer released a major report on the city's struggling buses, which have lost ridership at a dangerous clip, with an agenda for how to improve the system.

Security Deposits & Credit Score Benefits
In July 2018, Stringer released an analysis of security deposits in the New York City rental housing market, finding that renters paid about $507 million into security deposits in 2016. He called for legislation to cap security deposits as well as additional regulation regarding payments and refunds. The state Legislature this year put new rent regulations into effect that implement some of those reforms.

And in October 2017, Stringer launched pilot projects to help renters in roughly 3,000 apartment units to report their rent payment to increase their credit scores. The program was expanded a year later.

Playgrounds
In April, Stringer launched the “Pavement to Playgrounds” campaign, pointing to a dearth of playgrounds across the city and substandard conditions at hundreds of city playgrounds. Stringer pushed the city to build 200 new playgrounds over five years through partnership between the city’s Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, nonprofits and community boards.

BQE Reconstruction
In March, Stringer proposed his own vision for how the city should rehab the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including by converting the triple cantilever and Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only thruway and building a new two-mile park on the remaining space. A panel assembled by de Blasio is working on coming up with recommendations for a new plan after the city’s original idea received a great deal of pushback and appears to have been scrapped.

Marijuana Legalization
Before de Blasio released his administration’s plan embracing the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in December, Stringer had already explored the possible ramifications of creating a legal market in the city and proposed measures to ensure that the city creates an equitable industry.

Stringer pushed for investing tax revenue from sales into communities most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, called for equity provisions in state legislation (particularly by making people with marijuana-related convictions eligible for licenses to sell legal marijuana) and proposed a citywide equity program to provide assistance to individuals and businesses seeking to enter the industry. 

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8641-25-things-tiffany-caban-has-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8641-25-things-tiffany-caban-has-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney tiffany caban

Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)


Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. If the counting of a few thousand absentee and other final ballots stays true to her roughly 1.5% margin over apparent second-place finisher Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Cabán will be the heavy favorite to win the general election and take over as District Attorney in January, the first newly-elected Queens DA in almost 30 years.

Cabán declared victory Tuesday night, while Katz declined to concede and said every vote must be counted. In her remarks to a packed and jubilant crowd -- chanting “Tiffany,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No new jails,” “AOC,” “DSA” and more -- at La Boom in Woodside, Cabán reiterated key planks of her insurgent campaign, in which she promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of the Queens District Attorney office and how criminal justice is meted out in the borough of more than 2 million people.

“We can’t have people sitting on Rikers simply because they cannot afford their bail, while the wealthy continue to be provided their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” she said Tuesday night. "We built a campaign to reduce recidivism, to decriminalize poverty, to end mass incarceration, to protect our immigrant communities and keep people rooted in their communities through access to services and support."

"We will need to build bridges with communities that have understandably been distrustful of the District Attorney’s office," Cabán said,  while also promising to be a DA for those who did not vote for her.

"I want to be very clear: nothing, nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home,” she said toward the end of her remarks. “We are going to center community solutions, and invest in healing and stabilizing lives. The changes that we are fighting for will be a fairer, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system. And that doesn’t come at the cost of our safety, that is the source of safety."

But what exactly did Cabán promise throughout her campaign? What were the planks of her platform that energized thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of voters?

“For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” Cabán said in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. Below are 20 more specific things she promised to do if elected Queens District Attorney:

1. Decline to prosecute many non-violent crimes.
-“Decline to prosecute cases that pose little or no threat to public safety” and “Decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” according to her campaign website, and force bad landlords to provide decent housing.
-“Not only decline to prosecute individuals who engage in sex work, but...partner with sex workers to push for legislative reform,” according to her Jim Owles Club survey.
-“Decline [to prosecute] transit offenses, trespasses, gravity knives,” she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

Her full decline-to-prosecute list of offenses, per her survey for an Accountability coalition including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal New York, and others : marijuana, theft of services, unlicensed massage parlors, airport taxi (1220B), unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, turnstile jumping, petit larceny/shoplifting for amounts under $250, trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,“bump up” burglary in the third degree felonies (would charge them as petit larceny misdemeanors), possession of gravity knives, “bump up” felony gravity knife cases, loitering, drug possession, welfare fraud, prostitution.

2. For misdemeanors, raise charge standard from “probable cause” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to her campaign website. And analyze racial, economic, and immigration impacts of charges filed, according to her campaign website and debate appearances.

3. Hold police officers accountable for breaking the law, including for lying under oath. She told the Queens Daily Eagle she would publish the DA office's list of officers who have credibility and misconduct problems, and may be liabilities if put on the stand in a case.

4. Decriminalize drug use “that does not pose a threat to others,” including but not limited to marijuana. “We’re going to decriminalize marijuana and invest in services for substance use disorder, not fight a failed war on drugs,” she said in a June 19 tweet.”

5. Support the creation of supervised injection sites, according to her Jim Owles Club survey. Provide naloxone, overdose training, and outreach to reduce overdose deaths, according to her campaign website, and bring companies that deliberately overprescribe drugs to court.

6.Bail reform.
-End cash bail for all offenses. “Cash bail is wrong—period. We can’t have two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for the wealthy,” she tweeted. And implement prompt automatic bail reviews.
-Cease use of risk score algorithms which are “based in...racist and classist ideas,” as she said in a May 3 candidate forum. 

7. Fight for open file discovery – “it speeds up cases, it’s what’s fair, it provides closure for survivors and victims of crime much earlier, ” she said in a tweet from February.

8. Pursue shorter felony sentences and never pursue life without parole.
-Advocate for legislation to review sentences of those over 55 who have been incarcerated for over 15 years – a “top priority in my office,” according to her survey for the Jim Owles Club, which endorsed her. “The goal should be on rehabilitation and safety – not on punitive, overly-lengthy sentences that do little to safeguard community stability,” she wrote.
-Presume shortest possible sentence, exceptions are to raise length of sentence – not the other way around, she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

9. End civil asset forfeiture, and refuse to profit from prosecution decisions. In February, she called civil asset forfeiture “a terrible practice where money is seized from people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.”

10. Consider defendant’s ability to pay in imposing fees and fines, according to her campaign website.

11. Give money obtained from legal proceedings to housing, job, and education services, which “evidence shows actually reduce crime,” according to her campaign website.

12. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases. “Part of what [it] will do is not just look at the quote on quote typical innocent cases but looking at cases that involved officers who have histories of misconduct, looking at cases that involve prosecutorial misconduct, looking at cases that relied on bad science to get convictions,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

13. Create a Retroactive Release Unit “so that we are making sure that we are not unnecessarily keeping people incarcerated for offenses that we recognize really should be treated with treatment or supportive services,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

14. Create a Record Review Unit to clear the record of those in prison for no-longer-prosecuted offenses, according to her campaign website.

15. Create a Reentry Services Unit to help the recently-released and reduce recidivism, according to her campaign website, “because 97 to 98 percent of people who are removed from their community reenter their communities no better than what they were, [and] in fact oftentimes worse,” as she said in an interview with New York Magazine.

16. Create units for corporate crime, consumer protection, wage theft, and antitrust investigations, according to her campaign website.

17. Prosecute ICE agents who engage in abusive conduct, according to her campaign website, and “Ban ICE from our courtrooms, not let them terrorize our neighbors,” she tweeted on June 19.

18. Help close Rikers Island jails, “faster than the proposed timeline,” with no new jails built in its place. “Every time new jails are built throughout this country's history, they are filled, she’s said. She promised to fight instead for “significantly smaller, better equipped community based jails next to court houses,” according to her Accountability survey.

19. Hold quarterly town halls, per her Accountability survey, and create a Community Advisory Board, according to her website. 

20. Exit the District Attorney Association of New York. “I will exit DAASNY & work instead with DAs who share our values,” she said, due to DAASNY’s opposition to open discovery. “These associations tend to have regressive, racist, and classist “tough on crime” mentalities,” she wrote in an Accountability survey.

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8638-primary-election-results-katz-wins-queens-da-louis-holds-on-in-brooklyn-council-race-more https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8638-primary-election-results-katz-wins-queens-da-louis-holds-on-in-brooklyn-council-race-more caban rally

Tiffany Caban (photo: @CabanForQueens)


Public defender Tiffany Cabán declared victory in the crowded, competitive Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney on Tuesday night, though Borough President Melinda Katz did not concede, instead promising to see every vote counted, despite the fact that the numbers appear to make Cabán nearly impossible to overcome.

A primary win would set Cabán up to win in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough and become the first newly-elected Queens District Attorney in almost 30 years.

With 98.58 of election precints reporting, Cabán had 33,814 votes - or 39.57% of the total, outpacing Katz, who had 32.724 votes, or 38.3%.

Coming in third was Greg Lasak, with about 14.5%, followed by Mina Malik with 3.9%, City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped from the race on Friday to back Katz, with 1.4%; Jose Nieves with 1.3%, and Betty Lugo with 1%. The total number of votes in the primary stood at 85,447 at that point, roughly 12% of Queens' 766,117 active registered Democrats (as of February 1, according to the state Board of Elections).

The New York City Board of Elections will be responsible for counting outstanding absentee, military, and affidavit ballots, and reviewing the election results before certifying them. It is unclear if Katz will reevaluate her stance and concede -- she spoke Tuesday night before Cabán declared victory.

In the other higher-profile primary race of the day, City Council Member Farah Louis -- who won a crowded special election on May 14 -- won the Democratic primary as she tries to keep the District 45 seat formerly held by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams beyond this year. If Louis wins in November, she'll have the seat for the rest of what was to be Williams' term, through 2021. Louis again defeated a field with Monique Chandler-Waterman, who had Williams' support. Louis recorded about 50% of the vote to Chandler-Waterman's 43%, unofficially.

In judicial races:

-Margarita Lopez Torres won a Surrogate Court Democratic primary race in Brooklyn.

-D. Bernadette Neckles won a Brooklyn Civil Court Democratic primary.

-Lumarie Maldonado-Cruz won a Queens Civil Court Democratic primary.

-E. Grace Park won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 4th Municipal Court District in Manhattan.

-Caroline P. Cohen won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 6th Municipal Court District in Brooklyn.

Other results for judicial delegates and state committee and county committee positions can be found here.

@GothamGazette

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2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cabán Declares Victory, Katz Doesn't Concede in Queens District Attorney Primary https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8640-promising-radical-change-tiffany-caban-declares-victory-in-queens-district-attorney-melinda-katz https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8640-promising-radical-change-tiffany-caban-declares-victory-in-queens-district-attorney-melinda-katz caban qda

(photo: @CabanForQueens)


Tiffany Cabán, a 31-year-old public defender, made national headlines and shocked the New York political world on Tuesday evening, taking a commanding lead and declaring victory in the crowded Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. Her closest rival, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, did not concede, however, and said she wants to see every vote counted, and perhaps recounted.

A primary win would set Cabán up toward victory in November -- something she indicated in her remarks she believes is a given -- in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough and become the first newly-elected Queens District Attorney in almost 30 years.

qns da primary mapWith 98.58 of election precints reporting, Cabán had 33,814 votes, or 39.57% of the total, outpacing Katz, who had 32.724 votes, or 38.3%. Cabán did especially well in western Queens, including areas such as Astoria and Long Island City (see map to the left, created by Steven Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center).

Coming in third was Greg Lasak, with about 14.5%, followed by Mina Malik with 3.9%, City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped from the race on Friday to back Katz, with 1.4%; Jose Nieves with 1.3%, and Betty Lugo with 1%. The total number of votes in the primary stood at 85,447 at that point, roughly 12% of Queens' 766,117 active registered Democrats (as of February 1, according to the state Board of Elections).

The New York City Board of Elections will be responsible for counting outstanding absentee, military, and affidavit ballots, and reviewing the election results before certifying them. It is unclear if Katz will reevaluate her stance and concede -- she spoke Tuesday night before Cabán declared victory.

Cabán ran on a radical platform of a “decarceral state,” pledging to keep as many people out of jail as possible by investing in communities, never seeking cash bail, not prosecuting a host of lower-level offenses, and other campaign promises that made her the candidate of New York’s ascendent left wing.

"[T]hey said we couldn't win, but we did it, y'all," Cabán declared on Tuesday evening to a raucous crowd of supporters at La Boom in Queens.

She pledged to overhaul the Queens criminal justice system toward fairness, and investment in communities rather than more punitive prosecutorial measures. But, she stressed, "Nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home." She promised to build relationships across the borough and in its various communities, to work with those who did not vote for her, and to create an equitable justice system not "at the cost of safety - that is the source of safety."

The race is for an open seat after long-time Queens DA Richard Brown passed away in May; he had already declared that he would not be running for reelection, prompting the first competitive primary in several decades.

Cabán, a Latina who identifies as queer, was the insurgent, far-left progressive in the race, running a grassroots campaign built on the strength of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of small donors, as well as big ones, from inside Queens and across the country.

Having served as a public defender in Manhattan for seven years, she became the poster child for opposing the calcified tough-on-crime policies of the Queens DA’s office, which Brown had led since 1991, though all the other candidates also ran on progressive platforms.

Cabán was the only candidate in the primary who has neither been a prosecutor nor an elected official. But her candidacy inspired criminal justice reformers and like-minded elected officials who have fought for policies of decarceration. She drew comparisons with the dynamic and groundbreaking Democratic Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Cabán and lent her campaign a surge of energy. That soon followed with endorsements from presidential candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Cabán was backed by a somewhat surprising number of local elected officials, including Queens electeds such as State Senators Michael Gianaris, Jessica Ramos, and James Sanders, Assemblymember Ron Kim, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer; as well as city Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others. She received endorsements from recent progressive hero candidates Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout, as well as activist groups who represent people who’ve been in the criminal justice system, immigrants, and others. She made special mention of The Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America during her victory speech.

The New York Times editorial board, not known for supporting new-into-politics revolutionary candidates, endorsed Cabán as well, saying she would come into office “unencumbered by ties to the borough power structure and free to pursue her commitment to serve the community by doing more than just winning convictions. Her seven years as a public defender have given her insight into how the system works, and how it ought to be changed.”

Her lack of prosecutorial and managerial experience was often used as criticism by her opponents, who said she did not seem interested in law and order, raising concerns that crime would rise under her tenure. But her supporters argued that that is what makes her uniquely qualified to usher in a paradigm shift in the Queens DA’s office, which other recently elected DAs across the country have attempted including Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Rachael Rollins in Boston, both of whom endorsed Cabán.

In overwhelmingly Democratic Queens, Cabán is almost sure to win the November 5 general election, assuming her apparent primary win holds. She would face a nominal opponent in Republican candidate Daniel Kogan, an attorney in private practice (there was no Republican primary), but the ballot is not yet set and it is unclear if Republicans may try to field another candidate given a Cabán victory, or if any other efforts to defeat her could emerge.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cabán Declares Victory, Katz Doesn't Concede in Queens District Attorney Primary Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban gov completion qbp

Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


“If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” Melinda Katz likes to say. It’s a line she used in her first State of the Borough speech as borough president, a position she has held for six years and she now hopes will propel her to the office of Queens District Attorney.

Katz is one of six Democratic candidates running to be the top prosecutor in Queens, home to more than 2 million people, 48% of whom are foreign-born. About 190 nationalities are represented across the borough’s population, with more than 200 languages spoken by its residents.

Though she is the perceived frontrunner due to her borough-wide position, name recognition, and support from labor unions, elected officials, and others, Katz is the only candidate in the race who lacks courtroom experience. She hasn’t shown much interest in criminal justice reform in well over a decade, and she’s been accused of being most interested in figuring out her next political job than in any particular mission to help the people of Queens. Yet she has served the people of Queens in some form or another for much of the last 25 years, including as a state legislator, City Council member, attorney, real estate lobbyist, and borough president.

Seen by many, including her opponents, as the most likely to win, Katz has won many endorsements from officials and groups, but they credit her mostly with simply having been around -- holding office, developing good relationships, and showing an interest in community concerns -- while the editorial boards of the three major New York City daily newspapers (The New York Times, Daily News, and Post) all deemed her unqualified for the position of district attorney and endorsed other candidates.

Besides Katz, on the ballot for the June 25 primary election are former State Supreme Court Justice and Assistant District Attorney Greg Lasak, who was endorsed by the News and the Post; Tiffany Cabán, a public defender in Manhattan endorsed by the Times; Betty Lugo, a former Nassau County assistant district attorney; Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former prosecutor; Jose Nieves, formerly deputy chief in the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit at the Office of the New York State Attorney General; and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped out of the race Friday and threw his support behind Katz.

Running for District Attorney, Katz has promised, like most of the other candidates, to pursue broad progressive reforms that break with the tough-on-crime reputation that the Queens DA’s office fostered for decades under the late DA Richard Brown, who recently passed away just shy of his planned retirement after nearly 28 years in the position. Katz has both leaned into the notion that she has “establishment” support, claiming many ties to communities in the borough, and distanced herself from the traditional power structures that she is aligned with.

To her critics and opponents, Katz is a career politician looking for her next gig, eyeing the term-limitless district attorney post as she faces term limits on her borough presidency at the end of 2021. To her supporters, she is a dedicated public servant searching for her next assignment on behalf of the people. But to both, she is not easily characterized. Katz does not appear to have had one or more clear focus areas as an elected official, and, particularly germane to the position she’s seeking, she has not appeared especially interested in criminal justice reform.

Katz’s list of projects and accomplishments is long, and varied, and there aren’t easy associations with her public image, unlike some of the other borough presidents -- indicative of her lack of clear issue focus, but also the fact that she has often sat out debates over some of the most pressing issues in the city.

“My biggest pride comes from knowing that every day that I have been in public service, I have stood up to powerful interests but I’ve also been a voice for people who didn’t have one,” Katz said in a phone interview, just a few days before the primary election. “And at every level that I’ve served, I have brought justice to people.”

Katz was clear that she believes she alone has the experience and the trust of Queens communities that would make for a successful next district attorney. She has spent years on the ground, she says, across the borough, face-to-face with the very people whose lives will be affected by the decisions she will make if elected.

“She’s hard to define,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat who has not made an endorsement in the district attorney race. “She’s got a finger in everything.”

Broadly seen as the frontrunner in the race, with a slew of endorsements from prominent labor unions, community leaders, and elected officials, and a hefty campaign war chest, Katz is banking on her resume and wide name recognition in the borough to take her to victory on June 25. The winner of the Democratic primary is all but assured to win in the November general in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough, with only nominal opposition from the Republican candidate, attorney Daniel Kogan.

A Queens native and graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Katz earned a law degree at St. John’s School of Law. She was an intern at the Legal Aid Society representing tenants in forcible eviction cases and later interned in the Organized Crime Unit for the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and for U.S. District Court judge Michael Mukasey. After law school, Katz worked in securities litigation for the white-shoe firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges.

Katz first won elected office in 1994, in a special election to the New York State Assembly, running as an outsider candidate on the Liberal and Good Government Party lines. She defeated local Democratic district leader Michael Cohen by just 420 votes in a low-turnout election and filled the seat vacated by Alan Hevesi, who had been elected comptroller. Hevesi supported Katz’s bid to be his successor.

Over her first five years in office, Katz was successful in passing 16 bills, including several related to the legal system and criminal justice reform, such as Kendall’s Law, which allows prosecutors to pursue cases of long-term child abuse by extending the statute of limitations for victims to report child sexual abuse.

“I had to stand up to the Catholic Church,” Katz said on Thursday. “It was not easy 25 years ago. Nobody wanted to talk about sexual abuse as a child, it was not an open conversation by anybody in the church and I had to pass this bill against a very powerful interest.”

Her other bills included giving women direct access to gynecological care, increasing penalties for domestic violence, and adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state hate crimes law. In 1995, just a year into office, the New York Daily News named her “one of the one hundred up-and-coming young leaders for the 21st Century.”

But Katz would soon face defeat at the ballot box when she attempted to run for Congress, seeking the Democratic nomination for the 9th Congressional District, formerly held by now U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. She lost by 285 votes to Anthony Weiner, a former aide to Schumer. The Queens Democratic Party, which was on the opposing side when she first ran for Assembly, was in her corner. Even the New York Times editorial board endorsed Katz, writing at the time that she “has only been in office four years, but she has distinguished herself as an advocate of health and women's issues and for her constituent services.”

Following her stint in the Assembly, Katz took a role under then-Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, as director of community boards. She served there for three years before being elected to the New York City Council.

It was perhaps on the Council, where she served from 2002 through 2009, that Katz made her most significant mark on the city, as chair of the powerful land use committee. Her campaign says she helped secure private-sector partnerships that created 15,000 units of affordable housing and that she fought to protect communities from overdevelopment. Most importantly, she says, she changed the culture of the land use process: “changed the discussion from ‘how many units’ to ‘how we’re going to build’ as well. Whether or not we’re going to use union labor, the importance of union labor to make sure we had safe work sites and the importance of hiring from the community.”

Her push for safety protections at construction sites, she says, cost developers hundreds of millions of dollars. She insists that’s one of her major accomplishments and one that undercuts her opponents’ claims that she is far too allied with real estate interests, a critique that has dogged her since her time on the Council and persists to her current race for district attorney.

Her work after the Council gives those criticisms credence. In 2009, Katz gave up her Council seat and ran for city comptroller, aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from real estate firms, according to the New York Times. She ran on a platform of “common sense and accountability” amid the financial crisis that was roiling the city, pledging to audit city agencies to eliminate wasteful spending, expand effective programs and ensure federal stimulus money was creating jobs. Katz lost that election to John Liu, also of Queens, and went on to work for the law firm of Greenberg Traurig for the next three years, lobbying on behalf of real estate clients.

In each race since then, including two for borough president and now for district attorney, Katz has continued to gather large donations from prominent real estate firms. (She notes that several of her opponents are throwing stones from glass houses, having also received large contributions from corporate donors.)

“Melinda Katz has an expansive resume and her relationships are very, very deep. I don’t really buy into that critique,” said Queens City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who has endorsed her, of the real estate ties.

In 2013, Katz was elected borough president and handily won reelection in 2017 for a second and final term. Katz has also cemented her ties to the Queens Democratic Party, which is often criticized as one of the last bastions of calcified political power in the city. The Party protects and promotes its own and, in any race, brings to bear a large cadre of local, state, and national elected officials that originated from its ranks or owe it some allegiance, as well as the allies of those officials, other local party officials like members of the state committee, political club members, and others.

The Queens Democratic Party was previously headed by Congressional representative-turned-lobbyist Joe Crowley, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has been fundraising for Katz. (Ocasio-Cortez is backing Caban.) The current county party chair, Congressional Rep. Gregory Meeks, has rallied the party behind Katz, who has also been endorsed by the likes of Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, and others. It’s what makes Katz the establishment candidate, a moniker with connotations akin to party nepotism and one that her opponents have employed as a cudgel. She pushes back against it.

“My campaign started with 300 people standing in a park that were not elected officials,” she said. (There were indeed local elected officials present, according to a Queens Daily Eagle report.) “They were civic leaders, they were Cure Violence groups, they were immigration groups, who said to the city of New York and the borough of Queens, ‘We trust Melinda Katz to make the decisions as the district attorney of Queens County.’ That’s how my campaign started.”

The office of borough president, though far less powerful now than in the past and lacking the policy clout of an elected legislator, is nonetheless a prominent position in which officials have wielded significant influence. Borough presidents can sponsor legislation in the City Council. They are advocates and cheerleaders for their boroughs, figureheads of sorts who are supposed to keep a finger on the pulse of their many constituents and neighborhoods. They have a strong voice (though not a binding one) in land use applications.

The office also controls millions of dollars in discretionary capital and expense funding each year, to distribute to pet causes, nonprofits, schools and cultural institutions, and the politically-potent power to name hundreds of members of community boards.

Katz has embraced the various aspects of the role, lending her visibility across the borough. “I believe that she’s the strongest candidate,” said Council Member Adams. “Melinda has a scope that reaches far beyond any of her opponents as far as I’m concerned. Her experience as far as managing the entire borough of Queens along with her experience as an attorney to me, again, put her as a very strong frontrunner for this race. A lot of people talk about experience in the courtroom, but no one has managed the number of people that Melinda Katz has.”

Caban and others, including the three editorial boards and good government group Citizens Union, which backed Lasak, have been particularly critical of Katz’s lack of time in court, but the borough president has parried by touting her managerial experience, insisting that it sets her up to lead the large complement of attorney that comprise the DA’s office.

Among the accomplishments Katz touts are her creation of an Immigration Task Force, which works with nearly 100 nonprofits and city agencies to provide services to immigrants. She secured funding for the Queens Family Justice Center, which serves domestic violence and human trafficking victims. She launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan, a $153-million city funded revitalization project for Jamaica Center.

She has advocated for Hurricane Sandy victims, for veterans, for public housing residents. And she’s channelled nearly $200 million in investments towards schools, hospitals, NYCHA, and parks in the borough. And she led a campaign to restore the New York State Pavilion, including putting $11.5 million in capital funds towards the project.

Katz’s opponents and critics, however, say her record on criminal justice issues has been lacklustre at best, and harmful at worst. They point to her past votes as a legislator: as an Assembly member in 1995, she voted to reinstate the death penalty, while as a Council member she voted against it. In the Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses, voted to create a new category of crime (gang recruitment), and in favor of increased police surveillance in city schools.

They also see her as moving with the political winds and shifting her positions, even during the current race -- for instance, she has taken a more expansive position on ending cash bail in recent weeks compared to most of her first several months on the trail.

“Melinda Katz could never be a champion of the policies that the people of Queens, specifically black and brown residents, need and have been calling out for,” said Milan Taylor of the Rockaway Youth Action Fund, which endorsed Lancman but moved to Caban upon his departure from the race. “[Katz] embraces the establishment’s tradition of lackluster reform and discriminatory practices. Katz has done an unsatisfactory job on criminal justice reform as Borough President and will do the same as District Attorney.”

Alyssa Aguilera, executive director of VOCAL-NY Action Fund, which endorsed Cabán’s insurgent campaign, said her organization has worked on criminal justice reforms in all aspects -- policing, bail reform, access to jobs and reentry -- and “Melinda Katz is not somebody that we ever interact with. She’s not somebody who’s known as standing behind organizations, community members in these big fights to, for instance, end stop-and-frisk, or when Eric Garner was killed, or the fight to close Rikers. She was a nonplayer in all of those efforts.”

Over the course of the race and more so in the last few weeks, Lancman levelled direct criticism at Katz, running an ad blasting her vote for the death penalty, and confronting her at a May forum for a lack of interest in criminal justice reform both as a Council member and borough president.

But, on Friday Lancman said he feared splitting the vote of Southeast Queens residents, who are predominantly African-American, and withdrew from the race. He endorsed Katz “because she has made the effort to successfully garner support within every community in our borough, the experience as a public official to see essential criminal justice reforms through to completion, and the relationships with the civic and community organizations and institutions throughout Queens necessary to effect real change.”

On Wednesday, Katz rejected four city-led land use applications related to building a 1,500-bed jail in Kew Gardens, Queens that is meant to help speed up the closure of Rikers Island jails. She said that closing Rikers is “a moral imperative” but raised concerns that the community did not have sufficient buy-in on the Kew Gardens jail plan and that large borough facilities would replicate the problems on Rikers.

Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Donovan Richards, fellow Queens Democrats, in an interview defended Katz from charges that she is a political climber. “For you to get up there every day, that your charge and your mission is to serve others, is noble,” said Miller, standing with Richards at City Hall. “And anyone who would speak against that, I would question their motives.”

“It’s called a sacrifice,” Richards said. Katz has “delivered” for Queens, he said. “Between our districts, you look at infrastructure, you look at investments in parks, investments in healthcare...there’s been no shortage of equitable things she’s done to work with us to shift resources into communities that were sorely missing the investment that they needed.”

Miller said Katz has successfully raised the issue of predatory real estate practices in Southeast Queens and has worked with him on labor issues and workers rights. “She’s been an excellent partner who really understands the needs and values of Southeast Queens.” Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, the property services union, similarly praised Katz in a statement announcing his union’s endorsement. “Her plan to protect Queens residents from wage theft, unsafe workplaces, and hostile work environments will make New York a better, safer place for working families.”

Katz has carefully sought to counter critiques of her record. Her campaign points to her work in sponsoring warrant forgiveness and conviction sealing programs, hate crime forums, and gun violence town halls.

“Those are real-life instances of standing up for criminal justice reform,” she said in the interview. She also pushed for the creation of a new police precinct in the borough. And she cites her managerial experience, noting the other candidates’ lack thereof.

“If you’re going to get meaningful criminal justice reform, it also requires having the skill-set to run a $59 million budget with 530 employees. As the borough president, I run an enormous office that’s borough-wide and have answered to the community voter by voter, constituent by constituent, every single day for the last six years across a huge and vast borough,” she said.

She has also lamented her original death penalty vote. “I would say that is my deepest regret,” she said.

And she believes that her record makes her the one candidate with the strongest chance of bringing about the reforms that have taken centerplace in the race. “I don’t know how many people that are running for this race have had to actually answer to their constituents in the borough of Queens, who have had to take a lot of heat for the decisions that they’ve made and the policies they’ve stood up for,” she said. “But I always stand up strong for the things that I believe in.”

Aguilera said, nonetheless, Katz’s bid raises one key question. “Are you doing this because you’re a true believer, you’re really down for the issues that we care about, or is this just your next political move?”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney Sat, 22 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8618-max-murphy-podcast-breaking-down-the-queens-district-attorney-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8618-max-murphy-podcast-breaking-down-the-queens-district-attorney-race queens da seven

(l-r)Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, & Jose Nieves


June 19, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race

Journalists Emma Whitford, who has written for Gotham Gazette and other outlets, and David Brand of the Queens Daily Eagle joined the show to discuss the Queens District Attorney race, just days before the June 25 Democratic primary vote.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race Wed, 19 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat Farah Louis City Council

Council Member Farah Louis is sworn in (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Member Farah Louis was officially sworn in at City Hall on Thursday, a few weeks after winning a crowded special election to succeed Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to represent the Council’s 45 District in Brooklyn. But thanks to New York’s laws for special elections, she is already running for reelection in another special election, with the all-important Democratic primary set for June 25, in which Louis is facing several opponents she outpaced in the May 14 election.

The first special election was to serve through the rest of this calendar year, while the June primary and November general elections will determine who holds the Council seat for 2020 and 2021, the final two years of the four-year term. There will then be an election for the seat as part of the full city election cycle in June and November of 2021.

cd45 mapThe district includes parts of Central Brooklyn including areas of Flatbush, Flatlands, Canarsie, and Midwood.

Louis won the May special election with 42% of the vote in an eight-candidate field. Monique Chandler-Waterman finished second with 30%, and is running again in the June 25 primary.

The other six candidates from May – Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, L. Rickie Tulloch, Adina Sash, Anthony Alexis, and Victor Jordan – all received under 10% of the vote. Several of the other candidates are also campaigning ahead of the June vote.

All eight candidates who ran in May will appear on the ballot again in June, but only some are actively campaigning, led by Louis, Chandler-Waterman, and Rose.

Louis, now the incumbent, is of course running again, this time with the institutional support of the City Council behind her, including Speaker Corey Johnson. Runner-up Chandler-Waterman is actively campaigning, as is fifth-place finisher Rose, who got 6% of the vote in May. Anthony Alexis has also continued to campaign and raise money, but he received only 1% of the vote in May. Jovia Radix, L. Rickie Tulloch, and Adina Sash have all suspended their campaigns, while last-place finisher Victor Jordan’s plans are unclear.

Four candidates have filed with the Campaign Finance Board to receive public matching funds: Louis, Chandler-Waterman, Rose, and Alexis. As of June 7, only Louis and Chandler-Waterman raised enough to receive matching funds; Rose and Alexis are actively fundraising but have not yet hit the threshold needed to qualify for public funding.

With just a week before primary day, it appears to again be a two-candidate race between Louis, a Judicial Delegate and former aide to now-Public Advocate Williams, and Chandler-Waterman, who continues to have Williams’ endorsement for his old seat. Chandler-Waterman is also a former Williams aide and more recently led East Flatbush Village, a non-profit she founded that aims to eliminate violence through after-school programs and mental health workshops, according to its website.

Though the election has been contentious and closely fought, policy differences among the leading candidates are few and far between. Louis’ and Chandler-Waterman’s websites both lack sections devoted to issue positions; Rose is the only candidate with a clear policy agenda laid out. Most social media and news coverage has instead focused on their differing biographies, resumes, and political supporters.

Differences, when they do emerge, are largely matters of emphasis, though they have expressed different top priorities. In an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, Farah Louis prioritized zoning and development regulations, “ensur[ing] that the neighborhoods continue to look the way they looked when we first invested into them.”

Chandler-Waterman, in her interview with NY1’s Louis, stressed the need for police reform and mental health initiatives, saying that she does “not believe the NYPD should be responding to any individual that has mental health illnesses.”

For the voters’ guide published by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Louis listed her top three issues as “preserve and expand affordable housing,” “invest in educational” [sic], and “support economic development and jobs.”

For the CFB guide, Chandler-Waterman listed her top three issues as “affordable housing,”  “education,” and “public safety.”

The candidates’ answers to questionnaires from Citizens Union, a good government group, show similar differences. Louis lists housing initiatives as her top two of five main priorities, while Chandler-Waterman’s first two points concern gun violence and public safety.

The questionnaires also illuminate small policy differences between the two candidates relating  to voting and City Council reform. Chandler-Waterman supports changes to reduce the number of City Council committees and to require that laws enacted through a referendum can only be changed by voters; Louis opposes both reforms.

For the June 25 election, as of the June 14 filing, Louis raised $42,289 and received $75,308 in public matching funds, while Chandler-Waterman raised $33,555 and received $66,576 in public funds. The two candidates led the field in fundraising ahead of the May special election as well.

Both candidates have significant endorsements in their corner. In addition to Johnson, Louis has been endorsed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, who represents an overlapping Assembly district, as well as many other City Council members, Assembly members, and 1199 SEIU, the powerful health care workers union that Louis used to belong to and then worked for. Louis also has the backing of the district’s large and powerful Orthodox Jewish community leadership, which endorsed and voted for her over Adina Sash (who is Orthodox Jewish) in May and appears to be fully behind her again this month. On Wednesday, Bklyner reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Hotel Trades Council labor union had both thrown their support behind Louis.

For her part, Chandler-Waterman has Williams’s backing – a point of consternation for Louis, who was until recently his staffer. Williams is continuing to fundraise for Chandler-Waterman. Following her special election loss, Chandler-Waterman appears to have lost the endorsement of City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who represents a nearby district (Cumbo’s name has been removed from the endorsements page of Chandler-Waterman’s website). However, she picked up endorsements from the politically-potent property service workers union 32BJ SEIU and former opponent L. Rickie Tulloch, and maintained the support of Assembly Member Nick Perry, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, and other local politicians.

Chandler-Waterman was also endorsed by the City Council Progressive Caucus and the Working Families Party in the first round, indicating that her progressive bona-fides may be stronger than Louis’. The Working Families Party has recently reaffirmed its support for Chandler-Waterman, but the Progressive Caucus appears to have rescinded its for the second special election.

Rose, the third particularly active candidate in the race, is the founder of an anti-violence nonprofit and a member of Community Board 17.

Both Louis and Chandler-Waterman have made and addressed controversial comments recently. Louis apologized for tweets from 2010 which demeaned Jews and the LGBT community; she nonetheless maintained her endorsements from LGBT Democratic clubs and Jewish representatives like Council Member Chaim Deutsch.

Waterman-Chandler, meanwhile, was recorded yelling at NYPD officers outside her child’s school in October of 2018 following an unverified charge against her husband. More recently, in an interview with City & State just after the May 14 election, she accused Louis of winning the special election on the backs of “Trump supporters.” Her claim appears to be supported by voting data; the Midwood precincts where Louis won overwhelmingly, which are mostly Orthodox Jewish, were also the 45th District’s most Trump-friendly in 2016. Louis’ campaign itself did not respond to Chandler-Waterman’s comments, but City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Louis ally, called them offensive.

While Louis, after winning in May by a large margin and now having at least the buzz of incumbency, is clearly the favorite in the June 25 election, it’s not clear what the electorate may look like and whether Waterman-Chandler is taking any new measures to alter the race this time.

Turnout was incredibly low in the May 14 election – only 9,235 people cast votes out of 94,089 active registered voters in District 45. While the May special election was non-partisan and open to all registered voters in the district, the June vote is a Democratic primary, wherein only registered Democrats in the district can vote. There are no other major races bringing voters to the polls.

Although the 45th Council District is heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary election may not have the ballot to themselves in November. Anthony Beckford, who ran for the same seat in 2017 on the True Freedom line against then-incumbent Jumaane Williams, has said he’s running but has yet to report raising any money. There’s also the chance that Louis or Chandler-Waterman could appear on one or more other ballot lines - like Working Families Party - after the Democratic primary.

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Should a Top Prosecutor Have Prior Prosecutorial Experience? 'Qualifications' Debate Rages in Queens District Attorney Race https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8577-should-a-top-prosecutor-have-prior-prosecutorial-experience-qualifications-debate-rages-in-queens-district-attorney-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8577-should-a-top-prosecutor-have-prior-prosecutorial-experience-qualifications-debate-rages-in-queens-district-attorney-race District Attorneys New York City

Four sitting New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Does the top prosecutor for one of New York City’s most populous boroughs need to have prosecutorial experience? Should the top prosecutor have spent significant time -- years, maybe decades -- arguing in court proceedings? Do they need to know how to put people in prison? Do they need to know to keep them there?

That’s part of the “qualifications” debate ignited in recent weeks in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney, an election to replace the late DA Richard Brown. Seven candidates are on the ballot for the June 25 election: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz; City Council Member Rory Lancman; former State Supreme Court Justice Greg Lasak; Tiffany Cabán, a public defender in Manhattan; Betty Lugo, a former Nassau County assistant district attorney; Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former prosecutor; and Jose Nieves, formerly deputy chief in the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit at the Office of the New York State Attorney General.

All of the candidates are, of course, licensed attorneys; some are former prosecutors without elected experience; two are elected officials without prosecutorial experience; and one is a public defender that has been neither an elected official nor a prosecutor but has been operating in the trenches of the system. The election is taking place amid record low crime and a criminal justice reform movement that aims to shift the paradigm of what a district attorney can, and should, do with the powers at their disposal.

Key to the race in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough of over 2 million residents is an evolving view of the qualifications for district attorney, and questions not only about what experience someone should have before becoming a top law enforcement official with immense powers to forever alter people’s lives, but what exactly the Queens electorate wants in its first newly-elected DA in almost 30 years.

District Attorneys have broad (some say overly so) discretionary powers over how laws are enforced in their county. They can bring -- or decline to bring -- criminal charges as well as initiate civil cases. Their decisions can influence whether police arrest people for specific crimes. Among the city’s district attorneys, Brown was slow to adapt to the evolving conversation on restorative and alternative criminal justice approaches.

His office did take efforts to provide some alternatives to incarceration and clear thousands of open warrants for low-level crimes, but often only after others had done so, refused City Council funding to create a dedicated wrongful conviction review unit, and continued to prosecute low-level offenses such as marijuana possession and fare evasion while some counterparts announced policies not to.

The candidates running to replace Brown have pledged to different degrees to break from that tradition, making broad promises to refuse prosecutions for various minor offenses. Most have said they will not seek cash bail for a majority of crimes, and over the course of the race have taken positions on issues that would have been unheard of a few years ago, including pledging to decriminalize sex work (though candidates vary on how they would approach that particular issue).

Last week, the Queens Daily Eagle reported, the Queens County Bar Association gave its ratings to the seven candidates in the race, finding five of them “qualified” except for Cabán and Lugo. The Bar Association judiciary committee said Cabán was “not approved” while Lugo was the only candidate to not appear for an interview. Lasak was found to be “well qualified” for the position.

The New York City Bar Association, which conducted interviews simultaneously with the Queens Bar Association, released its own ratings for the candidates on Friday, giving all candidates except for Lugo an "approved" rating. Eric Friedman, a spokesperson, said in an email to Gotham Gazette, “We have a policy of not commenting regarding the specifics of our evaluation process.” Friedman noted that the process is “essentially the same” for evaluating judicial candidates.

The Queens Bar Association’s ratings immediately drew strong reactions from the campaigns. Lasak quickly began to fundraise off the designation, sending out an email with the subject line, “well qualified,” followed soon by a mailer – viewed by some, including Katz supporters, as a sexist attack – in which he juxtaposed himself with Katz, the perceived frontrunner in the race.

Lancman, who was rated “qualified” along with four others, tweeted the night of the interviews, “Purported gatekeepers for most diverse county in USA. About 40 lawyers. Every single one white. Not a person of color in room. Eyes roll when I discuss #racism in criminal justice system, no surprise.”

Cabán’s campaign quickly pushed back against the Queens Bar Association’s assessment, citing her years of work as a public defender. Throughout her campaign, the 31-year-old Latina, who identifies as queer, has painted herself as the most qualified to carry out what she believes is the right mission of the District Attorney’s office: to decarcerate and target the socioeconomic drivers of crime. What’s she outlined is little short of a revolutionary approach to the position, but one that career prosecutors like Lasak scoff at as unrealistic, indicative of her lack of experience.

The question of qualifications is far from simple. Former prosecutors say that, in order to do the job, a candidate should ideally have done it in some form before, perhaps as an assistant district attorney. But principles, management ability, and leadership skills are far from evident from a resume. Reformers and advocates argue that a former prosecutor may be the furthest from what Queens needs, and wants, in its top law enforcement official, after nearly three decades of having lived under tough-on-crime policies that disproportionately target the low-income communities of color who make up large, and growing, parts of the borough.

“It’s definitely important to have criminal law experience,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School. “You can obviously have that experience on either side. You can have it as a prosecutor, you can have it as a defense lawyer.”

Rodgers acknowledged the now widely-recognized trend of prosecutors running as progressives, focused more greatly on restorative justice and decarceration. The victories of progressive district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Rachael Rollins in Boston signalled the beginning of that shift. (Krasner, a former public defender and longtime civil rights attorney, came to Queens to endorse Cabán on Thursday. “There are an awful lot of people who have said they’re progressive. And yet their deeds, their history, does not match their words. Tiffany’s history matches her words,” Krasner said.)

In the Queens race, all the candidates have promised they will reform the office and its punitive policies, though Cabán’s promises go the furthest (earning her a coveted New Yorker profile published on Tuesday, among many others), with Lancman and his legislative record of criminal justice reform not far afield. But Rodgers noted that even longtime prosecutors have successfully transformed their systems of criminal justice, pointing to Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez as a prime example.

Gonzalez was named to and then won the position after the death of Ken Thompson, who himself was a reformer and put into place progressive policies of his own. “[Gonzalez] is a lifelong assistant district attorney, the sort of person that people might look at and say, ‘Well look, this guy is just kind of poisoned from having put people in jail for his whole career. He’s never going to see the benefit of these sorts of policies,’ and yet he does. And a lot of prosecutors now are more like him,” Rodgers said.

Of the other current district attorneys, both Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Bronx DA Darcel Clark worked as assistant district attorneys before ascending to their top prosecutor jobs. Staten Island's Michael McMahon did not have prior prosecutorial experience before being elected DA, though he "was a practicing trial attorney for 30 years, appearing in courts at all levels throughout New York State," according to his website, as well as a member of the City Council and member of Congress.

Of the seven candidates in Queens, Katz, Lancman, and Cabán are the only ones who have not been prosecutors. Increasingly, the race is being viewed as a two-way battle between Katz – the establishment candidate with a solid base as borough president, strong union support, deep campaign coffers, and even the endorsement of Governor Andrew Cuomo – and Cabán, who has built a grassroots campaign, received thousands of individual campaign donations outnumbering her opponents’, and pulled in prominent endorsements from progressive organizations and elected officials, including Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Lancman’s campaign argues he has a path to victory that includes Jewish and African-American voting blocs, including from the areas he has represented in the City Council and state Assembly, and the crucial battleground of predominantly-black southeast Queens. Lasak, who was a prosecutor in the Queens DA office for 25 years before becoming a judge, has received many endorsements from law enforcement unions.

“I would not say 100% that a chief prosecutor must be a former prosecutor but I would say there should be a strong presumption that that person be a former prosecutor,” said Daniel R. Alonso, managing director and general counsel at Exiger, and formerly a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan.

Alonso conceded that there are examples of lauded prosecutors who previously had no prosecutorial experience. For instance Robert Morgenthau, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in 1961, had not previously prosecuted cases. Alonso worked under Morgenthau, who went on to become the longest serving district attorney in New York State. Even Richard Brown, when he first became Queens DA, had not been a prosecutor but rather a judge, Alonso pointed out.

But, he said, “It is a very difficult job and in any job, it’s very hard to do it for the first time as the person who is in charge, particularly for something as specialized as prosecution. So you have to be constantly making decisions, weighing evidence, deciding some issues of policy but those issues of policy have to be informed by real experience in the criminal justice system and understanding what makes a good case and a bad case.”

That’s a measure that Lasak, Malik, Nieves, and Lugo have used to pitch their campaign.

Lasak’s success at homicide prosecutions in the Queens DA’s office earned him the moniker “Mr. Murder” -- mentioned in a New York Times profile in 2003. He also touts his work to set up a wrongful conviction review team, and his experience later as a state Supreme Court judge.

“Judge Lasak is the most qualified candidate in this race, bar none. And that qualification is of the utmost importance when seeking a job where lives are on the line - lives of victims, of witnesses, and of defendants who are innocent until proven guilty,” said Bill Driscoll, Lasak’s campaign chair, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Judge Lasak has spent his career keeping us safe and freeing the innocent. The District Attorney’s office is no landing pad for a term-limited politician, nor is it a launching pad for bids for higher office.”

Some of Lasak’s opponents, chiefly Cabán and Lancman, argue he’s a relic of the old-school approach to public safety that led to mass incarceration, especially of poor people of color.

At a March 12 candidate debate, Lugo said, “My entire life I have been involved with the criminal justice system.” She emphasized her work for the Nassau County DA, Manhattan DA, and Albany County DA. Nieves, at the same debate, said he is an “18-year progressive prosecutor.” “I chose to go into criminal justice not because I wanted to charge or incarcerate, but because I wanted to change the system,” he said.

Malik, in a statement, said, prosecutorial experience is “absolutely essential” to become Queens DA. “In fact, it should be a prerequisite. You would not go to a podiatrist if you have a heart problem; you’d go to an experienced cardiologist,” she said, noting her two decades of experience, including managing staff at three different agencies and working both as a prosecutor and defense lawyer.

“We cannot play with the lives of 2.4 million Queens residents when it comes to criminal justice and the safety of our communities,” said Malik, who has at times pointedly compared herself and Cabán to highlight differences in resumes. “To be the highest ranking law enforcement agent in Queens, experience matters.”

Though they have been on the defensive at times, Katz, Lancman, and Cabán, have in some instances tried to flip the script, emphasizing the fact that they have not served as prosecutors.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Katz emphasized her experience as a licensed attorney for 30 years, including litigation, her time as a local and state legislator, and her work as borough president. She has not practiced in criminal court before. “But I'm not a career prosecutor who spent their career perpetuating our broken criminal justice system,” she said. “Instead, I'm the only candidate in the race with experience managing a Borough-wide office, with trusted relationships from every corner of Queens, who can walk in on day one knowing exactly how to implement the reforms we need.”

Grant Fox, a Katz campaign spokesperson, also took a shot at Cabán, her “unqualified” (really "not approved") rating from the Queens Bar Association, “her incredibly short career” and her “reckless and dishonest campaign to cover up for her total lack of managerial experience.”

Katz’s campaign has a deep bench of endorsements from elected officials and prominent unions, including 32BJ SEIU, the buildings services workers union that is also a potent political operation. “Throughout her extensive career in public service, Melinda Katz has always protected the rights and safety of the most vulnerable in our community and we are confident she has the skills and experience to continue doing so as District Attorney,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, in a statement. “Prosecutors only know how to prosecute and it’s these prosecutors who created the broken system that Melinda Katz plans to fix.”

Lancman has made a similar argument for his candidacy. “The next Queens District Attorney must have robust legal experience, be a proven public official, and boast a track record of criminal justice reform,” he said in a statement, pointing to his record representing victims of workplace harassment, wage theft, and on-the-job injuries.

As with Katz, Lancman has served as both a state and local elected official, and he touts his advocacy for closing Rikers Island jails, ending cash bail, police reform and accountability, and fighting against sexual assault. Lancman has chaired a City Council committee with oversight of the city’s five district attorney offices.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically transform the criminal justice system here in Queens, but it requires a District Attorney with real litigation, public policy and criminal justice reform experience to get the job done,” he said, in part as an apparent attempt to contrast himself with Katz and Cabán.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which endorsed Lancman, said three qualifications are necessary for the next DA: “One is experience as a practicing attorney involved in litigation, because you’re running a huge law office and you need to be familiar with the courtroom and you need to be familiar with litigation. The second is to be involved in criminal justice issues. And thirdly, you have to have the right values and the right ideas for what you want to do with the office...I think that Rory has those qualifications.”

Cabán’s campaign has drawn a clear distinction from both Lancman and Katz. “As a public defender, Tiffany Cabán is the only one who has defended over 1,000 clients in court who couldn't afford to defend themselves—who are sent to Rikers simply because they couldn’t make bail; because they jumped a turnstile; because they struggled with mental health issues or substance use disorder,” said Monica Klein, a campaign spokesperson, in an email.

“Her opponents are career prosecutors who worked to throw people in jail, and career politicians that thrive in the very system they say now has to be reformed,” Klein continued. “Tiffany knows better than anyone what it will take to bring real justice to working people in Queens—because she's the only one who has been doing this work on the front lines for years.”

Several criminal justice reformers say their best hope of achieving key goals lie with Cabán.

Assemblymember Dan Quart, who endorsed Cabán and is rumored to be considering a run for Manhattan District Attorney next year, said in a phone interview that prosecutorial experience is not a prerequisite for becoming a district attorney (Quart has no prosecutorial experience but was a criminal defense attorney). “Each individual county’s bar association is allowed to operate under whatever rules they want but any reasonable view of Tiffany’s qualifications, she is certainly qualified. To say otherwise is ridiculous,” he said, referencing the Queens Bar Association’s ratings. “I think they made a mistake in judgement. Look at Tiffany’s experience. Seven years as a public defender...that is significant experience. Certainly significant litigation, courtroom experience that under any definition of the word ‘qualified’ would satisfy it.”

None of the candidates in the race, he pointed out, can rightfully claim to have managed an office as large as the Queens District Attorney office, with its 600-odd lawyers on staff. “So to single Tiffany out seems extremely selective to me,” he said.

Alyssa Aguilera, executive director of VOCAL-NY Action Fund, which also endorsed Cabán, said the debate around prosecutorial experience “comes from a place of gatekeeping and a desire to maintain a status quo that has fueled mass incarceration, that has perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal legal system and comes with a mindset that punishment is prioritized over finding real solutions to repair harm and create stronger communities.”

Alonso, the former federal prosecutor, did not take a position on any specific candidate but he did issue some notes of caution. He said he’d be “deeply skeptical” of someone without any courtroom experience -- a distinction that only applies to Katz in this race. And he added, “The nightmare scenario is that somebody who is an elected official or has a constituency decides, ‘Boy it would be fun to be DA.’ Unlike being a legislator and unlike being other kinds of elected officials, this is a professional job where you have to actually do a very specialized job day-to-day. It’s not primarily a policy job.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated with the New York City Bar Association's ratings for the Queens DA candidates, which were released after this article was published.

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Should a Top Prosecutor Have Prior Prosecutorial Experience? 'Qualifications' Debate Rages in Queens District Attorney Race Thu, 06 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000