Manhattan D.A. Hopefuls Balance Crime Rise, Social Justice
(Bloomberg) -- The race to be Manhattan’s next top prosecutor is taking place amid a crime surge that has seen murders up more than 17% so far this year and anti-Asian hate crimes skyrocket 335%, according to New York Police Department statistics.
But the Manhattan district attorney’s race has also been heavily influenced by the progressive racial and social justice movement that emerged after George Floyd’s death at police hands last year. At a candidate forum earlier this year, five of the eight Democratic hopefuls said they supported reducing police funding, and some have called for cutting back the prosecutor’s office as well.
How voters in the June 22 Democratic primary ultimately weigh those issues will likely determine which of those eight succeeds current District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who isn’t seeking re-election. The one Republican running faces long odds in a deep-blue county where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by almost 75 points in the 2020 presidential election.
Polling for the district attorney’s race has been scant. An April survey found Tali Farhadian Weinstein in the lead with 16% support, followed by Lucy Lang at 12%. Weinstein and Lang have also been among the fund-raising leaders in the race, along with Alvin Bragg and Eliza Orlins. But 44% of voters in the April poll said they were undecided, and the survey took place before some key endorsements were announced.
Though it hasn’t been a major issue in the race to date, whoever wins the race may also have to deal with what could be the trial of the century. Vance has been investigating Trump for possible bank and mortgage fraud and is expected to decide whether or not to bring charges before he leaves office.
Here are the nine candidates, in alphabetical order:
Tahanie Aboushi, Bernie Sanders’ Choice
Aboushi, 35, has campaigned on a platform of decarceration and non-prosecution, citing the destabilizing impact the criminal justice system had on her own childhood. In 1999, her father was convicted on several federal charges relating to a truck-hijacking conspiracy and sentenced to 22 years in prison, leaving her mother alone to raise Aboushi and her nine siblings.
A civil rights lawyer who founded her own firm in 2010, Aboushi says she’ll shrink the district attorney’s office and implement a policy platform that “addresses the root causes of crime.” She says she won’t prosecute at least two dozen crimes that stem from poverty, mental illness, sex work or substance-abuse disorder. Aboushi’s positions on Wednesday won her the endorsement of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Aboushi said her policies will address rising crime by allowing time and resources to be devoted to violent crimes like murder. “We have one of the largest police budgets in the country and a system that throws prosecution and policing at every problem, yet crime is still rising,” she said. “My response won’t be to do more of the same.”
Alvin Bragg, the New York Times Endorsee
Bragg, 47, has campaigned both as a veteran state and federal prosecutor and as a progressive who will “reshape and re-purpose the D.A.’s office to end racial disparities” by refusing to prosecute low-level crimes and creating a unit to investigate police misconduct.
The Harvard Law School graduate says he understands the need to combat crime but also rein in heavy-handed law enforcement. “Growing up in Harlem, I was repeatedly stopped and frisked by the NYPD as a teenager, including three times at gunpoint,” he said. “I also had guns pointed at me three times by people who were not police officers.”
The New York Times editorial board gave Bragg its coveted endorsement last month. A Manhattan federal prosecutor earlier in his career, Bragg was also previously chief deputy New York attorney general and led that office’s investigation of Trump’s now-defunct charitable foundation and several state lawsuits challenging the former president’s policies.
Liz Crotty, the Law-and-Order Candidate
Crotty, 50, a former assistant Manhattan district attorney, has positioned herself as the law-and-order candidate in the race, embracing the endorsement of the 40,000-member New York City Police Benevolent Association and other police unions.
“Public safety is a partnership with police, prosecutors, the defense bar and communities,” she said. “Too many of the other candidates in this race want to apply a political test before they look at the facts and the law in each case that comes before the office.”
Though Crotty has said she’d be willing to consider “non-jail alternatives,” she says it should be done on a case-by-case basis and has been critical of other candidates’ focus on foreswearing prosecutions. “The job of the D.A. is to enforce the law of the state of New York and to run on a platform describing the kinds of crimes you won’t enforce is disingenuous,” she said.
Diana Florence, the Construction Union Pick
Florence, 50, a veteran of the district attorney’s office who served as head of the construction fraud unit, won landmark convictions over wage theft, deadly work conditions and non-profit fraud. She’s focused her campaign on “crimes of power,” pledging to take on developers and landlords over workplace safety violations and illegal rent de-stabilization
She has strong backing from unions, including the 120,000-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters and more than a dozen locals concentrated in the building trades.
To address rising crime, Florence said she’d work to get guns off the streets and also “demand accountability when physical injury or property damage occurs, and redirect resources to ensure that serious crimes, such as murder and rape, are prosecuted by the most talented and experienced prosecutors in the D.A.’s office.”
Thomas Kenniff, the Republican
Kenniff, 45, a former Westchester County prosecutor and Iraq veteran now working as a criminal defense lawyer, is the sole Republican in the race. He said his top priorities as Manhattan district attorney would be to lobby for the repeal of bail-reform laws he says have let too many dangerous people on the street and to aggressively prosecute quality-of-life crimes which many Democrats are pushing to decriminalize.
He’s a long-shot -- Manhattan hasn’t elected a Republican as district attorney for more than 80 years, and the GOP has only sporadically fielded candidates for the job.
But Kenniff believes frustration with crime and progressive policies that he says are making the city less safe could give him an opening.
Lucy Lang, the Reformer
Lang, 40, who specialized in homicide and domestic violence cases during her dozen years as an assistant Manhattan district attorney, is campaigning as a reformer who can make the criminal justice system more humane. Now a lecturer at Columbia Law School, where she earned her law degree, Lang also recently served as executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
To address rising crime, Lang said she would establish a specialized court to fast-track gun cases and also invest in services for victims and at-risk youth. “Addressing violent crime is a top priority for me -- and I’m the only candidate with the experience to tackle this issue on day one, without turning back to the failed policies of the 80’s and 90’s that devastated communities of color without actually solving the root causes of crime,” she said.
Lang, the granddaughter of philanthropist Eugene Lang, has funded her own campaign to the tune of $500,000, more than a third of the roughly $1.4 million she’s raised in total.
Eliza Orlins, the Public Defender
Orlins, 38, a longtime public defender, is running on an unapologetically progressive platform. Calling the criminal justice system “rigged,” she vows to never bring misdemeanor cases, sex work cases and some drug possession cases, and to push for alternatives to incarceration wherever possible. She would also establish conviction review and environmental justice units within the district attorney’s office.
“We’ve been sold a false choice between public safety and incarceration,” she said. “The reality is that a punitive criminal legal system does not keep us safe and it never will.” She said she would take an evidence-based approach to the increase in crime, shifting resources to law enforcement when necessary but also looking for “constructive approaches” to violence reduction.
Orlins is one of the more familiar faces in the race due to her past as a contestant on reality TV shows “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.”
Dan Quart, the State Assemblyman
Quart, 49, whose Upper East Side state assembly district includes perhaps the ritziest addresses in Manhattan, is running as a champion of the city’s low-income residents and communities of color. He lists at least 18 crimes he won’t prosecute and says decarceration is his top priority.
“For far too long, our criminal justice system has criminalized poverty and mental health instead of prioritizing public safety,” said Quart, who is also a lawyer focusing on personal injury cases and pro bono representations of low-income tenants facing eviction.
But Quart said he also hears the concerns of Manhattan residents about rising crime, which he says he will address by prosecuting violent crime, focusing on gun control and investing in community-based violence-prevention programs. “In this moment, we can’t rely on the same narrow set of tools that prosecutors use, because prosecution alone won’t fix this,” he said.
Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the Brooklyn Prosecutor
Farhadian Weinstein, 45, calls herself a “progressive prosecutor” who will pursue bail and sentencing reforms. But in her political ads, she’s also recounted an incident from her time as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, when a man facing murder charges put a price on her head. And she’s stressed her background as an immigrant from Iran in vowing to take on hate crimes. She’s won endorsements from both the liberal Daily News and the conservative New York Post.
“Our first responsibility is to keep people safe and we can do that without violating progressive values,” said Farhadian Weinstein, a Yale Law School graduate, Rhodes Scholar and Supreme Court clerk. She joined the Justice Department in Washington in 2009 as counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder but in 2011 moved to Brooklyn as a federal prosecutor. She’s spent much of her career in Brooklyn, more recently serving as general counsel to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Farhadian Weinstein, the wife of Saba Capital co-founder Boaz Weinstein, has attracted financial support from hedge fund heavyweights like David Einhorn, Bill Ackman and Jason Mudrick -- she’s raised more than $4.4 million, more than double Bragg, her closest competitor for donors. Farhadian Weinstein has insisted that won’t sway her from prosecuting Wall Street crimes.
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