The race for Manhattan’s district attorney is shaping up to be about radical change as candidates embrace substantial sentencing reform, promise not to prosecute a host of low-level offenses, and introduce plans for “decarceration.”
It’s currently unclear whether Democratic incumbent Cyrus Vance will run again to maintain his position. “There’s no announcement slated at this time,” a Vance spokesperson told Fox News on Wednesday.
In the meantime, a long list of left-wing candidates are vying to take his place.
“As long as the work of the DA’s office and the current DA is pending, these are going to be things that we inherit,” Democrat Tahanie Aboushi said, according to “City & State”. “So if the investigation is still open, we’re not just going to come in and interfere with that, but we’re going to have an opportunity to actually have that inside information, assess (the case) and make a decision there.”
That would presumably include a potential prosecution against former President Trump, in addition to any other pending criminal cases when Vance leaves office.
One of the more left-wing candidates in the race, Aboushi wants to, among other things, retroactively review any criminal sentences that exceed a 20-year maximum she plans to impose. She and others have pushed “decarceration” through a series of policies geared toward “radical” change. Part of Aboushi’s vision for change includes the notion that “prosecution is inherently harmful.”
Instead of pledging to fully enforce the law, many of the major candidates have committed to not prosecute varying categories of crime. Those include prostitution, drug possession, third degree burglary, possession of alcohol by a minor, disorderly conduct, petit larceny, obscenity, turnstile jumping, and trespassing under circumstances. Public defender Eliza Orlins has plainly stated she “will categorically decline to prosecute all violations and the vast majority of misdemeanors.”
“Too often, our culture moves faster than our legislature,” said Dan Quart, a New York state assemblyman, on the “18 things I won’t prosecute” page of his campaign website.
“District Attorneys, as elected representatives of the people, have a responsibility to respond to those changes and to set priorities based on considerations of community needs and public safety.”
But those commitments and others were a troubling sign for Rafael Mangual, a legal policy expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute.
“Generally, I’m troubled by what I see as a focus among the candidates on how they’d use their office as a vehicle for reform, rather than on how they’ll fulfill what has long been regarded as the core mission of a District Attorney: fighting crime,” he said in an email to Fox News.
“Some of the positions staked out by some of the candidates—committing to non-prosecution for certain offenses, pursuing decarceration for its own sake, and cutting the office’s budget (despite the added demands attributable to the state’s recent discovery reform), to name some examples—seem unwise, in that they seem likely to exacerbate the risks posed by repeat, high-rate offenders that engage in both high and low-level crimes alike.”
Mangual noted a recent spike in homicides, which increased 41% in 2020 over the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of people shot neared a 14-year high.
The Democratic primary won’t happen until June, but if early fundraising numbers are any indication, the least radical candidate is currently winning.
Tali Farhadian Weinstein, former general counsel for Brooklyn’s DA, has raked in more than $2 million, according to the Gotham Gazette. She’s also won endorsements from former Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., and appears to be more moderate than others in the field.
A scorecard from the left-leaning People’s Coalition for Manhattan DA Accountability shows Weinstein breaking with six of her opponents on a number of big issues. For example, she was the only one to commit to never seeking more than minimum sentences.
Trailing her are several other much more radical candidates who have collectively raised millions of dollars. Quart, who reportedly had $1.25 million for his campaign, joined Aboushi and others like Orlins in embracing a slew of left-wing policies. He’s also been endorsed by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the Oversight Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Behind him are Aboushi at $771,000 and Lucy Lang, formerly a top prosecutor under Vance, with more than $716,000. Lang has vaguely committed to declining to prosecute “cases based on conduct that has contributed to the hyper-criminalization of neighborhoods of color.”
With the exception of Farhadian Weinstein, all the major Democratic candidates said they would end asset forfeiture, property holding, “decline to prosecute all predatory, police-initiated incidents,” back concurrent sentencing, end the use of the police department’s gang database, “decline to prosecute cases with bad cops,” decline cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and end the city’s VICE unit.
Permeating many of these candidates’ plans is an emphasis on accountability for law enforcement — sometimes to the point of apparent public shaming. Quart, for example, has committed to publicly disclosing “the names of police officers I do not find trustworthy.”
Many also said they would decline to prosecute cases in which a police officer was the sole witness.