- The Housing Justice for All coalition and Upstate Downstate Housing alliance held a major rally and march in support of the fight for Universal Rent Control, which will continue to ramp up until rent laws expire in June.
- At least 167,000 apartments have been deregulated in the past 26 years due to a loophole that permits landlords to remove a unit from rent regulation as long as they invest in short term renovations. Housing activists hope to close this loophole, among others, when the State’s rent laws are up for renewal in June.
- Assembly Member Joe Lentol (District 50, Greenpoint) and State Senator James Skoufis (District 39, Orange County) introduced a new bill, supported by AirBNB, to regulate “homesharing” in the state. AM Lentol previously introduced a weaker bill almost entirely written by AirBNB lobbyists that failed to pass in 2017.
- Gotham Gazette examined compromises on cash bail reform included in the latest State budget that left many reform advocates disappointed.
- After a string of measles cases in the Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community, Mayor de Blasio announced a public health emergency and tried to compel residents of four zip codes to get vaccinated. The order was immediately challenged in court on ground of religious freedom. Council Speaker Corey Johnson expressed a concern that the characterization of the Orthodox community as anti-vaccine on the whole is anti-semitic.
- Mayor de Blasio announced that he does not support the decriminalization of sex work. In response to the growing DecrimNY movement, Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez stated that they believe in decriminalization, but advocates firmly disputed the verity of those claims.
- Gotham Gazette previewed the complex redistricting process that will begin in New York State following the 2020 census. A 2014 ballot referendum that opened up the process has modest potential to lead to fairer district lines and a rollback of the 2010 gerrymanders that allowed for a Republican State Senate to persist for years in a dark blue state like New York.
- As a State-appointed Traffic Mobility Board determines the details of the congestion pricing proposal approved in this month’s budget, police officers, truck drivers, and many other groups have demanded exemptions from the planned toll cordon on vehicles in Manhattan south of 60th street.
- The Department of Transportation is considering letting Access-A-Ride vehicles use the City’s bus lanes in an effort to speed up trip’s for the city’s disabled population that uses the service. However, largely due to obstruction by private cars and NYPD vehicles, dedicated bus lanes are often only slightly faster than general traffic.
- Politico covered the Queens Democratic establishment’s continued fear of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and a recent poll identified her as the most popular politician in her Queens and Bronx district.
- State Senator Kevin Parker (District 21, Central Brooklyn) lashed out at Senator Alessandra Biaggi (District 34, The Bronx) after she suggested that Cuomo-aligned Democrats should be primaried in 2020.
- A crowded field has formed in the race to fill Jumaane Williams’ Flatbush district after his election to Public Advocate in February.
- NYC DSA-endorsee Tiffany Cabán defeated a legal challenge from former prosecutor Mina Malik that sought to invalidate petition signatures gathered by Cabán and three other candidates for Queens District Attorney, in an attempt to knock them off the ballot.
In-Depth: The Queens District Attorney Race
On June 25th, there will be a primary election for the Queens District Attorney. This election is special for a number of reasons. The most important of these reasons is that for the first time since 1992, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown will not be on the ballot; leaving the field open for a candidate who wishes to reform the practices of the office. With the news of potential reform coming to Queens, many wonder what is the role of the District Attorney and what is possible for a District Attorney to achieve in this role.
What is the role of a District Attorney?
A District Attorney (DA) acts as the head prosecutor for an area (usually a county or a city) and is one of the most important roles in the criminal justice system. In New York City, there is a separate DA for each borough. A DA is elected to lead a staff of prosecutors to charge persons accused of a crime. The DA not only holds the power to decide which crimes are brought to trial, but they also hold the power to set the number and severity of these charges, thus setting prison terms if the case ends in a plea deal. The DA also works closely with the police to bring these cases to court, by interviewing the arresting officers to decide the severity of the charges to present to court.
Why is this important in Queens?
Since 1991, Richard Brown has held the position of Queens District Attorney. He was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to fill the vacant spot left by John Santucci, who was also appointed by the governor of New York at that time. Richard Brown ran the next year without a Democratic challenger in the primary, and went on to win the election for the DA’s office in 1992. He continued his streak of wins to total a 27 year career that will end on June 1st, 2019.
When Richard Brown assumed the position as DA, many welcomed his “tough-on-crime” stance as a solution to the high rates of crime in New York City. The Queens DA office has continued to prosecute many low level offenses such as marijuana possession, fare evasion and other charges that would fall under the umbrella of “broken windows” policing.
The Queens DA office is also notorious for nudging the defendants to waive their rights to a speedy trial or to negotiate a plea deal before going before a grand jury. In many of these cases, the defense is not made aware of the evidence against them. Even though there is a push to make sure that all parties in the courtroom are made aware of the evidence that is in play, there are still countless citizens who have gone to jail under this practice of not viewing the evidence before they accept a plea deal that can land them years in prison.
How can a progressive District Attorney change the office?
Even though any progressive DA will still have to prosecute cases, there is a great deal of reform that can be done within the office. When thinking about what a progressive DA can achieve in office, one would have to look no further than Larry Krasner in Philadelphia for an example of how the office can be used to reform a city’s criminal justice system. Larry Krasner was a part of the wave of reform minded prosecutors who have run for office in recent years, and he is notable for winning the office after a career as a civil rights lawyer. In his first year, Krasner has directed his office to not charge for marijuana possession and does not seek cash bail for most non-violent crimes. The jail population in Philadelphia has dropped 30% since his appointment.
These are some of the changes that can come to Queens, but there is still more that can be done. The jail on Rikers Island remains a big issue, along with keeping ICE out of the courts of New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough. Larry Krasner has not gained any fans among the Philadelphia police force for his new policies and the new DA has to be ready to hold the police accountable in any case that may arise during their tenure.
When a District Attorney’s office moves away from mass incarceration, then the work of rehabilitation can begin, leading to a strong community and a stronger Queens.