Squadron Leaves Voters in the Lurch + Brooklyn DA Race

A note to our readers: The Thorn has switched from Mailchimp to Substack so we can keep delivering you local New York politics news from a socialist perspective with fewer administrative costs. Starting in January 2022 our new issues can be at thethornnyc.substack.com along with how to subscribe. This website will serve as an archive of our past issues.

Local News


In-Depth: The Brooklyn DA Race

There will be seven names on the ballot for the Brooklyn DA in the upcoming Democratic primary, but one name that won’t be on it may be the most important. Ken Thompson, who died suddenly last October after only 33 months in office, casts a long shadow over the race, with all seven candidates championing his legacy. When Thompson defeated Charles Hynes in 2013, he became the first candidate to unseat an incumbent Brooklyn DA in over a century, and he did so with an explicitly reformist message. Hynes, who held the office for 24 years, was known for corruption, including politically-motivated prosecutionsand alleged embezzlement, and Thompson was seen as a refreshing alternative.

Thompson still drew criticism in the role, particularly for his decision not to seek jail time in the case of Peter Liang, the NYPD officer who killed Akai Gurley in 2014. However, Thompson established a reformist reputation following Hynes’ despicable tenure thanks to accomplishments in vacating wrongful convictionsand clearing outstanding warrants. All seven candidates this fall claim to be Thompson-esque reformers, despite almost all working for Hynes at various times in their career.

Eric Gonzalez, the frontrunner in the race, has perhaps the most obvious connection to Thompson. He was Thompson’s designated successor, serving in the role since October, and as a result has received most of the endorsements from the City’s mainstream Democratic figures. He has touted his role in Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit, as well as the steps he has taken to protect undocumented New Yorkers under Trump. Nevertheless, Gonzalez has spent his entire career in the Brooklyn DA office, which has some wary of his “reform” credentials. And he has stopped short of calling for the elimination of cash bail for low-level offenses.

Ama Dwimoh, one of the challengers in the race, also worked in the Brooklyn DA’s office for 21 years, all under Hynes (who suspended her for being mean to interns), but is similarly claiming to be a reformer. She currently works for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and she has called for reforms to prevent prosecutorial misconduct, including holding prosecutors accountable for wrongful convictions. While under Hynes, she served as chief of the Crimes Against Children Bureau, and has made support for the Child Victims Act a centerpiece of her campaign.

Marc Fliedner has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the Brooklyn DA’s office, resigning last year after claiming that Thompson had “lost focus” and inserted political operatives into legal decisions. Fliedner also prosecuted Liang and his partner, as well as other cops accused of wrongdoing, and has been endorsed by Akai Gurley’s family. He’s also accused Gonzalez of refusing to pursue casesagainst the NYPD. Along with Dwimoh and two other challengers, Fliedner has advocated eliminating cash bail in cases where the DA doesn’t seek jail time. Fliedner would also be the first openly gay Brooklyn DA.

Patricia Gatling left the Brooklyn DA’s office in 2002 to serve as chair of Mayor Bloomberg’s Commission on Human Rights—a position she was removed from in 2015 after Public Advocate Letitia James called the agency “moribund.” Gatling has also championed reform as part of her candidacy, calling for the end of cash bail for low level offenses, but her ties to the Bloomberg Administration and the legacy of stop-and-frisk may dog her candidacy. She also lived in Manhattan for the last 18 years, only changing her residency to Brooklyn in December.

Vincent Gentile, City Councilmember from District 43 (Bay Ridge), is the only candidate who’s never worked in the Brooklyn DA’s office. While he did work in the Queens DA’s office before being elected to the State Senate and then City Council, he has characterized himself as Thompson’s true heir because he is the only one who never worked under Hynes (Gentile endorsed Hynes in 2013). Despite his conservative voting record while in the State Senate and on City Council (he opposed the Community Safety Act, for example), he’s highlighted his support for the Right to Know Act as a credential in the DA race.

Anne Swern, who left the DA’s office to work for Brooklyn Defender Services, has touted her experience with treatment courts, including time at the head of the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program. Citing the recently-signed “Raise the Age” bill, Swern sees more opportunities for such courts, as alternatives to more punitive measures. She has also criticized Gonzalez for continuing to prosecute marijuana cases.

John Gangemi is a longshot candidate. A 78-year-old former Republican and fan of Nelson Rockefeller, Gangemi has practiced law in Bay Ridge since 1970. He previously served on the City Council, and challenged Eric Adams for Brooklyn Borough President in 2013.

Overall, the Brooklyn DA race showcases the state of criminal justice reform in New York City and around the country, with candidates tripping over themselves to be seen as reformers, but with few truly bold ideas or candidates outside the traditional breeding ground of prosecutors’ offices. That every candidate in the race echoes Thompson, yet they cannot even agree on policy changes as modest ending cash bail for minor offenses, or ending criminal prosecutions for marijuana possession, shows that the terms of debate have changed far more than actual policies have.

Contribute to The Thorn

We welcome submissions of in-depth articles, comics and illustrations from anyone in DSA. Whether you want to write for us or just know of stories we should be covering, please get in touch.

Subscribe to The Thorn

The Thorn is a weekly update on what's happening in local New York politics from a socialist perspective. Please sign up with us to receive an email every Monday morning.