Candidates Wrestle With Progressive Resumes at Queens DA Debate

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Albert Einstein once said, “The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before,” and at the Queens District Attorney Far Rockaway Debate hosted by Senator James Sanders Jr. at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Arverne this past Monday, June 9, some may argue that it was difficult to cipher the stand out candidate who will assume the seat hungrily sought after by a crowded camp of seven professedly socially-progressive candidates. Though they seemed to agree on all the hot-button issues, from decriminalizing prostitution to reducing the use of cash bail and increasing police accountability—it was like watching a Game of Thrones episode, with each character using their “impressive” resumes and accolades to behead each other.

The Democratic primary is set for June 25 and all of the following are running: Tiffany Cabán, Rory Lancman, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, Jose Nieves, Melinda Katz and Greg Lasak. All seven candidates were invited to the event, co-sponsored by Bayswater Civic Association, Call to Action, Carlton Manor Resident Council, The Heart of Rockaway, Far Rockaway NAACP, Oceanside Apartment Resident Council and Rockaway Youth Task Force. Notably absent were Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Queens prosecutor and County State Supreme Court Justice Greg Lasak, who were attending other events. At the kickoff of the debate, Sanders noted, “One of the best ways for voters to educate themselves is to have the candidates come out, speak and let us know where they stand.

“I want you to draw attention to the candidates who are here. Now, I want you to draw your attention to the people who are not here. I want you to draw your own conclusion that if a person did not find it necessary to come to your part of town, and hear from you and speak to you, then maybe you should take that into account, even maybe when you go to the voting booth.”

Queens is home to its first competitive district attorney election for the first time in nearly 30 years, with the passing of long-time District Attorney Richard Brown. Brown was known for being tough on crime, working closely with police to foster, some would argue, an atmosphere of zero tolerance. However, with this primary, each candidate passionately voiced that they want to change that all around by decriminalizing minor offenses that don’t pose a direct threat to public safety, and instead focus on rehabilitating offenders, including sex traffickers.

At the start of the forum, the five candidates present were asked: What is your stance on a police officer being charged with a crime?

Lugo said, “I will prosecute a police officer for misconduct, an elected official, whoever offends our community. I will set up a unit to look at wrongful convictions. I am the only person that has a plan—a de-incarceration program that will brings lawyers, judges, defense attorneys the community, including the faith-based community, to review every conviction and every defendant that is at Rikers Island.”

Cabán: “I would not hesitate to prosecute officers who commit crimes against our community. I will make the use of an independent prosecuting attorney because as DA, we have to work closely with the police, but we need to have an independent unit that is fully staffed. The DA keeps lists of officers that they know are lying and committing misconduct, and it’s time that our public knows who those officers are, and beyond that, we will prosecute bad officers and will decline to prosecute cases perpetrated by bad officers.”

Mina: “I was the head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board with over 200 employees tasked to investigate and prosecute police officers who were accused of police misconduct. The Eric Garner case came under my watch. We were not afraid to arrest, indict and prosecute officers. We were the only agency that was able to get the officer involved in the Garner case accountable for his action. I plan to start a civil rights and integrity bureau, holding police officers and law enforcement officials accountable for their actions.”

Another question was: “I feel that the former DA was more focused on convictions than justice. What are your goals in ensuring that justice for our community is achieved?”

Cabán: “We continue to over-criminalize  our black and brown, LGBTQ and homeless communities. The DA has a budget of $600M and employs 500 people. We need to re-allocate our resources from focusing on convictions for minor offenses like jumping the subway turnstile, marijuana possession and prostitution to more serious crimes. Providing resources to rehabilitate minor offenders is the best way to keep us safe. For example, I represent clients who are over-criminalized for substance abuse issues, instead of arresting the overpaid doctors who prescribe the opioids. It’s about re-allocating our resources and focusing on the prosecutions that matter.”

Lancman: “It starts with how we view the office of the DA. The office should be more concerned with public safety, not overt prosecution and incarceration for offenders who could be rehabilitated.”

Malkin: “We have to make sure we are not criminalizing the three root causes of crime, which are generally poverty, mental health issues and people with substance use disorder. We should make sure they are getting the treatment and the services these individuals need, as opposed to incarcerating them. Instead of throwing them into Rikers, they deserve to get treatment so they can be productive members of society. We should be focusing our limited resources on more violent crimes.”

Question #3: What is your stance on cash bail?

While all candidate agreed that cash bail should be eliminated, they differed on how the idea of bail elimination should be treated. For example, Cabán pledged to end cash bail “to the fullest extent” and that her office would “release people as often as possible,” including on some violent alleged crimes, while Lugo said she would handle the issue on a case-by-case basis and that non-violent crimes would not have cash bail. Malik agreed to no cash bail for minor offenses, but would keep the policy in place for other charges.

The candidates were asked to describe in one word what sets them apart from the other candidates:

Lugo: experience, Malik: leadership, Lancman: justice, Nieves: determination. Cabán: No response, as she left early.

This riveting debate lasted over two hours, and while each candidate strove to set themselves apart, many had the same strategy, waving their resumes for votes. Voters you decide. For more info about the candidates, visit: ballotpedia.org

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