New York, NY—The Westside Democrats recently hosted a virtual forum of all eight candidates who are running to be the next Manhattan District Attorney. In this installment, we’ll meet the first four candidates who started off the conversation by explaining why they are the most qualified to succeed Cy Vance.
First up was Eliza Orlins, who said that she’s the most qualified because she’s the only public defender in the race compared to the other candidates who have worked as prosecutors.
She took a strong stance against the work of prosecutors, saying that they play an active role in a system that is “unjust” and “cruel.”
“What prosecutors do every day to the people I represent is cruel, inhumane and plainly wrong, and like so many other things in this country it has taken far too long to acknowledge that,” said Orlins.
She questioned whether someone who has mostly prosecutorial experience is a good fit for the office.
“I think the question we have to ask ourselves is—can we trust someone to change a system in which they were complicit. And can we trust a person to make reforms that are so desperately needed, to people who are most directly responsible for the injustice,” Orlins said.
She concluded by saying that the office needs someone who will bring a real sense of urgency to the job. Simply having a vision for changing the office, even if it’s bold and progressive, is not enough.
“We need someone with the experience to understand the implications of these policies in the real world, someone with the authentic commitment to transforming the system, ready to make bold systemic change—I am that person.”
Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights attorney, said that the fight for criminal justice reform is personal to her. When she was 14 years old, her father was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
“To see and live through the damage and destruction that the prosecution system causes never left me and inspired me to become an attorney,” said Aboushi.
She then made an interesting announcement.
“My goal as District Attorney is to shrink its footprint, that means declining as many cases as possible resulting from societal failures like poverty, mental illness, substance use disorder and sex work,” said Aboushi.
“That means de-carcerating at every turn and taking the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spend tearing families apart and instead invest it back into the communities to address root causes of behaviors and take preventative measures.”
She concluded by saying that the DA’s office needs somebody who is different, ready to hit the ground running, put people first and “ensure that no bank account or badge is held above the law.”
Tali Farhadian Weinstein said she emigrated to the United States as a young girl fleeing the violence and Anti-Semitism of revolutionary Iran in 1979; that remains the framework through which she sees the world and through which she sees her work.
“What do I mean by that? First, I know what it means to distrust your government. Second, equal opportunity depends on fairness and safety, and third, when I see a barrier to access or to opportunity…I feel like I want to take it down because I know what it’s like to stand on the other side of a barrier,” said Weinstein.
She’s worked in various roles in the legal field, including the Supreme Court, the U.S. Department of Justice, six years as a federal prosecutor and currently as general counsel in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, which, she noted, proved to be the most formative experience contributing to her vision for leading the Manhattan DA’s office.
“I understood from that experience there and from all of my other experiences across these legal institutions that we have to rededicate ourselves to our core mission of safety, including curbing gun violence, stopping gender-based violence and looking out for our most vulnerable—that’s what I hope to bring to the Manhattan DA office,” Weinstein said.
Alvin Bragg’s early, harrowing experiences were the reason why he went to law school to become a lawyer. He was 15 years old when he was stopped by the NYPD at gunpoint because he was accused of being a drug dealer. That stop was one of many, and even had a gun pointed at him by people who weren’t police officers.
“I left Harlem where I grew up and went to Harvard for college and law school and came right back to Harlem and Washington Heights, and got to work. Started off as a civil rights lawyer and criminal defense lawyer, became a federal prosecutor focused on public corruption and ultimately became the chief deputy Attorney General of New York State, overseeing the entire AG office,” said Bragg.
His vision for the DA office, for starters include a top-to-bottom cultural change that will focus on the trauma of sexual assault survivors and bring “real police accountability.” Also, he noted, he’ll use the levers of government to stand up for tenants who have been harassed by landlords and for workers who have been cheated out of their wages.
But the most important reason why he’s running is that the work is personal for him.
“I’ve lived it, I grew up in Harlem in the 80s, I’ve seen [just] about everything that the criminal justice system has. I’m proud to have the support of State Senator Robert Jackson, former U.S. Representative Charles Rangel and former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. This is my life, this my life’s work. I look forward to earning your support as well,” Bragg said.