By Carlotta Mohamed
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) officially announced his candidacy for Queens District Attorney Wednesday with a promise to make “real transformative change in Queens” by reshaping the criminal justice system.
“Our criminal justice system is broken — it’s profoundly unfair to people of color, the poor, wage-earners, women, and immigrants — it’s wasteful and unaccountable and it needlessly diverts us from attacking real wrongdoing against working people, women, homeowners and tenants, and immigrants. But we can fix it if we work together,” Lancman said.
Lancman, who chairs the Democratic committee on criminal justice, rolled out his candidacy for the November 2019 race in a video about the meaning of justice featuring Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed by an NYPD officer when he was placed in a chokehold for selling untaxed cigarettes.
“I would tell the Queens community to please vote for Rory because he stands for issues that we are most concerned about,” said Carr, who endorsed Lancman.
Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by NYPD officer in 2006, said in a release that Queens needs a district attorney willing to hold police accountable for unlawful behavior, and who will ensure that officers and officials who break the law are prosecuted.
“As our next district attorney, Rory will not tolerate police malfeasance, whether it is violence against law-abiding citizens or perjury in the courtroom,” said Bell, who also endorsed Lancman.
As district attorney, Lancman — who currently represents Fresh Meadows, Jamaica and parts of eastern Queens as a city councilman — promised to protect working people, immigrants preyed upon for their vulnerability by the Trump Administration, and victims of police misconduct.
Additionally, Lancman said he will force the end of the over-policing of communities of color by declining to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses, fare evasion, and many other victimless offenses. He also said he plans to end cash bail, respect people’s right to a speedy trial, cease trials by ambush, and confront wrongful convictions that put too many innocent people behind bars.
“Queens is a big, diverse place, filled with people from all over the world, and my pledge to the people of our borough is this: regardless of your race, income, physical abilities, religion, age, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender, I will fight for true justice for everyone,” said Lancman.
The Queens District Attorney’s Office is currently held by Richard Brown, 85, who has been the longest-tenured district attorney in New York City, having served since 1991. He has yet to announce if he’ll be running for re-election next year.
“My present term does not expire until December 2019, and I will make no decision about the future until sometime next year,” Brown said in a statement.
Other possible candidates include Borough President Melinda Katz and Queens Supreme Court Judge Gregory Lasak.
Lancman has been a critic of the Queens DA’s office refusal to implement a Conviction Review Unit to address issues related to wrongful convictions, while every other borough has a unit.
During a debate earlier this month on the possible closure of Rikers Island with Queens DA Assistant James Quinn, Lancman said the Queens District Attorney’s Office’s insistence on asking for cash bail as well as charging low-level offenses such as marijuana, has kept Rikers Island filled with New Yorkers.
Lancman has been in support of closing Rikers Island and the construction of borough-based community jails, and cracking down on fare evasion arrests that disproportionately affects immigrants and people of color.
He also has also filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court against the city and NYPD’s failure to submit periodic data on fare evasion arrests at 472 subway stations in New York City.
According to Lancman, he considers Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner as a model district attorney, saying that Krasner has had the courage to reorient his office’s priorities away from unimportant matters that needlessly damage people’s lives, for the “important stuff that people expect the DA’s office to protect them from.”
“This is our time. This is our chance. Why are we last when it comes to justice, when we should be first,” said Lancman.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha