Race for Queens district attorney figures to be among most watched local storylines in 2019

Clockwise, from top left: Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Rory Lancman and retired Judge Gregory Lasak
File photos/Illustration by Robert Pozarycki

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, 86, has yet to decide whether he’ll run for re-election in 2019, but there are already three candidates who have launched campaigns to replace him and take over the office he’s held since 1991.

Councilman Rory Lancman was the first to announce his candidacy in September, followed by retired Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak in October and Borough President Melinda Katz in December. Katz joined the field even though she has three years remaining in office.

All three believe in criminal justice reform and all three are looking forward to the race that will be watched closely in 2019.

“We’re getting incredible support for our campaign to be Queens’ first woman district attorney,” Katz said. “From every corner of our borough, people are eager for a DA’s office that is a true partner for justice and will bring much-needed criminal justice reform to our county. I will end cash bail for misdemeanors, protect immigrants and make sure no one’s immigration status is threatened simply because they are accused of a crime, and create a conviction integrity unit to look back at previous convictions.”

The Forest Hills native said she would establish protections for the borough’s most targeted citizens and communities — including seniors, children, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and the mentally ill — from scams and abuse.

“I love this borough and the people who call it home, and as your next DA, I will be a fighter for every resident,” Katz said.

Lancman grew up in Kew Gardens Hills and as chairman of the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System he oversees the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the district attorneys in all five boroughs, the city’s special narcotics prosecutor, the public defender organizations, the civil legal services founded by the city and the courts.

“I’m very excited about the upcoming campaign. The public wants criminal justice reform,” Lancman said. “It’s time to end cash bail, promote speedier trials, end the overcriminalization of petty crimes which I call the new Jim Crow laws. My record and my message will carry the day and I’m very confident of that.”

Born and raised in Woodside before moving to Richmond Hill to raise his family, Lasak retired from the bench after a conversation with Brown last September after realizing he missed working in the DA’s office keeping the people of Queens safe from violent criminals.

“It’s too serious of a job in Queens County keeping 2.3 to 2.4 million people safe,” Lasak said. “It’s too serious a job to go to someone who will need on-the-job training; from day one you need to know what you are doing. I have a wealth of experience at the highest levels with my 12 years and my 25 years as a Queens assistant district attorney.”

Lasak began working in the Queens DA’s office after passing the bar exam at age 24. He was trying murder cases by the time he was 30. As Chief of the Homicide Bureau, he oversaw the investigation and prosecution of all murders in the borough for nearly two decades. He was in charge of the Major Crimes beginning in the late ’90s, overseeing the prosecutions of all sex crimes, domestic violence felonies and career criminals.

“It’s one thing to talk about reform, but you have to know the system you want to reform,” Lasak said. “If my opponents never worked in the system in any capacity how are they going to be able to reform it?”