As the June 25 Democratic primary draws closer, tensions are beginning to rise in the field of seven candidates in the race for Queens District Attorney.
This week, retired Judge Greg Lasak issued a challenge to one of his opponents, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz over the controversial proposal for a community-based jail in Kew Gardens.
Lasak blasted Katz for belatedly announcing her opposition to the $30 billion Rikers Island clearance plan that would move detention centers into neighborhoods in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“Voters should not be fooled,” Lasak said. “Melinda Katz still wants a new jail in Queens. Only now, she won’t tell us where she wants to put it.”
Katz backed the city’s plan at the start of 2019 but began to feel a backlash brewing among civic groups in Kew Gardens and in its surrounding neighborhoods. In January, Katz fired off a letter to City Hall suggesting the entire process should start over again with more community and stakeholder involvement.
After Community Board 9 voted unanimously, 28-0, to oppose the construction of the new jail in Kew Gardens, Katz made her opposition to the proposal clear.
Lasak issued his challenge to Katz saying, “Join me today and pledge to fight any prison plan, anywhere in the borough of Queens.”
Before he retired from the bench after 15 years in order to run for Queens DA, Lasak served as a top prosecutor in the Queens DA’s office for 25 years.
“After an entire career of sending people to suffer on Rikers Island, it’s no surprise that Greg Lasak wants that same culture of abuse and violence to continue,” Katz campaign spokesman Grant Fox said. “Before he decided to run for District Attorney, Mr. Lasak never for a moment considered reforming the criminal justice system, and his ludicrous plan to build another Rikers all over again reflects that inexperience. Meanwhile, Melinda has been engaged with the city, the community, and other boroughs throughout the entire process and came to the conclusion to oppose the current plan that ignores any input from Queens residents.”
Lasak believes the money that would be used to build the four community-based jails would be better spent demolishing the current prison complex on Rikers Island in order to build a new state-of-the-art correctional facility.
“To have real reform we must have a new facility of Rikers Island that is safe for prisoners, their families, and especially Correction Officers who have one of the toughest jobs in the criminal justice system,” Lasak said.
Fox believes Katz decided to oppose the plan over time, after a series of community meetings hearing opinions and complaints about the process.
“She’s proposing real solutions to create a fairer criminal justice system, whereas the only thing Mr. Lasak has to offer in naive empty rhetoric and a path back to the same broken system,” Fox said.
When Lasak released his plan to rebuild Rikers in late March he said shovels could hit the ground right away to ensure that conditions were improved to provide inmates basic human dignity in a more timely fashion.
“The entire plan to close Rikers was prefaced on decreasing violence, increasing services and changing the culture at the jail on Rikers Island,” he said. “Those are the goals I share, but solving them 10 years from now is not the answer.”