BY MOSHE HILL OPINION COLUMNS MARCH 01 2023
In the upcoming June Democratic primary for the Queens District Attorney (DA) position, former Queens Supreme Court administrative judge George Grasso is challenging incumbent Melinda Katz. Grasso, who retired before his judicial term ended to run for DA, has garnered support from former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who endorsed Grasso on Monday.
Bratton, who worked extensively with Grasso during his two stints as NYPD Commissioner, believes that Grasso has the experience and knowledge necessary to tackle the crime crisis in Queens and ensure the safety of New Yorkers. Bratton also worked with Grasso in implementing Project Reset, a program that allowed youthful offenders to avoid arrest by cooperating with district attorneys.
“Judge Grasso is one of the sharpest legal minds I have had the opportunity to work with over my law-enforcement career,” Bratton said. “He has highlighted the crime crisis in Queens and has the experience and knowledge to ensure the public safety that New Yorkers deserve.”
Grasso has been critical of Katz’s record on fighting crime, stating that crime rates in Queens have risen significantly under her leadership. However, Katz’s campaign spokesman Tucker Green refutes these claims, highlighting Katz’s successful efforts in taking down gangs, removing guns from the streets, and addressing human trafficking. Katz also recently appeared with Mayor Adams to announce the indictment of nearly two dozen violent gang members.
While Adams has not made an endorsement in the race, Grasso recalls working alongside him when they both served in the NYPD. Despite occasional disagreements, Grasso has respect for Adams and believes that he is saying and doing the right things.
The Queens DA race is particularly important, as crime rates have risen across New York City in recent years. As of November 2021, there were 468 murders in the city, up from 319 in the same period in 2019. The increase in crime has led to calls for stronger action from elected officials and law enforcement agencies.
A contested primary is reminiscent of 2019, when the Queens New York District Attorney race was closely watched and almost ended in a surprising upset. The race exploded after incumbent Queens DA Richard Brown, who had held the position for nearly 30 years, passed away, opening up an office that has been closed for decades. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, public defender Tiffany Cabán, former Queens Assistant District Attorney Mina Malik, former Judge Gregory Lasak, and a half dozen others all vied for the Democratic nomination.
Cabán emerged as a standout candidate early in the race, running on a progressive platform that included promises to end cash bail, decriminalize dozens of crimes, and harsher looks at police activity. She garnered support from progressive organizations such as the Working Families Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a similar upset victory in the 2018 Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District.
Despite facing opposition from the Queens Democratic Party establishment and facing attacks on her lack of prosecutorial experience, Cabán gained momentum as the primary approached. She ran a grassroots campaign that focused on mobilizing working-class and minority voters, many of whom had previously been disenfranchised or disenchanted with the political process.
On election night, Cabán appeared to have pulled off a stunning upset, leading Katz by more than 1,000 votes with 99% of precincts reporting. However, the race was far from over. The Board of Elections announced that it had not yet counted more than 2,000 absentee ballots, and the outcome of the race remained in doubt.
In the days following the election, both campaigns mounted legal challenges to the absentee ballot count, with Katz’s campaign arguing that some ballots had been improperly cast and Cabán’s campaign arguing that some ballots had been improperly invalidated. The Board of Elections ultimately decided to recount all the ballots, a process that took more than a week.
At this point, it’s a two-person race between Katz and Grasso. However, this could create a situation where a progressive candidate tries to sneak through the Democratic Primary while these two candidates split the voter share. Grasso’s background in law enforcement and the judiciary could make him an appealing candidate for voters concerned about crime rates. His partnership with Bratton in implementing Project Reset demonstrates his willingness to work collaboratively to address crime, which could help him gain support from voters across the political spectrum. Katz’s track record on crime and her endorsement from hundreds of thousands of “real New Yorkers” could also make her a formidable opponent. Her recent indictment of gang members could further bolster her reputation as a strong crime fighter.
Democratic Socialists are continually trying to win elected office in New York. Caban, after losing to Katz, found a new home on the New York City Council. Other Democratic Socialists have won positions in the New York State Assembly and Senate, and there are currently nine card-carrying DSA members in Albany. It is not farfetched to see a Democratic Socialist enter the race in an attempt to sneak through a primary.
Ultimately, the Democratic primary in June will determine who faces Republican candidate Thomas Kenniff in the November general election. Given the deep blue track record of Queens voters, it is the likely scenario that the victor of the Democratic Primary will be the next District Attorney. Like in 2019, if a Socialist does show up for this race, it may be in the best interest of the community to register as many Democrats as possible to ensure that the office is held by someone who cares more about the victims of crime than the criminals.