By NATHAN DUKE
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) is eyeing a bid for Queens district attorney to replace current DA Richard Brown, 86, who is expected not to run for reelection after finishing his current term next year.
Lancman—who is the chairman of the City Council’s Justice System committee, which oversees the city’s five district attorney offices and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice—noted that Brown has made his intention clear to fill out the remainder of his seventh term.
“I’m not aware of him retiring early,” Lancman said. “I think it’s his intention that he will fill out his term, and I hope that he does. There’s not a scenario where I’m challenging him.”
Brown has held the office since 1991, making him the longest-serving DA in New York City. Despite his recent battle with Parkinson’s disease, Brown has said that he has not been pressured to retire.
Lancman said that his advocacy on various issues—such as criminal justice reform, closing Rikers Island, reforming cash bail and decriminalizing such low-level offenses as turnstile jumping and public marijuana use—as chairman of the council’s Justice System would inform some of his policies if he were to become the Queens DA.
“The criminal justice work that I’ve done for the last four-and-a-half years mirrors the work that a DA’s office should do,” Lancman said. “We need criminal justice reform in New York City from start to finish. The DA’s office should be ensuring that communities are not overpoliced, that people aren’t sitting on Rikers Island because they can’t raise small amounts of cash bail, and that people with mental or substance abuse problems are diverted from the criminal justice system. We need to refocus resources on protecting women and working people. Sexual assault and rape are up tremendously in New York City. Few employers are held accountable when they steal workers’ wages by not paying the minimum wage or overtime. We need to make sure we’re not wasting resources and ruining people’s lives, and instead focusing on real wrongdoing.”
Lancman’s bid for the seat could be derailed before there is even a race though. Sources close to the Queens County Democratic Party said that the party was already eyeing another elected official—Queens Borough President Melinda Katz—for the DA if Brown retires.
“If given the opportunity, we’d prefer Katz to be the Queens DA,” one source said. “She has indicated that she’d like to run for mayor. That being said, she’s the type of person who’d be more respectful of established norms. She’d be careful and cognizant of Dick Brown, and give him the space and time that he needs. Melinda is being respectful. Rory is a different type of politician. He’s extremely ambitious and opportunistic. He may see that there’s an advantage in trying to declare this space for him now.”
The source also said that the party’s pick for Queens DA could be determined by the fate of the party’s leadership by timing Brown’s resignation to avoid a Democratic primary battle.
“It’ll depend on whether [U.S. Rep.] Joe Crowley decides to stay Queens County leader,” the source said, referring to Crowley’s shocking Democratic primary loss to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “With a strong organization and leader, when Brown stepped down, whoever Crowley would have anointed would have had a good shot. But it’s unclear what that means now. I don’t know if we’ll know that answer until after the primaries.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s win has sent shockwaves through the county organization, according to the source.
“You can’t dismiss the Ocasio-Cortez effect and what that could mean for the Queens DA race,” the source said. “There could be a serious challenger to the establishment. It’s definitely something that everyone running a race in Queens or New York is thinking: What kind of dark horse could be backed by the Democratic Socialists?”
Katz declined to comment on whether she was considering a run for Queens DA.