By David Brand
Borough President Melinda Katz officially announced her candidacy for Queens District Attorney at a rally in Forest Hills Tuesday morning.
Katz was surrounded by several community leaders, a handful of local elected officials and her two sons as she pledged to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses and end cash bail on misdemeanors, though she stopped short of saying she would end cash bail on all offenses. Katz also said she would oppose Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the criminal courthouse.
"Whatever your ethnicity, background, immigration status or economic means, whether you are a third-generation Queens resident or someone who came here yesterday to provide your family a better life; whatever your gender identification or sexual orientation, justice must always look the same,” Katz said. “All too often, it does not. As the district attorney, I will fight to achieve fairness in the criminal justice system."
Katz described how her mother was killed by a drunk driver when she was growing up. That tragedy informed her commitment to preventive and rehabilitative services to “stop crime in the first place.”
“What if that drunk driver never gets behind the wheel,” she said. “What if that kid never joins a gang [and] what if that gun never gets on the streets ... If we keep those same kids safe, they’re able to choose other ways.”
Katz said she would specifically focus on ending gun violence in Queens by partnering with community-based organizations, a focus of her tenure as borough president.
Katz also described her deep connections to the borough and her experience as an attorney.
Before her election as Borough President in 2012, Katz, a Forest Hills native, served as a city councilmember from 2002 to 2009 and a state assemblymember representing the 28th District in Queens from 1994 to 1999.
Between 2009 and 2012, Katz worked for the law firm Greenberg Traurig. She earned her law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. She also worked as an attorney before her election to the Assembly.
During the rally, a lone protester representing an anti-Amazon organization yelled at Katz about her support for city subsidies to the online retail giant and data repository, which will establish one of its headquarters in Long Island City. Community Affairs officers escorted the protester, Adam Wilkes, away from the rally.
“I came here and protested because Melinda Katz is part of the same network of power along with Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio that is going to give the most powerful corporation in America $1.5 billion when the sewers are overflowing,” Wilkes said after the rally.
Wilkes, however, said he thought Katz would make a good DA.
“I might vote for her for DA. I like Melinda Katz,” he said. “My problem is with Amazon.”
When contacted by the Eagle for a resonse to Katz’ candidacy, DA candidate Rory Lancman, a Queens councilmember, touted his own resume as a criminal justice reformer but did not address Katz specifically.
“I've been delivering real criminal justice reform as a Councilman, and that's what I'll continue to do as our next district attorney — protect women from internet harassment and sex trafficking, homeowners and tenants from being defrauded out of their homes, and working people from being cheated out of their wages,” Lancman told the Eagle. “Together we can end mass incarceration of communities of color, end cash bail, and end the criminalization of addiction and mental illness.”
In a statement Tuesday, former Judge Gregory Lasak, another candidate for DA, criticized Katz’ lack of experience in criminal courtrooms.
“I welcome Borough President Katz to the growing field of career politicians running for district attorney,” Lasak said. “As the only non-politician in this race, I look forward to putting my decades-long record of fighting crime and freeing the innocent up against anyone else's.”
State Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubrey said Katz’ political experience, as well as her career as attorney, were assets for a top prosecutor.
“DAs never go to court, they administrate,” Aubrey said. “No one I know has as many connections in the communities she serves.”
When asked about Katz’ support for the death penalty when she was a state Assemblymember, Aubrey said she had evolved along with most people in the Democratic Party.
“The world has changed in 20 years,” Aubrey said. “The world doesn’t stay the same and neither do we.”