Queens DA Race Swells With Release of Candidate Questionnaires

Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas (left), State Attorney General's Office prosecutor Jose Nieves (center) and New York County Defender Services staff attorney Tiffany Caban (right) are all running for Queens DA. Photos via DCA, Nieves’ Campaign and Twitter.

Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas (left), State Attorney General's Office prosecutor Jose Nieves (center) and New York County Defender Services staff attorney Tiffany Caban (right) are all running for Queens DA. Photos via DCA, Nieves’ Campaign and Twitter.

By David Brand

The field of candidates vying to replace Queens District Attorney Richard Brown quickly doubled from three to six on Wednesday — the same day Brown announced he would not seek re-election — when campaign questionnaires from the Queens branch Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) emerged on social media.

The Queens DSA received completed questionnaires from public defender Tiffany Caban, State Attorney General’s Office special prosecutor Jose Nieves and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas, as well as Councilmember Rory Lancman — who declared his candidacy in September 2018.

Each comprehensive questionnaire includes 47 questions related to background, ideology and organizing experience. The documents also contain more specific questions about how each candidate would empower the Economics Crimes Bureau, participatie in the Wage Theft Initiative and commit to ceasing prosecution of low-level offenses like marijuana possession, fare evasion and prostitution.

Former Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced their candidacies in 2018. The DSA did not share completed questionnaires from Katz and Lasak. The DSA did not respond to request for comment.

The three new candidates would bring diverse experiences to the job, with one serving as a prosecutor, another as a public defender and the third as a city administrator.

Nieves is a career prosecutor, who served in the military and worked as an assistant district attorney in the Kings County DA’s Office. Nieves currently serves in the Attorney General’s Office as a lead prosecutor in the Special Investigation and Prosecution Unit, which focuses on police-involved murders of unarmed citizens.

The unit was formed after Governor Cuomo issued an executive order in 2015 to remove local district attorneys from investigating police-involved deaths. In 2017, Nieves was a part of the first team of AG assistants to prosecute an NYPD officer — Wayne Isaacs, who was acquitted for killing Delrawn Small with his service weapon.

Nieves also worked in the New York City Department of Correction, Trials and Litigation Division, where, according to his campaign website, he “prosecuted numerous cases involving excessive use of force and other misconduct by New York City Correction Officers.”

Nieves will appear at a campaign fundraiser tonight in Elmhurst. He also hosted a fundraiser in December in Manhattan and two others in Brooklyn in January, said his campaign committee chair Milton Florez, a criminal defense attorney in Queens.

In the questionnaire that Nieves returned to the Queens DSA, he noted his “progressive view” and said he is running for DA to “bring real criminal justice reform and diversity to the Queens District Attorney's Office to ensure a more just, fair and equal criminal justice system for all Queens residents.”

“I will focus the office’s resources on diverting non-violent defendants away from the criminal justice system, engage in meaningful alternative to incarceration sentencing practices, carefully considering a defendant’s collateral immigration consequences when negotiating plea agreements and identifying new ways to reduce the risk of recidivism of defendants by supporting a defendant’s reentry and reintegration process into our community,” he continued.

Caban, is a staff attorney with New York County Defender Services. Caban previously served as a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society.

In her questionnaire, Caban said she would institute “radical” changes in the DA’s office that surpass even those enacted by Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, the standard-bearer for prosecutorial reform.

Upon assuming office, Krasner declined to prosecute a list of several specific low-level offenses, instructed assistant district attorneys to pursue sentences at the low-end of sentencing guidelines and fired dozens of assistants who were not on board with his reforms.

“I am running because I believe that District Attorneys must innately understand the generational trauma and historical systems of oppression that have been disproportionately enacted on black and brown, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, low-income, and other disenfranchised communities,” Caban said. “Failing to truly understand that history will result in well-meaning but otherwise immaterial progressive policies that continue to be biased along racial and class lines.”

Salas, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner, said she is running because “Queens deserves a DA that is truly accountable to our communities of color, which are by far overrepresented in our jails and prisons.”

“I want to change that,” Salas said. “I want to prosecute the bad landlords, the bad employers and the bad for-profit schools that are targeting our most vulnerable communities.”

During her tenure, Salas has penalized businesses that defraud low-income New Yorkers and fought wage theft against non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants.

As of press time, Nieves, Caban and Salas had not responded to request for comment.

Other rumored DA candidates include former Queens and Brooklyn assistant district attorney Mina Malik and Legal Aid staff attorney Gabe Munson. The Democratic primary election is scheduled for September, though the state reportedly is reportedly considering moving the primary to June.