Why Is the Queens DA Race in an Odd-Numbered, Off Year?

Queens residents will cast their vote in the district attorney primary elections on June 25.  Eagle  photo by Mary Frost

Queens residents will cast their vote in the district attorney primary elections on June 25. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

By David Brand

The first competitive election for Queens District Attorney in nearly three decades has generated significant attention across the city. It has also raised some questions — namely, why is the election held in an odd-numbered, off-year?

The answer dates back to October 1942, when current DA Richard Brown was just nine years old (he turned 10 a month later).

On Oct. 14, 1942 — three weeks before the 1942 general election for DA — the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the winner of the Nov. 3 election would only serve a one-year term before a new election for a full four-year term in 1943.

The Oct. 15, 1942 issue of the The New York Times explained the abrupt change in DA election rules.

“Queens County must elect a District Attorney for one year only, instead of the customary four years at the Nov. 3 election, the New York Court of Appeals ruled today. The court upheld the validity of the 1942 State law permitting counties and cities to elect officials for one year to comply with a 1939 constitutional amendment requiring the election in odd-numbered years. The term of Queens County’s last-elected District Attorney Charles P. Sullivan expires Dec. 31,” according to an AP story in the Times.

The October 15, 1942 edition of  The New York Times  explains that year’s DA election change. Image via the  The New York Times  archives

The October 15, 1942 edition of The New York Times explains that year’s DA election change. Image via the The New York Times archives

Charles Sullivan won both elections handily. Sullivan served as DA from 1935 to 1951. He also filled in as Acting DA for a month and a half in 1931.

Nineteen elections later, Queens is set to pick a new DA for the first time since 1991.

And there’s yet another change to the election law: The Democratic and Republican primaries were moved up to June instead of September to consolidate state and federal primaries on the same day.

That condenses the campaign season for the seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination ahead of the June 25 primary.

Queens isn’t the only county with a unique DA election calendar. Bronx County and Richmond County (also known as Staten Island) will hold their DA elections this year.

But with incumbent Bronx DA Darcel Clark and incumbent Staten Island DA Michael McMahon entrenched in office, the races are a lot less interesting.