Lancman's chief of staff resigns over DA race exit, Katz endorsement

Councilmember Rory Lancman officially dropped out of the Queens DA race Friday. Photo courtesy of Lancman’s office

Councilmember Rory Lancman officially dropped out of the Queens DA race Friday. Photo courtesy of Lancman’s office

By Emma Whitford

Councilmember Rory Lancman’s chief of staff and legislative counsel resigned Thursday over Lancman’s decision to drop out of the Queens District Attorney race and endorse Borough President Melinda Katz, according to a letter obtained by the Eagle.

“I supported and believed in your campaign to be District Attorney of Queens County,” Rachel Graham Kagan wrote to Lancman in a letter dated June 20 and shared with the Eagle. “However with your decision to leave the race and endorse Melinda Katz you have taken a position that represents the antithesis of everything we stood for in our government work and throughout your campaign.”

“I could no longer credibly maintain that I am devoted to changing the status quo -- which, in Queens especially, is untenable and profoundly cruel -- if I stood by silently,” she continued, “in the face of a selection that does nothing but bolster and entrench it for the 2.3 million people of Queens, perhaps more than any other single decision that you or I has made in the last two and a half years I have worked in your office.”

Kagan also noted the “profound sorrow” she felt in making her decision, and said that Lancman had been an inspiration to work for. Kagan assisted Lancman in his work as chair on the Council’s Committee on the Justice System, and the Committee on Courts and Legal Services.

Kagan declined to provide further comment when contacted by the Eagle.

Lancman stood alongside Katz to announce his withdrawal from the race and subsequent Katz endorsement on Friday morning, at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in South Jamaica. The Eagle broke the news of Lancman’s resignation Thursday evening.

Lancman was the first candidate to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Queens District Attorney in 2018, and he spent months positioning himself as the most progressive alternative to the administration of the late DA Richard Brown. Among his supporters was Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo during a misdemeanor arrest on Staten Island in 2014.

Lancman was also critical of Katz on the campaign trail, running TV ads calling out her past support for the death penalty. As recently as June 11, he questioned Katz’s commitment to end cash bail, a position on which she has evolved.

Lancman’s platform was most closely aligned with Tiffany Cabán, the lone public defender in this race, who has enjoyed a slew of high-profile endorsements in the final week of the campaign.

But on Friday Lancman and Katz were a united front.

“The numbers are simply not there for me to win this Tuesday’s Democratic primary for district attorney,” he said. “I’m especially concerned about causing a split in South Queens, effectively diluting the community most impacted by the decisions our next DA must make.”

Lancman also told reporters that the New York Times’ recent endorsement of Cabán finalized his decision to drop out. He denied that he came to the decision with input from the Queens Democratic Party.

“This is not political maneuvering,” Katz added.

Lancman had $470,000 on hand when he decided to exit the race. His name will still appear on the ballot on Tuesday, June 25.

Neither Lancman, nor the Katz campaign, immediately responded to a request for comment.