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Cuomo Weighs 'Options' in Replacing Ken Thompson as District Attorney

By Jeff Mays | October 11, 2016 9:48am
 Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still deliberating whether he will appoint an interim Brooklyn District Attorney following the death of Ken Thompson.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still deliberating whether he will appoint an interim Brooklyn District Attorney following the death of Ken Thompson.
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DNAinfo/Shayna Jacobs

NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is deliberating whether he will appoint an interim Brooklyn District Attorney following the death of Ken Thompson.

Thompson, 50, Brooklyn's first black district attorney, died Sunday night at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital after battling cancer. He announced just last week that he would be taking a leave of absence to battle the disease.

Thompson's chief assistant, Eric Gonzalez, was named acting district attorney when Thompson stepped aside.

Cuomo has the authority to pick an interim district attorney until the next general election, which would take place in November 2017.

"Options are being reviewed," Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said.

A name being mentioned in political circles as a possible successor to Thompson is Public Advocate Letitia James, the first black woman elected to citywide office in New York City.

James is a lawyer who has filed several lawsuits against the city during her tenure and even represented an unaccompanied minor in court during an immigration case.

Given that James is from Brooklyn and is a lawyer with name recognition and an existing political apparatus, she could likely win the seat if she wanted it, said a Brooklyn political operative who asked not to be named so as to speak freely during a sensitive time. But the position might be a step backward from her citywide role.

James, in a statement, said now is not the time to discuss politics.

"This is a time to mourn and to celebrate the great life of Ken Thompson. Any political discussions must take a back seat as we continue this mourning process," James said in a statement. "Meanwhile, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office is in the capable hands of Chief Assistant District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and the executive team."

The governor could leave Gonzalez in place as he did when Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice was elected to Congress in 2014. Cuomo left her deputy, Madeline Singas, in place. Singas was elected as district attorney in 2016.

When Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan won an open congressional seat in 2015, Cuomo also chose not to fill the seat. Democrat Michael McMahon won a November election against Republican Joan Illuzzi to wrest the seat from the GOP for the first time in 12 years.

If the governor chooses not to fill the seat, the first deputy district attorney would head the office until the next election.

Of the factors Cuomo will consider when making a choice is the distance to the next election and the quality of the leadership team in place. But many doubt Cuomo will appoint a replacement since the election is relatively soon.

Gonzalez is also an experienced member of the DA's office who is well regarded. He is the first Latino to be chief assistant in Brooklyn. Thompson, in his statement announcing his cancer last week, said Gonzalez would lead the office in his absence along with the rest of the executive team.

Brooklyn would be the fourth largest city in the country if it were an independent municipality. The city's most populous borough already has its largest caseload.

"He will have the advantage of incumbency months from the election if he's interested in becoming DA," the Brooklyn political operative said. "If he's serious he needs to start putting together a political operation."

Other names mentioned as possible candidates are Anne Swern, a former first assistant in the Brooklyn DA's office and Marc Fliedner, a former prosecutor under Thompson who convicted former NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the death of Akai Gurley.