DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Candidates vying to replace deceased Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson in September's election jockeyed Monday night at a candidate's forum to position themselves as the most reform-minded in the race.
Most of the seven political hopefuls agreed on the need to reform the cash bail system, to decriminalize more low-level offenses and to bolster support for undocumented immigrants when they're arrested.
The top candidate in the election is Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who took over for Ken Thompson when he passed away last year. He spent most of the evening telling voters his opponents' ideas were all well and good, but that his office was already in the process of implementing most of them. He touted what the office had done under Thompson's leadership, describing the Conviction Review Unit which has overturned 22 wrongful convictions. He has set up programs to bolster protections for undocumented immigrants charged with crimes, decriminalized marijuana, pushed to vacate old bench warrants and summonses and begun to reform the bail system. Gonzalez has raised far more than any other candidate, clocking in $866,352.88 in donations by the January filing deadline. The veteran prosecutor has already received endorsements from Public Advocate Letitia James, Councilman Brad Lander, the Transit Workers Union, the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, the United Federation of Teachers and others.
Anne Swern worked in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office for 33 years, and also on the other side of the aisle as managing counsel for Brooklyn Defenders for one year. In her time as an Assistant District Attorney, she helped pioneer alternative sentencing programs like the Brownsville and Red Hook Community Justice Centers, she said. She pitched the idea of having an ombudsman and a statistician work directly under her who could help identify communities being unfairly targeted by police, and report problems within her office directly to her. She described the effectiveness of community bail funds, where bail is paid by a communal pot of money and the person who donates the money helps remind the defendant to turn up in court. Swern and her husband loaned $150,000 to fund her campaign, financial disclosures with the state show.
The only openly gay candidate in the election, Fliedner, a former prosecutor at the Brooklyn DA's office who ran a newly created Civil Rights Bureau, pledged to recruit more LGBTQ and trans people to work in his office as a way to make those communities feel safer coming to the DA for help. He highlighted his role as prosecutor of former Police Officer Peter Liang for the shooting death of Akai Gurley in the Pink Houses, and explained how he left the DA's office, dissatisfied with Liang's light sentence, saying politics had gotten in the way of justice. He supported the elimination of cash bail for low-level offenses. Fliedner has not made any campaign disclosures with the state.
Patricia Gatling worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, as head of the city's Commission on Human Rights, and for Governor Andrew Cuomo as his deputy secretary for civil rights before becoming a private attorney. Prostitution, turnstile jumping and shoplifting are three low-level offenses she'd consider decriminalizing. Unlike most other candidates, she said she wouldn't commit to defending immigrants charged with crimes even when deportation was on the table, though she promised to support undocumented crime victims and witnesses. Gatling also said she thought the DA's office should have emissaries in each NYPD precinct, social workers and other service providers that could help divert low-level offenders. Gatling has not filed any contributions with the state's Campaign Finance Board and took flack from audience members for working outside of Brooklyn since 2002.
Bay Ridge City Councilman Vincent Gentile boasted that his connections to lawmakers in Albany would accomplish some of his goals, like ending cash bail for low-level offenses. He said he'd sponsor employment workshops in low-income communities. Gentile also said he'd do more to find out why the DA's office had overturned wrongful convictions but not found anyone accountable for them, like disgraced NYPD detective Louis Scarcella. He took heat from audience members for voting against the Community Safety Act, a law that aimed to curb discriminatory policing strategies. He said he regretted the decision. Gentile has raised $78,050 as of January.
Ama Dwimoh worked as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office for 21 years and founded the Crimes Against Children Bureau in 1997, running it for 13 years. She later moved to a position at Borough President Eric Adams' office after she was forced out of the DA's office for screaming at interns, threatening subordinates and fudging time sheets, the New York Post reported. She said she was against cash bail for low-level offenses and wanted to work to provide more free legal services to immigrants. She's received endorsements from Borough President Eric Adams and NAACP President Hazel Dukes. Dwimoh raised $98,982 as of the January filing cutoff, $50,000 of which she loaned to her campaign, records show.
Old-school Bay Ridge attorney and former Brooklyn prosecutor John Gangemi boasted his decades of experience on the job that would help him take charge at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. In 2013, Gangemi unsuccessfully ran for Brooklyn Borough President. He has not filed any campaign finance disclosures, records show.
The election will be held September 12.