Daniel L. Feldman

Why I Ran to be Brooklyn District Attorney

In NYC Politics on February 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm

When it became clear that Liz Holtzman would run for New York City Comptroller, I decided to try to succeed her as Brooklyn District Attorney. As chair of the Assembly Correction Committee, I spent time in most of the State’s prisons. I saw the tremendous waste of lives and money produced by the prosecution and incarceration of massive numbers of low-level non-violent drug offenders under the Rockefeller drug laws. I also saw the political need of upstate senators to keep prisons full in their districts in order to provide at least some correction officer jobs to ameliorate the economic disaster tormenting their region. I knew that they would therefore frustrate my efforts to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws for a long time to come. At least as Brooklyn D.A. I could choose other prosecutorial priorities.

Also, Brooklyn had nineteen other Assembly members, but only one D.A. Reasons of ego played a role.

Charles “Joe” Hynes had recently won convictions of three white Howard Beach defendants who had caused the death of Michael Griffith, one of four black men chased by those defendants into moving traffic apparently because they stood out in that overwhelmingly white neighborhood. Mario Cuomo had appointed Hynes as special prosecutor in the case because prosecution witnesses had refused to cooperate with Queens District Attorney John Santucci, whom they viewed as too close to his Howard Beach constituency. The case garnered tremendous attention and publicity.

Rampant rumors had Hynes entering the race. But this did not deter me. My friends told me that Hynes voted out of his residence in Breezy Point, where he spent his summers, a few miles west of where I grew up in the Rockaways, in Queens, although he lived in Brooklyn the rest of the year. I thought we would be able to disqualify him as a legal resident of Queens, based on his voting record. However, when I sent campaign workers to the Queens Board of Elections, no voting records for Hynes could be located. Nor could we locate any in Brooklyn.

Still, Mel Miller said “No Hynes beats no Feldman in Brooklyn.” Based on traditional voting patterns, this should have been true. For a long time, Jewish turnout in Democrat primaries had been decisive in Brooklyn. Also, I thought my strong pro-prosecution record would serve me well: author of the Organized Crime Control Act, Oral Search Warrant Law, Juror Shield Law; a yes-vote on the death penalty when that was still a hot and popular issue; the leader of the unsuccessful, but law-enforcement-backed campaign to change New York’s criminal-friendly transactional immunity law to use immunity (read Tales from the Sausage Factory for an explanation of this technical but important effort).

When Howard Golden, Brooklyn’s Democratic County Leader and Borough President, had pleaded with me to take a job I did not want, Democratic district leader, I had accommodated him. I had also supported his re-election when Marty Markowitz challenged him in the 1985 primary.  I thought he owed me some support. Further, seventeen of my nineteen fellow Brooklyn Assembly members endorsed me – all except Al Vann and Frank Barbaro. Schumer endorsed me at my special request, in an effort to reduce the friction between us. Two of Brooklyn’s three other Members of Congress, Ed Towns and Steve Solarz, endorsed me as well. I had helped Major Owens win his congressional seat against his then fellow State Senator Vander Beatty, but of the congressional delegation, only he refused to endorse me. The law did not permit Holtzman, as a sitting District Attorney, to make a political endorsement, but she did appoint me to her Advisory Committee.

Norman Adler, my old college political science teacher and the extraordinarily intelligent political director of District Council 37 of AFSCME, a major public sector union, agreed to advise my campaign, as a friend, for very little money — $5000, with another $10,000 payable when I won. Hank Sheinkopf had been a police officer and a student of mine when I taught administrative law as an adjunct professor at John Jay College in 1977. Now his star was rising in political advertising, which he would handle for me. I had a lot going for me, I thought. I worried mostly about raising money.

  1. Really enjoying the heck out of these stories. I just purchased the book a few weeks ago — which I am reading very slowly, because I never want it to end — and have read a dozen or so of these blogposts. They’re so much fun. I actually laughed out loud at the one tale (“Graduation speeches and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Citizenship Award,” December 2, 2011) in which my assemblywoman, Helene Weinstein, suggested “You should check into a hospital.”

    An incidental thing: It was after you were already out of office, in the very early Aughts, but I happen to recall attending a graduation at PS 52 for a relative of mine, and Assemblywoman Weinstein was definitely in attendance (as was Marty Markowitz, waving a lightsaber all over the place, to tremendous fanfare).

    • I am delighted that you like the book and the stories.
      If I wrote or implied that Helene did not attend graduations, I have to correct that — she did, from time to time, but not obsessively, the way I did.
      Thanks very much for commenting.

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