One Police Plaza

Political Pressure Now Political Noise

July 9, 2018

Depending on your point of view, there’s an esoteric upside to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Queens Democratic Congressman and county chairman Joe Crowley that is unrelated to empowering women, socialism, or the future direction of the Democratic party.

Rather her victory, at least for now, is a win for the citizens of Queens, who just might be able someday to vote in a straight-up election for its next district attorney rather than having the borough’s Democratic political bosses select the candidate as it did in the Bronx in 2015. A week after District Attorney Robert Johnson won his primary three years ago, he resigned to seek a pre-arranged Democratic Party judgeship. Because of state election law, the timing of Johnson’s resignation allowed Bronx party leaders — rather than Bronx residents — to choose Darcel Clark as his replacement on the November ballot, allowing her a virtually uncontested race.

A potentially similar situation has long existed in Queens. Before Crowley’s defeat, says a Queens insider, Crowley’s stooges — not Crowley himself — were discussing, feeling out, pressuring (choose your favorite term) Queens DA Richard Brown to consider retiring so that Crowley and the Queens Democratic bosses could select his successor, who would then run as the party’s candidate in a future Democratic primary.

With Crowley’s defeat and Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, however, any political pressure on Brown has faded to political noise.

Asked if he had been pressured to retire, Brown, who is 86 and has health issues, said in a telephone interview, “Nobody’s pressing me,” adding that any decision to retire or remain in his office is his alone. “I love this job,” he said, adding that he planned to serve out the final two years of his term and even mentioned running yet again in 2020, unlikely as that seems.

Respected throughout the borough, Brown is the first city DA in decades to have brought professionalism and integrity to the Queens office.

A former appellate court judge, he was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo in June, 1991, to succeed John Santucci, who resigned after disclosures in Newsday that he had participated in a private lunch at the Altadonna restaurant in Ozone Park with Sal Reale, a Gambino crime family associate, that went on for 14 hours. Although reporter Ellis Henican wrote the original story, Santucci, at a tearful farewell news conference, blamed his resignation on Your Humble Servant, calling me “anti-Italian.”

Santucci was not the first DA in Queens to quit in disgrace. In 1973, Thomas Mackell resigned after he was indicted on charges of hindering prosecution in a $4.4 million get-rich-quick scheme.

Brown, meanwhile, despite his age and health issues, is in the office daily at 7:30 a.m., he says. A judge who knows him, says: “Nobody questions his mental fitness. He’ll stay as long as he wants to.”

Indeed, there’s precedent for sticking around. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served from 1975 to 2009 until he was nearly 90, then handpicked his successor, Cyrus Vance, who won the Democratic primary.


Copyright © 2018 Leonard Levitt