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Assemblymember, Public Defender… Manhattan’s Next DA?

Theodore Hamm Jul 20

Note: This the third in a series of interviews with 2021 contenders in the race for Manhattan District Attorney.

Assemblyman Dan Quart has represented the Upper East Side since 2011. Prior to becoming an elected official, he was a housing lawyer for Legal Aid. While in office, he has continued to work as a court-appointed criminal defense attorney. 

At a recent debate sponsored by New York University’s School of Law, Quart explained that while growing up in Washington Heights, he witnessed first-hand the NYPD’s unequal treatment of whites and people of color. In the Assembly, Quart helped write the landmark bail reform legislation that passed in 2019. 

You bring a lot more experience in state legislative politics to the campaign than your rivals. If elected, how would that help you?

I understand the relationship between the enactment of laws and the enforcement of laws far better than any of my opponents. Obviously, the laws we enact affect enforcement, but the opposite holds true as well. District attorneys’ refusal to enforce crimes that are on the books can push legislators to change the law. We’ve seen this happen with the efforts to legalize marijuana. In this case, legislators have followed the lead of a number of prosecutors across the state who refuse to prosecute marijuana cases.

I’ve also participated in this relationship. I led the effort to decriminalize the possession of pocket knives in New York State because the statute was a racist law that served no public safety purpose and was enforced almost exclusively by Cy Vance. In order to pass and enact the legislation, I built a broad, statewide coalition that included District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, from Brooklyn, who had refused to prosecute these cases. Gonzalez’s support was a critical piece of the puzzle, demonstrating that prosecutors did not need this law to protect public safety.

That’s the model I’ll follow as District Attorney. When laws are unjust, I will refuse to prosecute them, and I’ll work with legislators to repeal them.

Recently, Vance took heat from NYPD commanders for not showing up at murder scenes. This seems like TV politics to me. In what ways can the DA genuinely show that he or she cares about problems in the community? 

The District Attorney has a responsibility to be present in the community always, not just following a murder. 

As DA, my community relationships will stretch much further than just the NYPD. I’ll be working with Manhattanites of all stripes: tenant associations, community boards, elected officials, NYCHA residents and community groups both formal and informal. I’ll build off of my current community relationships to ensure that I know what’s happening on the ground across Manhattan and that I’m working with the community to support their efforts to keep themselves safe.

If the community wants me at a murder scene, I’ll be there, but I’m not going to let NYPD Twitter accounts dictate my priorities.

How would you use the powers of the DA’s office to rein in the police? 

I will use the fullest extent of the District Attorney’s powers to ensure that NYPD is held accountable to the people of Manhattan. Police officers are entrusted with extraordinary power and along with that comes serious responsibilities. Officers who violate the law must be prosecuted swiftly.

This is something I have experience with. After finding out that New York City’s District Attorneys maintained a list of police officers with credibility issues, I organized several of my colleagues to pressure Cy Vance to release his list. I fought for those records because I believe in accountability and transparency, and I’ll continue to enact those values as DA.

Do you think there should be term limits for DA’s?

No. I don’t believe Manhattan voters need to be restricted in their choices. I trust them to be able to elect the best candidate in the race.

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