Gothamist, October 2017

As Criticism Of Cy Vance Mounts, A Former Brooklyn Prosecutor Announces Write-In Campaign For Manhattan D.A.

Manhattan DA Cy Vance is in damage control mode following reports that his office declined to pursue prosecutions against the the Trump children and Harvey Weinstein, and later accepted campaign donations from attorneys associated with them. The wave of bad press comes as Vance runs unopposed in this year's race for Manhattan District Attorney. But with increased chatter about possible write-in candidates to challenge Vance, at least one opponent has emerged, in former Brooklyn assistant DA Mark Fliedner.

The campaign began with some tweets from Twitter user @showusyourwork, who said they are a longtime resident of NYC but requested anonymity out of a reluctance to reveal personal details. They said they'd been considering Preet Bharara, but since his record as a prosecutor was "problematic," and "a write-in is a longshot anyway," they went with Fliedner and tagged him in a tweet calling on people to write him in. Fliedner responded positively, and a host of reporters andprogressive activists began talking about or signing on to the idea.

"One of the reasons I wanted Marc to run, especially because he's a member of the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America], is that the message needs to be clear to the Democratic establishment: if your corruption is exposed, your left flank is vulnerable, especially if you're in what you think is a 'safe district,'" @showusyourwork said.

Fliedner, who recently lost a campaign for Brooklyn DA to Eric Gonzalez, told Gothamist the draft campaign was "humbling and dizzying" to him and that he's "glad to see voters are engaged enough to be looking for alternatives to those candidates who don't share their values and concerns." Earlier on Wednesday he told us that since the Brooklyn DA's race, he's focused on his private law practice and that he wouldn't be actively campaigning against Vance. That changed last night, as Fliedner put out a video indicating a more organized, if on-the-fly, campaign was coming.

"If voters are dissatisfied with an unchallenged incumbent, it is responsible and healthy for them to seek out an eligible candidate who they feel shares their values and write them in," Fliedner told Gothamist.

Of course, even with support of New York City media Twitter users with high follower counts, it's going to be an uphill battle for Fliedner to win in a write-in election. Both Public Advocate Letitia James and Mayor Bill de Blasio have stated their public support for Vance, and there isn't much in the way of institutional pressure coming down on the DA.

Fliedner came in third place in the Brooklyn DA primary race, finishing well behind winner Eric Gonzalez's total of 76,947 votes. And while Fliedner got high marks from the 5 Boro Defenders for his stances on issues such as bail reform, police accountability and discovery reform, he was also accused of withholding evidence in a case that sent an innocent man to prison for nine years. He also held a press conference near the end of the Brooklyn DA primary in which he promised to reveal massive corruption in DA Eric Gonzalez's office that wound up falling far short of expectations.

Another hurdle: Fliedner isn't eligible to serve as Manhattan district attorney because he resides in Brooklyn. A state Board of Elections spokesperson told Gothamist that a rule determining county district attorney residency is covered by the city's Public Officer's Law, and that Fliedner would have to be a Manhattan resident by election day, which is November 7th this year. Fliedner told us that he's "working on the move right now," when asked if he would move to Manhattan in order to hold the position.

There's also the inherent chaos of the write-in system, in which people might just choose to vote for Marc Maron, Snoop Dogg, Bribey McBribeface or Preet Bharara instead of Fliedner.

A spokesperson for the Vance campaign brought up the residency concerns to Gothamist, highlighting the section of the city law that reads "No person shall be capable of holding a civil office who shall not, at the time he or she shall be chosen thereto."

"Along with NYS public officers law demonstrating one has to be a resident of area want to represent by Election Day (in this case New York County), Cy Vance's established record prosecuting murder, sex crimes, financial abuse, domestic violence and a host of other crimes stands second to none," the spokesperson told us. "He has been on the national forefront fighting to end the rape kit backlog, standing up to congress and the NRA on dangerous gun laws, and championing progressive policies like closing Rikers Island and dismissing over 240,000 old warrants for minor offenses. We're confident that voters in Manhattan will continue to recognize that record on November 7th."

The speed with which the write-in campaign took off suggests some degree of public hunger for a challenger to Vance. Paul Newell, a reform Democrat in Manhattan, said that he'd also heard "chatter about someone doing some sort of write-in," and that "people are disappointed with [Vance] for much of this cycle." Beyond Vance himself, the total lack of opposition to district attorneys in elections in general is a huge problem, according to Newell.

"It's been a thing, traditionally, district attorneys seem to serve for 40 years. This is problematic. The low rate of real credible threats to incumbents leads to unaccountability, which can lead to corruption and simply bad execution of the powers of the office. That's true in any case, and that's why we have elections."