Richard Brown, Joseph Crowley, Queens, and institutionalised racism

The Queens District Attorney’s Office resists criminal justice system reforms ; this culture of injustice and racism is tolerated by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley

By The Editorial Board

Richard Brown is the longest-serving District Attorney in the history of the county of Queens, and second-longest in the history of the City of New York after Robert Morgenthau (D-Manhattan), but Brown has had no opponent — either in a primary or a general election —  since he was first elected in November 1991, after having been appointed D.A. by Gov. Mario Cuomo (D-New York) in June 1991. The 83-year-old has won reëlection as both a Democrat and a Republican and has also been the nominee of third parties as well, showing that cross-party endorsement can actually be used to support the corruption of the Queens County Democratic Party organization, the most powerful political machine in the City and the State.

It is a remarkable fact and all the more so because it is a fact largely not known much less understood beyond the political class itself and among the reporters who cover it that U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) himself negotiates Republican support for Brown’s reëlection, ensuring that the long-time District Attorney will not face even the nominal opposition of a place holder Republican even though no Republican would be competitive in such a Borough-wide election anyway. And it can hardly be a coincidence that none of Crowley’s ‘associates’ or Thomas Manton’s (his predecessor as Queens party boss) have ever been charged, let alone prosecuted, for corruption ; Crowley’s protection of Brown has the consequence of ensuring protection for Crowley’s cronies.

This is what passes for ‘democracy’ in the borough of Queens, where the most powerful Borough-wide elected official has not had an opponent in three decades. But the implications of this extraordinary abuse of power on the part of the Democratic Party boss go well beyond the evisceration of the democratic process in Queens, the second largest Borough of the City of New York by population and the largest by area.

This outrageous abuse of power and denigration of democratic process is so exceptional even by the exceptionally low standards of New York City politics that the New York Times — which rarely shows much interest in Government and politics in Queens assigned a reporter to write about it in 2015 (Eli Rosenberg, “Elections Are Easy for Queens Prosecutor ; Critics Call This a Problem,” New York Times, 27 Dec. 2015).

At one point in time, the Borough president was arguably as powerful as the District Attorney, but the gradual hollowing out of the B.P.’s office means that of the officials elected Borough-wide, only the District Attorney wields real power and he (no woman has ever served as D.A. in Queens County though three have served as B.P.) has power just short of the power of life and death over defendants in the County of Queens. Hence, when Crowley protects Brown from primary challenges and even from challenges in general elections, the Queens party boss effectively insulates the D.A. from accountability altogether.

Protecting Brown from primaries also protects Brown from accountability — and reform

While Brown has not been accused of the kind of rank corruption that helped the late Kenneth Thompson (D-Brooklyn) unseat Charles ‘Joe’ Hynes as Kings County D.A. in the Democratic primary in Brooklyn in 2013, Brown has also never been subjected to public scrutiny of the kind that showed Hynes for the crook he was.

Beyond the corruption of the political process by Crowley, there is the serious issue of institutionalized racism in the City and the State, and the refusal of the Queens County D.A.’s office under Brown even to consider it a problem much less address it. Because Crowley has insulated Brown from even the most basic public scrutiny, it is impossible even to say what the extent of the problem is, and, so, we cannot get even to the first stage in addressing the problem. And although there is a national conversation, demanding criminal justice system reform, Brown remains committed to Broken Windows policing, opposes the closing of Rikers Island, and refuses to speed up the legalisation of marijuana. By denying reform, Brown is supporting racism by law enforcement Agencies, which use laws to disproportionately target low-income and minority New Yorkers.

While Brown is not likely to have a primary challenger anytime soon because of Crowley’s machinations, the Queens party boss himself is actually now facing his first primary challenge since his very first re-election campaign ; at the end of June, Democratic primary voters can decide between Crowley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ; while the Queens party boss has all of the advantages of incumbency, at least in his case if not in Brown’s, voters will have the option of an alternative candidate when they go to the polls on June 26.

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