Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein fended off attacks from all sides during a heated debate Thursday afternoon, featuring eight Democratic candidates vying to replace DA Cyrus Vance.
The former federal prosecutor, who’s sunk $8.2 million of her own money into the race and greatly outspent her rivals, defended her campaign’s recent attack ads accusing rivals Alvin Bragg, another former federal prosecutor, and Assemblymember Dan Quart of going easy on suspected domestic-violence abusers.
She also was grilled about her family’s income taxes following a ProPublica report that she and her husband, a wealthy hedge fund manager, paid virtually no federal income taxes for several years, though the candidate seemed unfazed while fielding responses to criticism from her rivals.
“I am the most vetted candidate in terms of my finances,” Farhadian Weinstein said. “We have an income tax system in our country. In the years where my husband’s business produced an income, we paid tax on that income.”
The Manhattan District Attorney oversees one of the most influential prosecutor’s offices in the country, one that helps shape the national debate over public safety and criminal justice reform. It’s worth noting that there are no term limits on the DA, though the current candidates all say they’d support imposing them. Also, because this race is governed by state election law, ranked-choice voting does not apply, meaning voters can select only one candidate on the ballot and whoever wins this Democratic nomination will most certainly be the next DA.
Two candidates have led the pack in recent polls: Farhadian Weinstein, who is running a more conservative tough-on-crime campaign, and Alvin Bragg, running slightly to her political left with an emphasis on decarceration and declining to prosecute some low-level offenses. Also on the ballot are Assemblymember Dan Quart, civil-rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi, public defender Eliza Orlins, former Manhattan prosecutors Lucy Lang and Diana Florence, and criminal defense attorney Elizabeth Crotty.
The jabs came early for Farhadian Weinstein, with Lang asking Quart if he’d paid more than Farhadian Weinstein in federal income taxes in an early cross-examination round. He said he had.
Lang was referencing the report that found Farhadain Weinstein and her husband Boaz Weinstein, the founder of Saba Capital Management, had paid no federal income tax in four of the past six years, and just $6,584 in 2014. The couple later told the Associated Press they paid $124 million in state, federal, and local taxes on an income of $246 million since 2010 for a tax rate of 50.3%, and that they paid no income taxes in those years because of losses at the hedge fund.
In turn, Farhadian Weinstein called on Lang, the granddaughter of the late multimillionaire Eugene Lang who put $500,000 into her own campaign, to release her family’s federal income tax rate.
Sex work decriminalized?
Farhadian Weinstein: No
Lang: declines to say cause of sex trafficking
Florence: declines to say because of sex trafficking
— Gwynne Hogan (@GwynneFitz) June 17, 2021
Asked about negative ads she’s running against Bragg and Quart, Farhadian Weinstein doubled down.
“I put a spotlight on the blind spots of the two male candidates in this race when it comes to violence against women,” she said, deflecting criticism that the ad campaign played on racist tropes. “Calling something a smear and using charged language instead of engaging in a substantive debate is not really a response.”
The mailer that arrived on Manhattan voters doorsteps this week said, “Bragg’s policies are ‘unfair to rape victims,’” plucking a quote from a Daily News op-ed that referred to Bragg’s commitment to review cases prosecuted by Linda Fairstein, who was behind the overturned convictions of the Exonerated Five.
At Thursday’s debate, Bragg called the mailer “part of the worst tradition of our politics playing on racial overtones.”
“Taking my position on the Exonerated Five and suggesting, because I’ve stood up with them, that I’m against rape victims,” Bragg said, defending his commitment to reexamining Fairstein’s cases if elected. “While they were being falsely prosecuted, the person who’d done the harm was out, and raped and injured someone else. Reopening cases is about justice.”
Quart had also been named in the ads for committing to dismiss cross-complaints when neither party wants to go ahead with the case and for questioning the mandatory arrest law that requires police officers to make an arrest when they’re called to a domestic incident where a felony was committed.
“If you want to have a serious policy debate, that’s what she’s suggesting, you don’t put out negative, disgraceful, mailers and TV commercials, sourced with font size that no one can read,” Quart said. “That’s what Ms. Weinstein has done.”
Farhadian Weinstein was also needled by public defender Orlins, the most left-leaning candidate in the race who’s pledged to end prosecutions of most misdemeanor cases, after claiming she’d “always been a Democrat.” Orlins brought up reporting in THE CITY that cited Farhadian Weinstein’s voting records, showing she registered as a Democrat in 2017, shortly after interviewing with the Trump administration officials for a federal judgeship.
Instead of explaining the discrepancy, Farhadian Weinstein said the reporter, Sam Mellins, had been harassing her.
“[He’s] been trolling me on Twitter all year. [He] violated the law by putting not just my address, but my apartment number on Twitter, and then ignored repeated requests from my campaign to take it down,” she said, adding, “during the year that there are peak antisemitic hate crimes in New York city, and I am Jewish.”
Ms. Farhadian Weinstein deflected from a question about her record of not voting by talking about my tweeting a photo of a voter record that included her address. (This was an oversight, though her address is a matter of public record.)
— Sam Mellins (@SamMellins) June 17, 2021
Mellins on Thursday tweeted he’d been at a baseball game and not seen the requests, after which he promptly took down the voting record and reposted a version that redacted her address, though it’s a public record. In response to her comments during the debate, he said, “Personal attacks on reporters are entirely out of line. Full stop.”
While much of the criticism came from candidates running further to the left of Farhadian Weinstein, Elizabeth Crotty, the most conservative candidate in the race, also prodded her for moving further to the center during the course of the campaign.
“Tali-come-lately over here has decided, ‘Oh, now I don’t have a do-not-prosecute list,’ but you know what? She did have one [when she] started this campaign,” Crotty said, referring to pledges many of the more left-leaning candidates have made around what crimes they would automatically decline to prosecute if elected.
@TaliFarhadian actually DID have a section on reform and fairness on her website. It’s not there any more because her positions have changed. Guess fairness and dignity fell out of fashion.. pic.twitter.com/tcHEgg4Jve
— kate smart ⚖️ (@katelsmart) June 17, 2021
After the debate, Kate Smart, a spokesperson for Dan Quart, pointed to a section of Farhadian’s campaign website that has since been deleted titled, “Fairness from the Start,” that detailed her commitment reduce the number of people held pre-trial, reduce the number of convictions for low-level offenses, and “incorporate sensitivity to mental health and addiction problems.”
Farhadian Weinstein’s website now has a section on Subway Crimes instead.